NYT Ran Washington Post Story on Illegal Alien

Thursday, 23 Jun 2011 12:58 PM

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The New York Times Sunday Magazine account of the illegal alien who managed to work at the highest levels of U.S. journalism was originally planned to be published in The Washington Post. But the Post killed the article by Jose Antonio Vargas after a "red flag" appeared.

The native of the Philippines managed to work for a series of newspapers even though he had never established legal status. At the Post, he was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings.

His story, revealed in a 4,000-word account in the Times' Sunday magazine, acknowledged that he was “an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out.”

The Post reported that Vargas, who has since left the paper, approached editors in March with the idea of writing a personal account of his story. He was given the go ahead and the piece was scheduled to be published. Later, Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli killed it.

“We made a considered judgment not to publish the story,” Brauchli said in a story in the Post. “We knew Jose would take his story elsewhere, and we’re not surprised he found a venue for his interesting account.”

Brauchli declined to discuss the reasons for spiking Vargas’ article.

However, in its account of the matter, the Post wrote, “Given the subject — a reporter’s dishonesty about his personal life — The Post subjected Vargas’ story to an unusual degree of scrutiny. One red flag popped up during weeks of checking: Vargas hadn’t disclosed that he had replaced his expired Oregon driver’s license with a new one issued by Washington state (the license had enabled Vargas to pass airport security and to travel to distant work assignments). Vargas later conceded that he had withheld the information on the advice of his attorney. The disclosure set off internal discussion about whether the newspaper was getting the full story from its former reporter.”

In a brief interview with Post reporters, Vargas said: “I made a decision that I wouldn’t get into [discussing details about the story] at the end of the day. I wanted the Post to run the story. They had to do what they had to do and so did I.”

After the Post killed the story, Vargas took it to the Times. The Post said the move “gave the story a singular distinction: It may be the first published by The New York Times that was developed, fact-checked and substantially edited by editors at The Washington Post.”

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