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' Web site, the Blotter, reported on Thursday.
Debat acknowledged to The Associated Press on 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 in to the French journal, which published it under Debat's byline.
No one immediately responded to a message left at what Debat said was Sherman's phone number.
In the 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 said.
The magazine's editor, Patrick Wajsman, did not return telephone calls Thursday from the AP, and other editors wouldn't comment. Wajsman told the Blotter that he was a victim in this case, and that Debat was "just sick."
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.
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.
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."