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CNBC’s Darren Rovell Duped By Teen’s Fake Escort Tip

Back during the NBA lockout, CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell turned to Twitter in an effort to flesh out a story on how the lockout was impacting businesses. “If you are losing a paycheck/business because of the NBA, I want to tell your story,” he wrote. One tipster with the rather LOLiterary name “Henry James” and the pleasantly rhyming gmail address “hankinthebank1@gmail.com” swiftly responded, informing Rovell that his New York-based escort service, a favorite among Knicks and Nets players, wasn’t “getting the constant business that I need to stay running.” And so our fairy tale begins. For, as it turns out, Henry James was not a surprisingly open New York pimp entrepreneur, but, rather, a bored 18-year-old high school senior named Tim.

As Deadspin reports, Rovell responded promising “James” anonymity but wanted some specific financial details for his report. Mr. James was more than helpful. Below, one of his email responses:

Well its a high profile operation so I get a lot of athletes depending on the season but between entertainers, athletes and just wealthy people 30 percent roughly is NBA related during NBA season. This far into the season ive probably lost 25,000 dollars maybe more, its hard to tell because were working with lower profile clients in replacement for less money. I take anywhere from 65 to 80 % of the cut depending on how long the woman has been working for me.

Later, James offered even more specifics:

Well its a high profile operation so I get a lot of athletes depending on the season but between entertainers, athletes and just wealthy people 30 percent roughly is NBA related during NBA season. This far into the season ive probably lost 25,000 dollars maybe more, its hard to tell because were working with lower profile clients in replacement for less money. I take anywhere from 65 to 80 % of the cut depending on how long the woman has been working for me.

“This is so fascinating to me,” Rovell responded. (To us, too!) The reporter followed up by asking whether there were any “replacement” customers to make up for the money he was losing out from players embroiled in the lockout.

James responded:

There are replacements but they aren’t as consistent and not nearly as high paying. Cheapest girl is around 350 or 400 an hour most expensive is 4,000, anywhere from 2 to 6 hours usually.

Rovell ended up using James’ helpful input in his report, titled “Small Business Owners Getting Squeezed by NBA Lockout,” which was ultimately picked up by the likes of Business Insider, Yahoo, Slam and even our sister site, SportsGrid. (Worth noting: Not that we’re saying our friends at SportsGrid are experts on this or anything, but they did note that “Henry’s” numbers seemed a lil’ suspect.)

CNBC.com has since scrubbed James’ input from Rovell’s story, and he has issued an apology to his readers:

In a story I wrote here on CNBC.com on November 21, 2011 about the NBA Lockout called, “Small Business Owners Getting Squeezed by NBA Lockout” I was duped by a “source” and I’d like to explain to you my readers what happened.

The upside of Internet is that it gives a voice to millions of people that otherwise might not have a platform. In this case I used Twitter to crowd source a story about the real people affected by the NBA lockout. I got hundreds of responses from ballboys to ushers who chose to share their very personal stories. I tried to verify all stories by peppering people with questions to test their knowledge. The downside of Twitter is that the voice can hide behind a wall of anonymity.

The escort story made the cut because I thought it was different. As you can see in the published exchange I went back and forth with “Tim” in an attempt to ascertain whether his story was genuine. Feeling satisfied that the answers seemed real, we included it in the story.

He duped me. Shame on me. I apologize to my readers.

As a result I will do fewer stories on the real life impact of big events which I do think the public enjoys.

There will always be people out there who want their 15 minutes of fame and not really care how they get there.

And they all lived happily ever after, the NBA players most of all.

h/t Deadspin

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