The New Yorker has returned a National Magazine Award for a 2018 article about a Japanese company that hires actors who pretend to be customers’ family members. The decision to give up the price came after a survey from the magazine found that the three major subjects in history had fooled the article author and the fact check department.
The American Society of Magazine Editors, which manages the National Magazine Awards, announced the magazine’s decision on Friday, more than a month after The New Yorker attached an editorial to the online version of the article announcing the findings of the survey.
The 9,000-word article, “A Theory of Relativity,” was written by Elif Batuman, a novelist and staff writer at the magazine since 2010. It won the award for best feature film.
The editor’s note attached to the online version said that the findings of the magazine’s survey “contradict fundamental aspects of these individuals’ stories and undermine the credibility of what they told us.”
Even the article’s opening lines contained lies, the magazine’s investigation found. “Two years ago, Kazushige Nishida, a Tokyo wage earner in his sixties, began renting a wife and daughter part-time,” the story began. “His real wife had recently died.” The magazine found out that Mr. Nishida did not give the magazine his real full name, and that he was married.
The editor’s note added that The New Yorker would leave the story on its website because the phenomenon of “renting” relatives “in Japan is” well documented “and because it provided” an exploration of ideas about family in Japan and beyond. “
The New Yorker said they began investigating the article after news outlets in Japan reported in 2019 that a Family Romance employee, the outfit described in the article, “had incorrectly posed as a client for the company in a television documentary.” Mrs Batuman declined to comment.