A former ABC News consultant fired last year because he couldn’t authenticate academic credentials is at the center of a new dispute over apparently faked interviews with Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Bill Gates and others.
The consultant, Alexis Debat, quit the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank, on Wednesday after Obama’s representatives claimed an interview with the senator appearing under Debat’s byline in the French magazine Politique Internationale never took place. The interview quoted the Democratic presidential candidate as saying the Iraq war was “a defeat for America.”
Pelosi, Gates, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg all said they never gave interviews that appeared in the magazine under Debat’s byline, ABC News reported Thursday.
Debat acknowledged Thursday that he never conducted any of the interviews published under his byline. He said he hired another reporter, Rob Sherman, to conduct the Obama interview. He said he translated the remarks and sent them to the French journal, which published them under Debat’s byline.
No one immediately responded to a message left at what Debat said was Sherman’s phone number.
In other cases, Debat said he drafted questions for the political figures for Politique Internationale. The magazine sent back “answers” that he translated, wrote an introduction for and sent back with his byline, he said.
“They do some weird things over there,” he added.
Editor: 'We were betrayed'
Politique Internationale editor and political scientist Patrick Wajsman founded the magazine nearly 30 years ago. He called Debat “a grand liar” and said he had hired a lawyer to pursue “all possible measures” against Debat.
“We are the first victims. I am falling from the moon,” he said. “We were betrayed.”
He noted that Debat worked for the journal for four years, starting after he was already working for ABC and the Nixon Center. “How could we possibly doubt someone who worked for ABC, who worked for the Nixon Center? How could we possibly doubt someone from several thousand kilometers away?” he asked.
When a user clicks on articles under Debat’s byline on the Politique Internationale Web site, a blank screen appears.
The Blotter quoted a U.N. official as saying Wajsman was told in 2005 that the interview with Annan was faked. A second “interview” with Annan posted earlier this year instead included portions of a speech he had made at Princeton University passed off as an interview, the Web site said.
ABC couldn't verify man's credentials
Debat had been a consultant at ABC News since shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, reporting on terrorism issues, said Brian Ross, chief of ABC News’ investigative unit.
In May, ABC was contacted by the French embassy and told to check on Debat’s credentials. Debat had claimed to have a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, but ABC could not verify this. He was fired and ABC began looking back at Debat’s work to see if anything was false. They found no evidence of incorrect material, said Ross, adding that most of the information Debat provided was verified by others.
Debat said his Ph.D had been held up on technicalities and that he had completed all the required work. He said he believed someone in the French government was out to get him because they didn’t like his work on ABC.
Debat has been extensively quoted by other media, including the AP, which included his remarks in three stories.
He was identified as a terrorism consultant in a 2004 story about CIA Director George Tenet’s resignation and quoted as saying Tenet had a reputation as a yes-man for President Bush.
And he was quoted twice in 2001, identified as a former French Defense Ministry analyst. In one story, he said the United States and France has increased their intelligence-sharing. He was the main source for the second story, in which he said police had found a notebook with codes that could help decipher messages within Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
ABC rechecking Debat's work
The AP has started investigating whether the information provided by Debat was accurate. A duty officer at the Defense Ministry could not immediately confirm Thursday night whether Debat had worked for the ministry.
Since the revelations about the fabricated interviews, ABC News also is going back again to check over Debat’s work, sending people to Pakistan and Europe, Ross said.
“We’re working hard to make sure that everything he was involved in that we reported stands up,” Ross said, “and if it doesn’t, we’ll report it immediately.”