A British teenager intentionally misled the New York Times in a story about South Carolina terrorism suspect Dylann Roof, telling the newspaper that Roof kept a website devoted to 9/11 conspiracy theories and the My Little Pony franchise, Fusion reported on Monday.
“People could think that this was a joke or a lark, but it wasn’t,” 16-year-old Benjamin Wareing said. “Our ultimate goal of this was to see if a reporter would publish something that was completely untrue.”
Wareing told the Times that he had come across blog posts belonging to Roof. His remarks were included in a June 20 story by Frances Robles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist.
“He would call black citizens ‘nuggets’ and such,” Wareing was quoted as saying. “He never made direct threats at all on Tumblr, at least it didn’t seem like that, just weird ramblings about how he felt he “didn’t fit in.'”
His quotes were included in the story around 1:56 p.m. Eastern time the day the story was published, and removed by 4:44 p.m. that same day, as seen on NewsDiffs, which keeps archives of the newspaper’s stories.
Wareing published a screenshot of the original version of the story on his own blog, boasting that he “screwed” with the Times with the help of his friend Sadrak Ramirez, who had been added by Roof as a Facebook contact weeks before entering the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17 and killing nine people.
“Think ‘story time’ in school, or your wildest dreams coming true. Instead, this was a fabricated web of hilarious yet believable lies,” he wrote. “We chose to focus on the ‘Brony’ scene of ‘My Little Pony’, emphasizing the fact that Roof was a major Brony. We also wanted a bit of best modern-day internet can give; memes. We told this idiot of a reporter that Dylann was obsessed with 911 ‘memes’. Of course, we have no way of knowing if this is true. As we expected, the New York Times reporter took to this like a fat kid in a candy store. No questions asked.”
According to Fusion, Ramirez was contacted by at least six reporters the day after the shooting seeking information on Roof, but instead referred them to Wareing, who fed the Times the story about the non-existent blog.
Peter Applebome, the newspaper’s deputy national news editor, said the paragraphs including Warering’s remarks were taken out “as soon as we had reason to doubt them, and they would have been removed under any circumstances and replaced by newer reporting.”
Wareing told Fusion — in an interview conducted via the online phone service Skype — that he is interested in pursuing journalism as a career.
“I always wanted to do that,” he said. “I don’t want to be someone who reports complete lies … this makes me want to try harder to make a better change in reporting.”