A Retraction and an Apology

A source’s lies in our story “The War Within.”

Earlier this week, two different readers contacted the magazine, each raising questions about the facts in a story that appears in Philadelphia magazine’s April issue, “The War Within.” The article—written by Anthony Gargano, the popular WIP radio host—tells the story of a former Marine sniper who claims to have killed scores of people during his tours of the Middle East and who now says he is haunted by what he did.

The allegations from readers were serious enough that we immediately removed the story from our website. Then, in a series of phone calls, email exchanges, and text messages, Gargano and I confronted the subject of the article, John P. Boudreau, who was also its main source. (He was identified in the story as “the Tree Pruner.”) In a series of conversations on Wednesday and Thursday, Boudreau, who claims a residence in Chester County, acknowledged that much of what he had told Gargano over the preceding several months—information he had also confirmed to Philadelphia magazine’s fact-checker—was either embellished or flat-out fabricated. While he continues to say he served in the Marines—a fact we are attempting to officially confirm with the Marine Corps—he acknowledged that he was never a sniper and that many of the incidents he described to Gargano never happened.

Some background: The article grew out of a friendly relationship that developed over the last year between Gargano and Boudreau. As they got to know each other, Boudreau began to share details of his supposed military experience with Gargano, as well as the guilt and regret he said he now felt over his actions. Late last summer, Gargano contacted me to see if the magazine was interested in running an intimate story about one man’s struggle with his past. After meeting with both men, I agreed that it was a compelling piece and assigned the story to Gargano.

Over the next couple of months, Gargano interviewed Boudreau several times and ultimately exchanged hundreds of text messages with him. In February, Gargano turned in a draft of the piece, and from there it went through our normal revision and editing process. The story was also fact-checked—though, given that the piece was largely told from Boudreau’s point of view, the vast majority of the fact-checking was done with Boudreau himself.

In retrospect, of course, there were red flags that all of us missed along the way, as well as a major failure on our part to use outside sources to verify the information we’d been given. While other publications have certainly been duped by sources over the years, that in no way lessens our responsibility or culpability in this case. In plain terms: We blew it.

Philly Mag has never shied away from controversial topics or edgy stories (witness the hubbub that ensued over our cover story last month about race in Philadelphia). But no matter what the story, we have always prided ourselves on trying to tell the truth—to the best we can discern it—in our pages. With this story, we failed in that mission.

For that, I offer my apologies to you, our readers, as well as to all military veterans who have served our country honorably and truthfully. We regret the mistakes we made with this story.

As for Boudreau, I will be forever baffled by what motivated his lies. At the same time I can only hope he seeks treatment for whatever real demons he has battled and clearly continues to battle. On Tuesday of this week, just hours before the lies he told us began to unravel, he sent yet another delusional text message to Anthony Gargano:

“I have been recalled to Korea next month. They need. Me to do what I do the best. If I don’t come back? I love ya Cuz. Goodbye….”

Read Anthony Gargano’s “What Went Wrong With ‘The War Within’” here.

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  • Tristan

    what about Gargano’s role in all of this? he pitched the story. he did all the interviews by “text message”? how many times did he meet with him to assess his credibility? did he check with any other sources at all? .he is a sports talk show host. not a journalist. thats the problem.

    • Chris

      Tristan,
      While I agree that Gargano should have done more research, your ignorance is amazing. Gargano was a journalist way before he beacame a radio host. He wrote for the New York Post

  • Tristan

    Oh, i was aware he worked for the New York Post. that bastion of journalistic talent. i would submit to you there is a fundamental difference between standing in a locker room and asking a guy in a jock how his curve ball was that day and doing the kind of investigative reporting he attempted (poorly) in this Philly Mag piece. As McGrath correctly notes above, there were red flags all over this story.

  • papa wood

    Final straw for me with Philly mag. I don’t have a problem with the topics covered or any controversies recently created. My issue with this magazine is the use of unnamed, first-name only or pseudonym sources in nearly every story. Fact-checking is almost non-existent at this magazine. The magazine should only publish stories about people confident enough to apply their full name and reputation. It’s almost like Fox news, half of the stuff just seems fabricated….

  • http://twitter.com/MauryCompson Maury Compson

    I think everybody is missing the point. If this story was true, it would have been amazing!

    • teamguy

      IF the story was true? It’s not, Maury, so what point are all us unenlightened types missing? Your drooling over a bs story is exactly why frauds like the Tree Pruner are in business.

      • http://twitter.com/MauryCompson Maury Compson

        But what if it was? You’d look ridiculous! OMG. LOL. SMH.

        • teamguy

          Maury, If my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle…I don’t live in your hypothetical world. But with your absurdity I am LMAOROTF

          • http://twitter.com/MauryCompson Maury Compson

            Stop changing the subject. Ad hominen attacks don’t change the fact that you would look like a fool!!! HAHA

        • http://blog.scoop0901.net/ Scoop0901

          it is real … REAL FICTION. I will set up a POD for you and you can have a dead-tree very in your hands to read in pocketbook format. How many copies you want?

