Wired News Pulls Freelancer's Space Stories

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) --Online technology publication Wired News removed three articles from its Website Wednesday after editors couldn't confirm the authenticity of at least onesource.

All three stories werewritten by freelancer Philip Chien, a Florida author and space enthusiast who quoted and cited Robert Ash. In thearticles, published in June and July, Chien described Ash as a "spacehistorian'' and an "aeronautical engineer and amateur space historian.''

When a Wired News senioreditor telephoned Ash to verify the quotation, Ash said he was not a spacehistorian and never conducted an interview with Chien.

Ash is a professor in theaerospace engineering department of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., and had been involved in numerous NASA projects. He did not respond totelephone calls and an e-mail Wednesday from The Associated Press.

Chien, a freelance writerwho has worked for online, print and television news outlets, is the author ofa book on the Columbia space shuttle disaster. He wrotetwo stories for Wired News in 2004 and five in the past several months.

Chien said Wednesday thatWired News editors didn't give him an adequate opportunity to defend hissourcing before pulling his articles.

"They informed me theywere going to do it but didn't give me any notice,'' Chien said in a phoneinterview with The AP. "Things have been distorted and taken out ofcontext, but I don't want to say anything more than that.''

Wired News requires allfreelancers to provide e-mail addresses and phone numbers for everyone quotedor cited in stories. The contact information Chien provided for Ash was a freeHotmail account that included the name Robert Stevens in the address.

Editors became suspiciouswhen they realized that Chien had quoted a man named Robert Stevens in at leastthree articles he wrote for newspapers, referring to him variously as a retiredengineer, a NASA engineer and an amateur astronomer.

Wired News editors werealso suspicious about another of Chien's sources in the space industry, a mannamed Ted Collins. Editors traced Collins' ostensible Hotmail account to anInternet forum about the space shuttle, in which Collins praised Chien's book,"Columbia: Final Voyage.''

"I've seen a bunch ofPhil Chien's stories online and always enjoyed his insightful questions in thepress conferences, but hadn't heard that he had written a book,'' the postingread. It included a link to Chien's Web site and inquired whether theaccompanying CD-ROM would be available through Amazon.com.

In an explanation e-mailedto Wired News, Chien acknowledged he created the Ted Collins' Hotmail accountand used it in an attempt to mislead editors. Chien said Collins died in 1997,but said he liked his quotes so much he wanted to use them posthumously in the pastthree months.

The incident comes justover a year after another sourcing problem for Wired News.

In May 2005, Wired Newsacknowledged it could not verify the accuracy or authenticity of roughly 160news stories by freelance journalist Michelle Delio of New York City. Editors said they could not provethe existence of more than 40 people quoted in Delio's articles, which coveredsubjects ranging from computer viruses to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That episode resulted instrict sourcing policies for Wired News freelancers, who must now turn incontact information for anyone quoted or cited in any article.

"It's regrettable,obviously, that this happened,'' said Wired News editor-in-chief Evan Hansen."But at the same time it speaks to the processes we've put in place.''

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