Amanda Taub takes a hard look at reporting by the AP, the New York Times, and Reuters, and finds all three may have been duped by a Darfuri rebel leader–and refuse to acknowledge the possibility.
After weeks of research, I have been unable to find any information that makes me think Abu Sharati, supposedly the “representative” of Darfuri refugees and IDPs, exists -except to the extent that someone, who possesses neither that name nor that position, has been making statements to the press. And that whoever that person is, he is apparently awfully fond of the rebel leader Abdel Wahid Al-Nur.
I cannot think of any way to interpret the information I have been given that would allow me to conclude that no journalist has either (a) lied to me, (b) failed to follow the professional ethics that a journalist should, or (c) been duped by a fake “refugee representative” when any minor amount of digging or critical thought would have alerted them that there was more to the story. Frankly, the Occam’s Razor explanation here really seems like it’s (d): all of the above.
So, does it matter? Is it a big deal if a few journalists messed up, and accidentally published quotes from a mythical character, presenting them as if they represent a unified refugee position on the stories in question?
Yes. It matters.
Think this is worth a second look by the Times? Email the public editor, the foreign desk, and the news department by clicking on the links. Want some ready-made text? Try the following (polite version):
Subject: Potentially misleading quotes of Darfuri refugee representative
To the Times:
I wanted to draw your attention to the investigative work of Amanda Taub, who has identified NYT quotes that were attributed to a Darfuri refugee representative whom her evidence suggests does not exist. Her description of your reporters’ response raises serious concerns about the quality and ethics of their reporting. The matters seems worthy of a closer look by senior Times staff.
Ms. Taub’s investigation can be seen here: http://wrongingrights.blogspot.com/2009/10/part-i-who-is-abu-sharati-and-why-am-i.html. This link is followed by two further parts.
Thank you for your attention to the matter.