          • http://twitter.com/MauryCompson Maury Compson

            This comment makes absolutely no sense. Learn how to speak ENGLISH!

          • http://twitter.com/Scoop0901 Dave J. (Scoop0901)

            I can ad did speak English. Guess you are just out of the loop. I will spell it all out but not provide links. Go Google..

            it is real … REAL FICTION. I will set up a print on-demand for you and you can
            have a book in your hands to read in pocketbook format. How
            many copies you want?

            [cash register is set up]

          • http://twitter.com/MauryCompson Maury Compson

            I don’t understand your first sentence. Please clarify.

  • Betty Medsger

    You should at least confirmed he was a Marine.

  • dbuck12

    So what you’re saying is that you never checked the most basic fact: was John P. Boudreau even in the Marine Corps? No need to be baffled over motivation. Confected war stories are as old as war itself. Dan

  • Name withheld

    This is not an isolated incident. This article is representative of what is going on today all over the U.S. Will our Country’s Journalists, Reporters, Editors, Publishers, Media Representatives, and etc., PLEASE get on the ball! There are far, far, far too many errors, inconsistencies, flat-out lies, blurred lines, post-editing deceptions, opinions as fact, and I could go on, being served for public consumption in our newspaper print, on TV, over the radio, in books and magazines, and on the Internet. Please step up your game already. Intelligent people are watching, and reading. Thank-you.

  • stu

    This is unconsionable. If the magazine’s fact checkers never even checked that this guy was a Marine (and still don’t know!) they should be fired. So should the editor. ANY j
    journalist knows that someone telling “stories” about their “heroic” military service are often fakes. A half-hour search would have killed this story.

  • Brian McGee

    “While he continues to say he served in the Marines—a fact we are attempting to officially confirm with the Marine Corps” LOL wow… is this truly that hard to confirm? Hard to believe you’d publish this apology without finding out, let alone the “article.”

    • Dick_Wolf

      This is what shocked me the most out of all of this.

  • Dick_Wolf

    No journalism school in america would allow a student to do a one-source story like this for a class project, let alone a major magazine feature. And it’s disingenuous of McGrath to say there was fact-checking when the basic tenants of the story weren’t fact-checked. You never even checked to see if he was a Marine? Are you serious?

    • Stephan

      I agree..the editor’s note is at least as embarrassing as the original article. (He still hasn’t checked!)

  • teamguy

    Comment lifted from the now-removed article: “Raven, we have one last mission for you! We have chosen to provide it to
    you in the form of .45 cal. The message is within. You must first
    insert it ballistically to your own head to recieve its full details.
    PhillyMag, you can have the rights to the mission debrief.”

  • teamguy

    And another comment from original article: “Raven?? Killed 2,200? Used a .40 caliber along with Tow missles as a
    sniper? You’re kidding me right?? Wasnt that Rambo’s code name in the
    first movie?? Someone needs to fire this writer…..x-box sniper games
    are more realistic than this guys story…… And journalists can’t
    understand how they negatively affect people perspectives….. Real vets
    fought and died for our freedom of press, the least a journalist can do
    is bring honor to their sacrifice by printing the truth… The sad
    thing is, a lot of people will believe this story.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.madonna.73 Michael Madonna

    Tommy I love Ants writing style in the article and the apology. let me paraphrase in Ant’s inimitable writing style:

    “Heavens to Murgatroid, Ive been duped” “I thought i would crawl into his skull, thereby ascertaining the depthitude of his moral dilemmaness””Ant seemed to have slipped the surly bonds of earth… and touched the face of God.” is that good,? can i write for your mag?

  • nycvirago

    Unbelievable. Journalism 101 should have required that you see the person’s DD 214 form proving military service before you wrote anything. There have been a slew of these stories in recent years, with journalists wanting to believe everything these phony veterans said. And it doesn’t

    Frankly, I think you ought to keep the story up, so we can see for ourselves how gullible you all are. He said he killed 2200 people, and you all believed him? Really?

    • Dick_Wolf

      I said to my wife when the issue came that 2000 has to be a typo.

  • connie d.

    I was part way into the article when it just all seemed ridiculous to me. It seemed written by a student bent on infusing his text with far flung emotion because the teacher told them to write an emotional essay. It was over the top and not believable even as it was being read. I’m so dissapointed in philly mag to have two articles in a row where sources are challenged; believability is suspect. It makes me look twice at every article published.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1632600936 Jim Samuel

    Let me get this straight…Gargano got his information from a single source. Then your “fact-checker” confirmed the information from the same source. Is that correct? Have you never heard of the concept of second sources?

