Michael Finkel is an American journalist and memoirist, who has written the books True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa (2005) and The Stranger in the Woods: The extraordinary story of the last true hermit (2017).
Finkel was a writer for The New York Times until 2002, when he was discovered to have used interviews with multiple people to create a composite protagonist, Youssouf Malé, for a story he had written on the African slave trade, "Is Youssouf Malé A Slave?"
Finkel had originally pitched a child slavery story to The New York Times, but his subsequent reporting did not uncover proof of enslavement, although he did encounter teenagers working for meager wages in difficult conditions.
The story Finkel submitted purported to profile an adolescent West African boy, Youssouf Malé, who sold himself into slavery on a cocoa plantation in the Ivory Coast. The story as published included photographs, including one described as being that of Malé. After publication, an official of Save the Children contacted Finkel to say that the boy pictured was not Malé. Upon questioning by his editors, Finkel admitted that the boy profiled in the article was in fact a composite of several boys he had interviewed, including one named Youssouf Malé. Finkel was then fired.
After his dismissal from The New York Times, Finkel learned that Christian Longo, an Oregon man who had murdered his own wife and three children in December 2001, had used "Michael Finkel" as an alias during his several weeks as a fugitive. After Longo's capture the next month, Finkel communicated with him. Finkel says that, before the trial, Longo had hoped the journalist would bring out "the real story" to help him win acquittal; after conviction, the convict gave Finkel interviews admitting his guilt. Finkel wrote a memoir on the relationship, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa (2005).
Honors and awards
- Finkel, Michael (November 18, 2001). "Is Youssouf Malé A Slave? with Editors' Note". The New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2015. (Registration required (help)). Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Salmon, Felix (February 27, 2002). "Michael Finkel and the New York Times Magazine". Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- "Editor's Note". The New York Times. February 21, 2002. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- Wiegand, David (June 11, 2005). "After getting fired by the New York Times for lying in print, a reporter stumbled on the story of his life". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved April 14, 2015.
- Finkel, Michael (May 1, 2005). True Story. Harper.
- Coombe, Tucker (August 3, 2017). "'There Have Always Existed People Who've Simply Wanted to be Alone': An Interview with Michael Finkel". Hazlitt. Retrieved 2017-08-12.
- "Winners & Finalists". American Society of Magazine Editors. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
- Finkel, Michael. "Bedlam in the Blood: Malaria". National Geographic. Retrieved April 18, 2015. (Subscription required (help)). Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Shafer, Jack (July 27, 2007). "The Return of Michael Finkel". Slate. Retrieved April 18, 2015.