The Atlantic pulls article on elite sports, admits inaccuracies

The Atlantic magazine on Sunday retracted a lengthy report on the upper-crust world of niche sports, acknowledging in an 800-word editor’s note that it “cannot attest to the veracity of this article.”

The decision to pull the 6,500-word piece by controversial writer Ruth Shalit Barrett, who was accused of plagiarism for her work in the New Republic in the 1990s, came after questions arose over details in the article, the Washington Post reported.

The magazine’s mea culpa said editors were “deceived” by Barrett and acknowledged they erred in assigning her the story.

“We decided to assign Barrett this freelance story in part because more than two decades separated her from her journalistic malpractice at The New Republic and because in recent years her work has appeared in reputable magazines,” the editors note said.

“We took into consideration the argument that Barrett deserved a second chance to write features stories such as this one,” the note said. “We were wrong to make this assignment, however. It reflects poor judgment on our part, and we regret our decision.”

The article, titled “The Mad, Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League-Obsessed Parents,” examined how wealthy families went to extravagant lengths for their children to succeed in elite sports like fencing and figure skating.

While it retracted the article, originally published online Friday, editors kept a PDF of the piece accessible in the interest of “transparency.”

One of the inaccuracies cited in the story revolved around a woman identified as Sloane, who is reported having a son and three daughters, including one who allegedly suffered a fencing injury in 2019 that was described by Barrett as a “massacre.”

In fact, the injury was later described as “not severe,” and Sloane doesn’t have a son.

The editor’s note also said Barrett’s description of wealthy Connecticut parents installing “Olympic-sized” ice rinks in their backyard was also off.

“Although the private rinks are large enough and complete with floodlights and generators, they are not Olympic-size,” the note said.

Barrett did not respond to requests for comment from the Washington Post.

Once considered a rising star at The New Republic at just 24, Barrett’s career began to unravel after a 1995 article about racial diversity at the Washington Post which was found to have numerous factual errors.

When questioned about questionable attribution in her work, she blamed it on computer problems, the outlet said.

Barrett switched careers but had written highly regarded freelance pieces in recent years.

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