Mainstream Media Duped By “Student Loan” Expert Who Never Existed

While searching for sources for their stories about America’s blossoming student-loan debt, CNBC, Fox News And the Washington Post all cited the work of a self-styled “journalist” and “student loan expert” who portrayed named David Cloud, the founder of an “independent” news outlet the Student Loan Report.

But as a report published this week by the Chronicle of Higher Education revealed, Cloud has a serious credibility problem: He doesn’t exist.

The Chronicle became suspicious after Cloud “authored” an article about a survey about students using financial aid money to fund cryptocurrency investments. According to Cloud, the “survey” revealed that an astonishing 21% of student loan borrowers had used the money they received to fund crypto investments.

Cloud

Several reporters immediately suspected that this sounded like a specious claim, and decided to do a little more digging into Cloud’s background…which is when they learned that he was a fabrication invented by several writers at the Student Loan Report.

After The Chronicle spent more than a week trying to verify Cloud’s existence, the company that owns The Student Loan Report confirmed that Cloud was fake. “Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education,” wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU.

Before his true identity (or lack thereof) was discovered, Cloud’s work had been used in many salacious stories about the tremendous lengths that US students would supposedly go to live an existence free of debt.

He’s always got the new data, featuring irresistible twists:

One in five students use extra money from their student loans to buy digital currencies.

Nearly 8 percent of students would move to North Korea to free themselves of their debt.

Twenty-seven percent would contract the Zika virus to live debt-free.

All of those surveys came from Cloud’s website, The Student Loan Report.

And not only did Cloud’s name exist solely on the website – individuals claiming to be Cloud also corresponded with reporters, suggesting story topics and offering to participate in on-the-record interviews.

After The Chronicle spent more than a week trying to verify Cloud’s existence, the company that owns The Student Loan Report confirmed that Cloud was fake. “Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education,” wrote Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU.

Before that admission, however, Cloud had corresponded at length with many journalists, pitching them stories and offering email interviews, many of which were published. When The Chronicle attempted to contact him through the address last week, Cloud said he was traveling and had limited access to his account. He didn’t respond to additional inquiries.

And on Monday, as The Chronicle continued to seek comment, Cloud suddenly evaporated. His once-prominent placement on The Student Loan Report had been removed. His bylines were replaced with “SLR Editor.” Matherson confirmed on Tuesday that Cloud was an invention.

Pressed on whether he regretted deceiving news organizations with a fake source, Matherson said Cloud “was created as a way to connect with our readers (ex. people struggling to repay student debt) and give us the technical ability to post content to the WordPress website.”

Several news organizations, including WaPo and the Boston Globe have offered embarrassing editors’ notes on these stories.

Here’s Wapo…

Note

…And the Globe.

Note

In addition to the truth about Cloud, the Chronicle for the first time publicized the Student Loan Report’s connection with LendEDU. The company runs a student-loan refinancing business, and the Student Loan Report’s articles often included links to LendEDU and its services. When people reached out to Cloud to inquire about strategies for mitigating their debt payments, he’d often suggest refinancing their loan…through LendEDU.

Of course, in the modern media landscape, funding shortages and deteriorating editorial standards have allowed “Fake News” to flourish, even in such respectable and reputable media organizations as the Washington Post.

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