5WPR Shoots Down New York Exclusive on Boy Genius Investor

mohammed islam

As we read the original story last night we thought, “this is too good to be true.” And so it was.

Thanks to our fellow media folks at The New York Observer, we now know that 17-year-old pseudo-genius/high school student Mohammed Islam featured in New York magazine’s “Reasons to Love New York” feature is not, in fact, a wealthy investor. Once the lie was exposed, he did what any embarrassed teenager in the spotlight would do: he hired 5WPR for crisis communications.

In the subsequent NYO piece, we learned several things including the fact that someone at 5W is a big fan of Jasper Johns.

Here’s an exchange about the money Islam allegedly made playing the stock market:

She said ‘have you made $72 million’?

[I led her to believe] I had made even more than $72 million on the simulated trades.

At this point the PR reps jumped in with Law & Order style objections. A conference outside the room ensued. Back into the room came Mr. Islam.

All I can say is for the simulated trades, I was very successful. The returns were incredible and outperformed the S&P.

That’s real-time media coaching. Ken Kurson of The Observer als0 does NOT approve of his competitor’s journalistic practices:

“This story smelled fishy the instant it appeared and a quick dance with the calculator probably would have saved these young men—and a couple reporters—some embarrassment.”

The original inspired us to do a double-take, and writer Jessica Pressler (who will soon join the investigative unit at Bloomberg News) defended the piece to CNBC, saying:

“If he lied, then he lied. But I just want to be clear that we didn’t 100% follow this lie. That’s just not what happened.”

Pressler apparently received more than her share of heckling; her Twitter account is now set to “private.”

So what made Islam tell the truth? His parents.

“Honestly, my dad wanted to disown me. My mom basically said she’d never talk to me…I haven’t spoken to them since.”

Here’s the official New York apology:

“We were duped. Our fact-checking process was obviously inadequate; we take full responsibility and we should have known better. New York apologizes to our readers.”

UPDATE: The story initially ran in the New York Post on Sunday, after which a shared contact directed Islam and his associates toward 5WPR.

Heidi Moore of The Guardian, who reported on the story today and published Islam’s videotaped apology, takes issue with 5W’s claim that “there were never bank statements of any sort shown to any reporter”; both the author and fact-checker of the New York piece claim to have seen a doctored statement, and in the Observer interview Islam himself says that he did show a fake document to the fact-checker “for maybe 10 seconds or so.”