Former University Times reporter fabricated quotes on multiple articles


Will Baker

The University Times newsroom, located in King Hall at the Cal State LA campus. Photo by Will Baker.

“I covered women’s basketball practice today and two of the stars, Nicole Flennaugh and Lily Buggs, came up to ask me who Brian Perez was. Apparently they’ve never been interviewed by him and he’s been misquoting/making up their quotes in his stories.”

That message from Alysia Burke to Managing Editor Anne To and I at the beginning of March was the beginning of our worst nightmare as newsroom leaders: Being confronted with something that could harm the credibility of the 75-year-old institution we are entrusted with. An institution that students, faculty and staff rely on for truth and facts about what goes on at Cal State LAand is nothing without its credibility.

 “I was caught off guard and just said I’d let the editors know right away,” Burke said.

In the month since, a University Times (UT) investigation found at least eight instances of falsified quotes in UT stories, both from sources directly saying they have never been interviewed and by Perez’s own admission.

Perez first appeared on the UT website in October 2021 as a Community News reporter. This is part of a class, where students go into local communities and do reporting. Students are required to submit their sources’ names and phone numbers for spot checks.

The instructor for the class at the time, Professor Julie Patel Liss, reached out to all seven of those sources and did not hear back from anyone saying they weren’t interviewed or the quotes were falsified, after numerous attempts via text and phone call.

The UT, except for the Community News section, is made up of student reporters who are reporting independently of any class. As a UT reporter, Perez had 22 quotes total.

Of those 22 quotes, 36% were confirmed to be fabricated across four separate articles, both from sources directly and by Perez’s own admission.

All stories with confirmed fabricated quotes have had quotes removed from their online version since mid-March, after getting confirmation from sources that they were never interviewed.

As is journalistic practice, a correction was made at the bottom of the articles, saying that quotes had been removed after the original posting of the articles. A similar correction was also in our print newspaper.

Journalists “abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions,” according to the Associated Press’ (AP) statement of news values and principles. AP is known for the AP Stylebook and Libel Manual, followed by most newsrooms, including the UT.

“We will not knowingly introduce rumor or false information into material intended for publication or broadcast; nor will we distort visual content,” according to AP. “Quotations must be accurate and precise.”

Fake quotes are not usually seen in journalism as they are completely unacceptable and antithetical to our core values as journalists. It is not something the UT allows. As such, To and I took these claims very seriously and worked with UT advisor Patel to determine the best course of action.

Since getting Burke’s message, To and I did not allow Perez to work on any further articles or allow posts on social media promoting any of his articles.

“I saw quotes from myself that I am positive I didn’t say,” said Flennaugh, one of the sources with falsified quotes. “I just was kind of surprised because it wasn’t anything bad. I was taken aback because the quotes sound like they were written by someone who doesn’t know basketball super well and I’ve never been interviewed [by the UT], outside of Braylin or Alysia.”

Buggs, another source who saw made up quotes from herself in UT content, had a similar experience.

“The funniest part is that in the article I refer to Yesi as Yesenia, which is her full name, but I don’t think I’ve ever called her by her full name,” Buggs said. “That’s when I knew [for sure] I didn’t say the quotes that were in the article.”

Of the 23 quotes, nine sources did not reply despite numerous attempts, so the number of fabricated quotes could possibly be higher.

Perez himself told the UT that he falsified “more than half” of his sources.

Perez said his recent extreme anxiety is the reason for making up most of these quotes.

“More than anything, I was just scared of going up to people and in my own head. I’d be there and I’d overthink it and second-guess myself,” Perez said. “Just being scared and nervous and I was never like that before I lost my dad. My life has changed drastically in the last two years.”

The following is part of a letter Perez wrote for readers:

Dear University Times Readers, I am writing this to inform you all of my resignation from my position as a reporter at University Times. After a couple of weeks to reflect and really think of a decision, I believe this is what is best…I take full accountability for what I did and will use this as a learning moment and grow from a situation like this. I need to focus on my well-being at this time as my college career comes to an end and a lot of change has occurred in my life since I got to Cal State LA in 2021.

Over the past few months, even prior to being a reporter for the UT, I had been struggling with various mental health issues like depression, anxiety and even being nervous and afraid. Looking back, [that] is not something I ever noticed having [until] the passing of my father. That was a massive shock in my life. Despite my best efforts to be strong and manage this I have come to the realization that I need to take a step back and try to get back to being who I once was before this ever happened.

I am very thankful for the opportunities and experiences I have had during my time at UT and all the people I felt that I got closer to, who I know I have let down tremendously. I have learned from this not only from a journalistic point of view but also in my personal life, therefore I am very much grateful for the relationships I have built with everybody that I have got an opportunity to talk with, even if after this I won’t be looked at the same. I will always look back at my time at the UT with appreciation and something that I was glad to do for a short while.

As a result of this investigation, editors will remove quotes from Perez’s articles if sources confirm any additional fabrications. Corrections will now also be moved to the top of the story for easier access for readers.

UT reporters will also now be required to list all sources’ phone numbers, emails or social media accounts they obtain for editors to do random source checking.

If you or anyone you know has ever had fabricated quotes of yourselves appear in UT content, please email me at [email protected]