We'd like to shed some light on yesterday's phony publicity stunt by Jeff Ragsdale and Megan Brady -- the one that landed them both in an Elisa Mala story yesterday afternoon on the City Room blog that took their kooky yarn at face value.
Late this morning, the City Room blog updated the blog to suggest that it's now aware that it has been fooled. "Some are suggesting this is a hoax," the NYT now says. "We are trying to sort it out, but it may take a while, stay tuned."
While the NYT sorts it out, here's the story! The whole thing is apparently a performance piece, concocted by two actors in love with the limelight.
Earlier this year, the headline-seeking pair of performers first introduced their "jealous lovers" performance piece in an appearance on CBS's "Early Show," also pushing their sad-sack story of jealous lovers -- along the same lines as yesterday's story, which suggested that Ragsdale was publicly begging forgiveness from his girlfriend via a sign in Madison Square Park.
In the CBS News segment, the couple represented themselves as having been dating for two years and engaged for six months -- quite a bit different from the NYT version that they had "dated for about half a year."
"I feel like Othello," Ragsdale told CBS News, quite convincingly, though he looks more like Jerry Seinfeld.
In that interview, as with the NYT story, they stick with their story that Ragsdale suffers from extreme jealousy, and blames it all on an alcoholic father -- again!
In its update, the NYT blog acknowledged that Ragsdale is a standup comedian. But in fact, he and Brady are both actors. (In the original post, the NYT identified Ragsdale as a "computer consultant" and Brady as working in "advertising.")
In August of 2009, Brady took time off from her "advertising" career to appear in a Discovery Channel episode of "Dr. G, America's Most Shocking Cases." Brady played "Patricia," suspected of murdering her husband, "John Powell," a 44-year-old motorcycle-riding plumber.
"The motive? One of the oldest in the book," the deep-voiced narrator intones. "Money."
It's not clear what has motivated Ragsdale and Brady to get themselves into print by presenting themselves as a troubled couple -- but it worked.
Ragsdale has shown a strong predilection for getting himself on camera, presumably to further his acting career. Among the Ragsdale set pieces posted on YouTube, and elsewhere on the web:
--an over-the-top comic performance (and victory!) by Ragsdale as a contestant on the Science Channel's "Mind Games" game show on October 31, 2009.
--a screaming tirade over a NYC parking ticket, posted on YouTube and FunnyOrDie less than two weeks ago.
--a stand-up comedy reel that includes Ragsdale tying a pair of panty hose around his neck.
Ragsdale has even used serious news stories to draw attention to himself. In 2006, he appeared on television news programs -- including this outraged NY1 interview -- advocating the closure of a SoHo bar after a brutal crime against a young female customer by its doorman.
This marks the third time in less than a month that the NYT's City Room blog has apparently fallen for a hoax or publicity stunt.
On April 1, the blog picked up a phony claim by a local personal injury lawyer that he'd been named the White House's official law blogger. The reporter later acknowledged he'd failed to check out the item before publishing it.
That same day, the blog's editor -- Andy Newman -- fell for a hoax about a group claiming to be riding the subway without wearing pants.
According to Public Editor Clark Hoyt, who wrote about the hoaxes, Newman said "he thought the man was reliable," referring to the leader of a street theater group who told him of the phony event.
Mala, the author of yesterday's post, appears to be a freelance contributor to the NYT City Room blog. Her twitter feed identifies her as a contributor to the NYT blog, ESPN The Magazine, Newsweek "and others." A Google search also turns up previous articles in the New York Sun.
On a Columbia University student website in March of 2009, the NYT's Newman identified Mala as "an intern from Queens College" working on The Local, the NYT Brooklyn blog Newman edited before moving over to City Room.
UPDATE: At 3:32 p.m. this afternoon, someone identifying himself as Jeff Ragsdale posted a comment on the City Room blog post. "I am Jeff Ragsdale," he wrote. "This is NOT a hoax. I did this out of love and desperation."
Ragsdale acknowledged his career as an actor and comedian but said "that has nothing to do with this....this was a last-ditch effort to win Megan back. I love her. I need her." (The full comment is reprinted below.)
Has the NYT been able to speak to Ragsdale directly to "sort it out," as promised? Or does this comment represent the end of its investigation?
In the words of the City Room blog: stay tuned.
2ND UPDATE: At 8:19 p.m. on Saturday, the NYT City Room blog posted an acknowledgement that "there is considerable evidence" that it was the victim of a hoax.
The blog reported that "on repeated questioning," Ragsdale and Brady "insisted that they are really a couple who really did have a falling out," and added tht "nothing depicted in the piece...is fake."
But the NYT blog went on to say, rather awkwardly:
"Obviously, we are skeptical at this point. We will dig further. Just as obviously, we wish we had done the digging before we published the post."
No problem, guys -- that's what we're here for!