Opinion | New York Post removed a story about Ibrahim Khan from its website


The New York Post is officially busted. In September 2017, it published an apparent scoop about an alleged sexual assault by a top staffer to then-New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. Then it disappeared the story without alerting its readers — a major violation of journalism hygiene.

Now, five years later, that staffer, Ibrahim Khan, has resigned from James’ New York attorney general office amid sexual harassment claims, according to a Dec. 2 report in the New York Times.

What does the New York Post have to say about all of this? Very little.

The 2017 article recounted the claims of a 47-year-old staffer in James’s public advocate office that Khan, in 2014, had drugged and sexually assaulted her at a holiday party. The piece cited a complaint that the staffer had filed with New York state’s Division of Human Rights. It was published, furthermore, just weeks before exposés on the sexual misconduct of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein supercharged a plume of #MeToo stories.

A spokeswoman for James’s office at the time provided a rebuttal to the staffer’s claims, calling them “an outright lie.” In response to questions from the Erik Wemple Blog this week, an AG spokesperson wrote that three independent agencies “investigated the allegation and determined that there was no basis for further action. Sexual assault is a very serious matter, which is why the office undertook every step necessary to ensure that these allegations were thoroughly investigated.”

On Friday, the New York Times reported that Khan had resigned as chief of staff of James’s office. In a statement, Khan said that he’d been “slated” to leave for the private sector by year’s end, and the move was “unrelated” to an investigation into his conduct. A spokeswoman for James said that an “independent, impartial investigation was conducted, and the employee has since resigned.” Citing one source, the Times reported that multiple allegations were brought to the AG’s attention by a political consultant, “not by the victims themselves.”

That Times report mentioned the New York Post article about Khan, including the fact that it had gone missing from the newspaper’s website. In a Monday piece on the upheaval, the New York Post acknowledged its removal of the published piece and provided an explanation: “The Post removed the article from its website because it learned [the accuser] had not actually identified Khan as the person who drugged and assaulted her, and that said she had said she had no memory of who the attacker was.”

Contradiction alert: The September 2017 report explicitly stated that the accuser “claims in the papers that Khan drugged and sexually assaulted her. She told The Post she eventually recalled details.”

In a brief conversation with the Erik Wemple Blog, the accuser declined to discuss the New York Post article in detail. “I will not have anybody telling anything,” she said. “It will be my own story.” Efforts to secure comment from Khan have been unsuccessful.

We’ve asked Iva Benson, a spokeswoman for the New York Post, to reconcile the contrasting versions of events, among other inquiries. She replied that the New York Post will have no comment beyond what it has already published.

Journalism long ago settled on norms for handling stories that fall apart. Readers should be apprised of the development, whether it be through a retraction, editor’s note or correction. If the New York Post took those steps, it managed to sneak them past the Erik Wemple Blog. A question regarding a retraction was among those that the New York Post spokeswoman declined to answer.

The real-life implications of publishing and then deleting a report about sexual misconduct came into focus on Wednesday, when the New York Times reported the account of Sofia Quintanar, a former colleague of Khan in the AG’s office who’d alleged that he “stuck his tongue down my throat” without consent in November 2021. She said she later considered coming forward with her story and was heartened when a friend told her that the New York Post had previously reported an allegation against Khan. “She said she could not retrieve The Post’s article, and decided to ‘just take this to the grave,’ ” reported the Times. Quintanar subsequently began confiding in others, and her complaint, along with that of another colleague, made its way to James in early October, according to the Times.

James has previously positioned herself as a #MeToo purist. “I believe women,” she said in announcing the results of her office’s 2021 investigation into sexual misconduct complaints against then-New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. “And I believe all of these 11 women” — referring to allegations from nearly a dozen women against Cuomo. As this blog reported early this year, the AG investigation, as well as the media, ignored a lawsuit that called into question the credibility of a key accuser, and it stood behind a breast-groping allegation that proved wobbly on consequential details. The report’s investigative presumptions generally tilted in one direction — against Cuomo.

When the accused was a longtime associate of James’s, however, the standard shifted. Had the Times not forced the issue, it’s possible that Khan would have moved on without a public ripple. Just like that, James morphed from a champion of #MeToo transparency and consequences into another politician seeking to duck accountability. When The Washington Post inquired about Khan last week, for instance, it met this dismissal from AG spokeswoman Delaney Kempner: “The rumor mill that the washington post is creating is pretty low for you guys.”

The “rumor mill” complaint is precious: Asking questions is not gossip. It’s an attempt to learn the facts — facts that shroud the AG’s office in a most unflattering light.

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