Debat cleared of suspicion by ABC

A former senior fellow at GW was cleared of any suspicion last week that he plagiarized or fabricated while working for ABC News.

Alexis Debat was dismissed as a senior fellow for GW’s Homeland Security Policy Institute Sept. 13, following allegations by the French Web site Rue 89 that he fabricated interviews with prominent political figures for the French journal Politique International.

GW said the results of the investigation, which was conducted by ABC, will not alter his status as suspended.

“The relationship between HSPI and Mr. Debat will remain unchanged until all issues are resolved, consistent with the Institute’s mission and espoused values,” said Jan Lane, HSPI deputy director in a statement.

Debat did not return phone calls from The Hatchet this week. In a September interview with The Hatchet, following the initial allegations, he maintained that he trusted the wrong people at Politique International.

Former President Bill Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have all come forward to say their interviews for the journal were fabricated.

Four factual errors were found in Debat’s work at ABC, which did not affect the reports in question. ABC also found that all of Debat’s sources were who he claimed.

“We felt we owed it to our viewers and ourselves to dig as deep as we could to understand exactly what Debat reported at ABC News, who his confidential sources were and if his reporting and those sources held up to the most rigorous scrutiny,” said Jeffrey Schneider, ABC News vice president of media relations in a statement.

Some criticized ABC News for selecting Kerry Smith, ABC’s senior vice president for editorial quality, to coordinate the investigation because he has such strong ties to the network.

Smith was originally responsible for questioning Debat’s PhD from LaSorbonne – and subsequently demanding Debat’s resignation from the network in June, long before the French journal Rue 89 questioned Debat’s work in Politique Internacional.

Debat’s Ph.D. from the Sorbonne still remains in question, one of the factors that led to his suspension from GW Lane said.

Senior fellows are not paid by GW. They are drawn from government, academia, and the nonprofit and private sectors and selected for their personal expertise. She added that senior fellows participate in roundtable sessions with policymakers, collaborate with the HSPI Steering Committee to publish policy papers and undertake homeland security research projects.

Michael Doyle, a journalism professor at GW, said ABC’s findings “will help restore Debat’s reputation, and it has to be a relief for GW as well.”

“Unfortunately, it is also difficult to un-ring a bell once it has been sounded,” Doyle said. “Corrections are often doomed to be one step behind the original allegation. Especially with the Internet, reputational harm from the original charge can remain even if allegations prove unfounded.”

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