New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler wrote a pretty long story this week about a New York high school kid who made tens of millions of dollars in the stock market.
Mo, a cherubic senior with a goatee and slight faux-hawk, smiled shyly. “He’s quiet today,” said Patrick Trablusi, who was seated with Mo and Damir at a table littered with empty glasses. “Humble.” And tired: “This is our third meeting of the day,” Damir said, signaling to the waitress for another round. “We saw a real-estate agent, a lawyer, you …”
“Next we’re going to see a hedge-fund guy,” Patrick said. The friends locked eyes and started to giggle.
“He basically wants to give us $150 million,” Mo explained, a blush like a sunset creeping over his cheeks.
Perhaps that giggling should have told Ms. Pressler something—like, they were laughing at her—because it turns out that the story is fake.
A blush like a sunset creeping over his cheeks…
According to the New York Observer,
Monday’s edition of New York magazine includes an irresistible story about a Stuyvesant High senior named Mohammed Islam who had made a fortune investing in the stock market. Reporter Jessica Pressler wrote regarding the precise number, “Though he is shy about the $72 million number, he confirmed his net worth is in the “’high eight figures.’”
…now it turns out, the real number is … zero.
In an exclusive interview with Mr. Islam and his friend Damir Tulemaganbetov, who also featured heavily in the New York story, the baby faced boys who dress in suits with tie clips came clean. Swept up in a tide of media adulation, they made the whole thing up.
As the Observer points out,
Even if this working-class kid had somehow started with $100,000 as a high school freshman on day one at Stuy High, he’d have needed to average a compounded annualized return of something like 796% over the three years since. C’mon, man.
Well, first things first: Jessica Pressler, whom I’ve never met or spoken to, once took a gratuitous cheap shot at me for no reason other than being snarky. As words go, snark and karma have a lot in common.
More important, whether it’s with Jezebel or New York magazine, we’re seeing a generation of writers who simply haven’t learned to report. They grew up writing for blogs, where snark generates hits, which generates attention—and in the short term, that’s good for your career. Eventually, it catches up to you…call it “snarkarma.”
I mean, this is basic business reporting. This kid wasn’t even old enough to open a brokerage account, and Pressler has him generating an 800 percent annual return.
Pressler, by the way, has “protected” her tweets, so that if you’re not following her you can’t see them—another example of journalists who, when it comes to transparency, don’t practice what they preach….
But before she went Twitter-silent, Pressler tweeted, according to the New York Times, “It’s New York mag’s Reasons to Love issue, we’re not a financial publication.”
So that’s okay then.
New York has added a pretty mealy-mouthed “editor’s note” saying that they were really writing about a “rumor.”
…Our story portrays the $72 million figure as a rumor; the initial headline has been changed to more clearly reflect the fact that we did not know the exact figure he has made in trades….
Whether it’s Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely or Jessica Pressler, why is it so hard for people to admit when they’re wrong? The idea that New York magazine “is not a financial publication”—and by the way, New York does cover finance quite a lot—and that mitigates the idiocy of publishing this story is just so facile and morally irresponsible.
Ms. Pressler, by the way, is moving to Bloomberg next year to join the “financial investigative unit.”
According to Capital New York,
“I hear that when you go to Bloomberg, after you’ve been there a year, they give you a magazine that you can run into the ground,” said Pressler, jokingly (we think!).
I’m sure Bloomberg is feeling pretty good about their new hire right now.
In an email to the Washington Post, Pressler maintained her sassier-than-thou attitude.
“I’m I guess moderately surprised. In my day (2008?) it took at least a few days to cop to a fraud. I have to talk to nymag before officially comments as the story’s really theirs.”
The story’s really theirs? Way to own your work, Jessica.
The Post’s Terrence McCoy adds,
…how was he able to convince a reporter into thinking those returns had not only been real — but that he was worth “high eight figures?” A source close to the Islam family who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue told The Post Islam had “created some bulls—t thing on the computer with blacked out numbers. He said she could look at it for 10 seconds, and pulled it away.” The Washington Post couldn’t independently verify that claim.
The “she” here actually may refer to a fact-checker—the NY Mag editor’s note suggests as much—meaning that Pressler never even bothered to try to verify the young man’s claim; she just left it up to the fact checker. Hey, why not—the story’s really theirs, anyway!
By the way—has anyone ever seen Anna Merlan and Jessica Pressler in the same room?
The faces of snark: Jessica Pressler and Anna Merlan
Update: New York has amended its editor’s note, which now reads, in part: We were duped. Our fact-checking process was obviously inadequate; we take full responsibility and we should have known better. New York apologizes to our readers..