On May 16, quietly and under the radar, the National Park Service issued a formal apology to Jonathan Thesenga, former editor of Climbing magazine, for "inaccurate reporting" in the April 15 NPS Morning Report, an official NPS publication documenting park incidents.
In that April 15 report, the NPS claimed that Thesenga had been convicted in Federal Court for arson (a felony) and vandalism of natural resources. In fact, Thesenga was cited by rangers for "fires lighted or smoldering material discarded in a manner to create a public hazard," certainly not a felony offense as the NPS reported. And he was convicted of same -- a misdemeanor not a felony!
The report also stated that when confronted by rangers Tim Bertrand and Scott Fischer, Thesenga "fled from the area," when in fact he did not flee and was apprehended as he climbed down the face of the formation.
And, as if those mistakes weren't enough, the NPS report also asserted that, "Thesenga showed no remorse and did not apologize for his actions to the court." For his part, Thesenga issued a statement following his court appearance that admits his pouring white gas down the face of a rock formation was a "juvenile prank." Thesenga also states that he told the court at his appearance that he "would regret (what happened) for the rest of my life, and accept whatever punishment the court deemed fair."
Following the release of the embellished NPS report, and subsequent outpouring of outrage, Thesenga was fired from his job as editor of Climbing magazine.
The rare apology from the Park Service came within days of the U.S. Department of the Interior Solicitor's Office receiving letters dated May 2, 5 and 9 from Mr. Reid Neureiter, Thesenga's attorney.
The Solicitor's Office statement asserts that the original reports appearing on April 15 and April 23 were deleted from the NPS site, which proved true following a SNEWS check. However, the retraction report that we obtained a copy of is nowhere to be found on the NPS Morning Report site as promised. That retraction and correction statement is supposed to clear the air and instruct those who have copies of the original and erroneous reports to destroy them.
SNEWS View: It shocks us that the NPS would embellish a report to the level that it appears to have done here. In follow-up fact-checking for our stories we ran on the incident back in April, NPS officials corroborated the report as printed in The Morning Report. Now, we will have to wonder about the accuracy of any report printed in The Morning Report from the NPS -- and doubtless others will too. Would Thesenga have lost his job had the report been more accurate? Hard to say. Pouring white gas down the face of a rock formation and then lighting it on fire was certainly an act of abject stupidity and certainly not the actions one would expect from the editor of Climbing magazine. But his actions were absolutely NOT criminal, as the NPS originally stated. How much better for all of us had Thesenga been able to keep his job, and instead been required to perform vast hours of community service for the parks as well as writing editorials on the subject of taking responsibility for actions and deeds. He's a talented voice and writer that the industry already misses. Thesenga has paid a price for his missteps far beyond those we would think reasonable. Which makes us wonder, what of those who wrote the report, and the rangers who contributed to it? Have they now had to pay a price for essentially creating a story that wasn't and in part led to Thesenga's character being trashed publicly? We doubt it and the NPS isn't returning our calls on this matter -- no surprise we suppose. And what of the official NPS retraction that can't be found anywhere on the NPS website? The NPS owes it to Thesenga to make its retraction and correction story very public, just as it did the false claims of arson. Instead, the page where the "corrected story" is supposed to reside can't be found. And, the only reference to Thesenga when conducting a search on the www.nps.gov site still kicks up a reference to the original story, the one with arson in the headlines. Sounds like the NPS simply issued an apology without meaning or substance to deflect legal action, and Thesenga deserves much more than that.