Yalie Liane Membis got a lot of attention for making up people and quotes during her very brief Wall Street Journal internship, but it turns out she fabricated during her college writing career too, which eventually stung The Huffington Post. Though you might not have noticed.
This piece was removed from the Huffington Post following an independent investigation by Huffington Post editors. Sources in the original piece denied having made statements attributed to them by the author; other attributed statements in the piece could not be independently confirmed.
That's the note that appears in place of Membis' "Life After Yale: Undocumented", a piece focusing on Yale graduate and illegal immigrant "Teresa Serrano," which was syndicated from The New Journal--a campus magazine at Yale. We've contacted the Huffington Post to get an actual date of when the story was retracted and haven't heard back, but a Google cache shows that the story was still intact as of July 2 (right).
The original article still appears on The New Journal's website, albeit with a different title, "Dreaming On" instead of "Life After Yale...". A New Journal editor told us they're in the middle of their own investigation which they started after learning of Membis' dismissal from WSJ. To be honest, you can't help but feel a little suspicious while reading it, knowing that the guts of the story are false but at the same time, you can't help but wonder which phrases, episodes, and how much of "Teresa Serrano" and "Carmen Alvarez" were figments of Membis' imagination. Membis wrote that Serrano and Alvarez were undocumented immigrants, and that their names were changed to protect their identity (and perhaps Membis' fabricated footprints).
"Despite my looming status, my time at Yale was remarkable ... I found numerous sources of support at Yale and, although challenging, my experience was full of positive growth."
"In the United States, my parents were alone and on their own, whereas in Honduras they had the support of their family and loved ones ... They were more familiar with the language, customs, and medical procedures there than in the United States, and this made the birthing process easier."
"The one thing that makes me so angry is when people pass up their opportunities to study abroad ... People don’t understand how much traveling is a privilege in this country until they are restricted from traveling home because of their status."
Like the quotes that got Membis fired from The Wall Street Journal, they're pretty ho-hum and forgettable, but they're also tailor-made for a story about "Serrano"'s struggle. Perhaps more disconcerting is that, according to HuffPo's investigation (sources in the original piece), presumably some of the officials at Yale who Membis quoted—teachers, professors, admissions counselors—had issues with their attributions.
And what about her editors at The New Journal? No, not just the current editors who still have the story up, but the ones who were in charge of following up when the story was initially printed. Membis also wrote for the Yale Daily News, which issued this statement late last month:
UPDATED: Liane Membis '12, a former staff reporter for the News, was fired by the Wall Street Journal this week for fabricating sources in a story she wrote.
Membis wrote or contributed to 41 articles in her two years at the News. We have investigated the work she did for the News so far as possible and have found no evidence that she fabricated quotes or information in her reporting for us.
Back when Membis' story and news of her firing broke, I initially wrote how I felt a bit bad for her--knowing that her fictional, and forgettable stories about bridges and community things would end up being the only thing that she'd be known for. And that's mostly true. (We sort of wish the story of her affair with a married man would disappear from the Internet for our and her sake.)
And knowing that she's fabricated throughout her nascent career as a journalist does makes it easier to take that sentiment back, though there's a part of me that feels that she should've never made it to the pages of The Wall Street Journal in the first place considering her transgressions at The New Journal and by syndication proxy, The Huffington Post. And that isn't just her fault.
We've contacted the Huffington Post's team and haven't heard back yet. We'll be sure to update when they do.