Clarence Talston: The Washington Post’s Newest, and Fakest, Reporter
When Chris Murphy first wrote an email to prominent homeless advocate Eric Sheptock earlier this month, he was just trying to organize a meeting about the mayor's homeless policy. Instead, he found himself the target of a scheme to "scare" him.
At first, Sheptock seemed interested in a meeting with Murphy, Mayor Vince Gray's chief of staff. But the exchange soured when Sheptock started blind-copying members of the media on their emails.
"The next crazy thing you say to me, I'm going all out with the brutal honesty," Sheptock wrote to Murphy this Monday, threatening to expose him to the media. "Suck it up, Baby!!!!!"
It's not clear what Sheptock was planning to expose—Murphy's emails to Sheptock are pretty innocuous. Either way, 30 minutes later, Murphy got an email from Clarence Talston, who claimed to be a Washington Post reporter working on a story about Sheptock's abortive meeting with Murphy, based on Sheptock's emails with Murphy and other District government employees. Talston claimed he had a scoop.
"We have chronicled quite a story over the past couple of months," Talston wrote, in an email that's available in full at the bottom of this post. "Today's correspondence is quite a hiccup in the progress and unfortunately Mr. Sheptock's responses are not threats as it relates to media."
Murphy, concerned because Talston was using a Yahoo! email account, forwarded the email to two other Post Local reporters, Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart, to check if Talston was legit. He was right to be suspicious—according to Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti, Talston doesn't work for the Post. In fact, by all accounts, he doesn't even exist.
"That was kind of an undercover thing," says Sheptock, whose homeless activism and social media savvy has earned him appearances on CNN, NPR, and, naturally, in the Post. According to Sheptock, who spoke to me on the phone, it was a friend of his who posed as a Post reporter, without Sheptock's knowledge, to get more information from Murphy.
"I think what he was trying to do was to scare Chris Murphy into thinking that he was going to have a P.R. nightmare," Sheptock says. Sheptock, reached while on a bus to New York, wouldn't reveal his friend's name.
As for Murphy, he declined to talk on the record, saying only, "No good deed goes unpunished."
Despite the intervention of "Clarence Talston," it doesn't look like Murphy and Sheptock will be talking homeless issues any time soon. In an email Monday night to Sheptock about the ruse, Murphy said that a meeting would be a waste of time—and suggested that Sheptock's friend may have committed a "cybercrime."
Talston's full email:
Hello Mr. Murphy,
My name is Clarence Talston and I am a reporter for the Washington Post DC Government Division. I was assigned to cover the SHARC matter involving DC Government's refusal to restore the $7 million dollars for homeless services even though there is a surplus. In my coverage Mr. Eric Sheptock has forwarded me all his correspondence with DC Government Agencies and Officials and we have chronicled quite a story over the past couple of months. Today's correspondence is quite a hiccup in the progress and unfortunately Mr. Sheptock's responses are not threats as it relates to media. Every year the Post does a front page piece on homeless matters over the holiday season and we have featured Mr. Sheptock a couple of years ago and value him as a reliable source. Though I can't advise you how to move forward with the matter, I can only write the facts as has been presented below. I would welcome any additional information that you would like to provide in reference to the Mayor's office refusing to meet with the homeless of our city during the holiday season.
Thanks for your time and communication.
DC Government Reporter
Mystery man photo by Shutterstock.