  • seal76

    Thanks for posting the correction Be careful in the future. You need to get in touch with local military groups to double check these “facts”. There are many present day and former military members who could have told you from the get go that this guy was a total fake

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Wilson/537350780 Dan Wilson

    This is the price you pay for the lack of veterans in newsrooms. They would have their BS detectors going off on something like this. I was one of only two vets in the newsroom when i was working, now both of us our retired.

    • Richard Colton

      That’s not what diversity means anymore. Now you assemble a team of ten reporters who all have the same ideological perspective, same education, and identical life experiences. As long as there are three different ethnicities and at least one American Indian in a wheelchair, your newsroom is “diverse.”

      Any vet, me being one, would have spotted the gaping holes in the story. And I like Gargano.

      • http://blog.scoop0901.net/ Scoop0901

        why is it the American Indian in a wheelchair? And why is an injun singled out for inclusion? I’m just curious, as it’s the only representative group identified you mentioned.

        • Richard Colton

          spinal cord injury? j/k. Newspapers used to look for diversity of opinions. diversity of perspective. now it’s just cosmetic diversity that matters. One person with a military background at phillymag would have spotted the holes in the story right away.

          • http://twitter.com/Scoop0901 Dave J. (Scoop0901)

            I almost resemble that joke. ;)

            But, you are spot-on about having a vet in the newsroom and get rid of this poster the use for reference.

    • They_Call_Me_Bruce

      Do they also need a lawyer, judge, financial advisor, accountant, trash man, nurse, doctor, homeless person, and every other profession to be represented in the newsroom? The fact that they failed to do basic journalism 101 is wrong, but to say they need a veteran on staff to be the BS detector for the 1 military story per year they might do is stupid.

      • Richard Colton

        Veteran isn’t a profession. I think if you want to do a story about any of the professions you mentioned, you probably find someone in one of those fields to help or consult. I suspect Dan’s objection is more generational. In the 50s, 60s, or 70s, so many Americans were veterans that every newsroom had them. All those WWII, Korea and Vietnam guys are retired journalists now.

  • seal76

    All you would have had to do was contact a USMC recruitet to check the facts on this one.

  • Dan Sauder

    This retraction/apology needs to be placed in the next edition of the magazine as well, as I almost missed this online! If it’s not, then I am going to have MAJOR problems with this company as I agree with most of the comments here. Also, as a longtime subscriber I read the magazine from cover-to-cover and generally thoroughly enjoy it (outside of D. Herbert Lipson’s missives), but last months cover story and now this makes me question the direction it is heading.

  • Guest

    Don’t torture yourself about his motivations. The Tree Pruner is a simple narcissist and Gargano met his most basic need – he gave him attention and reverence. And what could be better than attention from someone “famous” for such an individual? He remained anonymous just in case this very thing happened, and so he didn’t have to answer questions from people closer to him than Gargano.

    Ironically, all Gargano had to do was show a little bit of curiosity and he would’ve uncovered the fraud on his own. “John, this Greg sounds like one tough hombre, carrying a .50 cal machine gun in the field. Can I talk to him?” After a few such questions he would have found there is no Greg, there are no combat buddies. (Or he could’ve googled .50 call machine gun and learned it weighs 80+ lbs – without bullets.). Here is a link to a story about a reporter who was curious and avoided the exact same trap: http://bit.ly/Z9g7bv

  • Jeff Webb

    Don’t torture yourself about his motivations. The Tree Pruner is a simple narcissist and Gargano met his most basic need – he gave him attention and reverence. And what could be better than attention from someone “famous” for such an individual? He remained anonymous just in case this very thing happened, and so he didn’t have to answer questions from people closer to him than Gargano.

    Ironically, all Gargano had to do was show a little bit of curiosity and he would’ve uncovered the fraud on his own. “John, this Greg sounds like one tough hombre, carrying a .50 cal machine gun in the field. Can I talk to him?” After a few such questions he would have found there is no Greg, there are no combat buddies. (Or he could’ve googled .50 cal machine gun and learned it weighs 80+ lbs – without bullets.). Here is a link to a story about a reporter who was curious and avoided the exact same trap: http://bit.ly/Z9g7bv

  • http://twitter.com/alaskajohn John Cunningham

    Any writer or editor/fact checker who dealt with this idiot hoaxer should be fired and have their names put on a memorials as too stupid to hold any job related to journalism. you dopes are clearly too stupid to deliver papers let alone write in them. of course, the appeal of the story was showing how EVIL AND MURDEROUS the scum in Marine uniforms are. I suggest these “writers” and “editors” should be sent to kiss the ass of every recruit and DI at Parris Island.

  • connie d.

    Ur subheadline shouldn’t b “a source’s lies in our story…” it should b “why we didn’t do our job as a responsable magazine.” And then explain to your readers how it happened and how it can’t happen again or everyone one of ur pieces r suspectable to disbelief.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Donald-Smith/100001635221872 Donald Smith

    Well you had the courage to admit it. That is something. A little research wouldn’t hurt.