In Depth

ABC News Alters Hiring Practices Even After Investigation Clears Fired Consultant Debat

ABC News President David Westin said a second internal investigation has confirmed no instances of “false reporting” attributable to fired counterterrorism consultant Alexis Debat. However, he said, “There are three changes we are making in our internal practices based on what we’ve learned from this case.”

Effective immediately, Mr. Westin said in an e-mail made available to TelevisionWeek Monday, the ABC News practices team and corporate human resources will be involved in the hiring of all consultants, especially the employment and educational claims on their resumes. How that consultant will be identified on all news platforms and programs will be decided at hiring. News practices will be notified each time a consultant is used in reporting to assure appropriate use and identification.

ABC News severed its relationship with Mr. Debat, often described as a former French defense official, in June after conducting an internal review following questions about his resume. At the time, ABC News said it could attribute no discrepancies in the substance of what Mr. Debat had reported for ABC News.

The second investigation was begun after reports of fabricated interviews, including one purporting to be with Sen. Barack Obama.

“After going through all of the stories Mr. Debat worked on for ABC News, we found no instances of false reporting. Mr. Debat was not the sole source for anything ABC News reported. Moreover, we confirmed with Mr. Debat’s confidential sources that they had given him the information as he’d claimed in contributing to our reports. We also confirmed that Mr. Debat traveled to the locations in Pakistan as he had claimed and talked with the sources he had identified,” Mr. Westin said in Monday’s memo.

“Our review did uncover four details of Mr. Debat’s reporting that we couldn’t confirm. In one case, he misidentified which branch of U.S. Special Forces had engaged in a particular operation, although we did confirm the other facts surrounding the operation. We also found disagreements over the location for two meetings reported on by Mr. Debat, although, again, we could confirm the other facts surrounding the meetings. And, one of the people whom Mr. Debat identified as attending a meeting would neither confirm nor deny that he/she was a direct participant,” Mr. Westin wrote. “None of these discrepancies would rise to the level of a formal, on-air retraction because none of them was material to the substance of our report.”

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