2021/07/14

A brief experiment with Truth

In my previous post, I mentioned in passing that an article by Declan Walsh in the NY Times about the war in Tigray seemed to have reversed facts and created a false narrative about who was the aggressor.  Well, this subplot took a dramatic turn today.  Long story short, in addition to the blog post, I asked him publicly repeatedly, and today he publicly admitted it! It is an extraordinary admission but since the editors of the NY Times are apparently sweeping this reversal under the rug, I would like to  relay the story more completely here.

On June 21, the NY Times published this article: "From Nobel Hero to Driver of War, Ethiopia’s Leader Faces Voters -- Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed plunged Ethiopia into a war in the Tigray region that spawned atrocities and famine".   It's quite long and there's lots of "color", but it basically has two pieces of new information.

First about Feltman meeting Abiy in Addis Abeba in May. The meeting itself is not news, what's being reported is an anecdote about how the meeting went, showing Abiy trying to clumsily charm Feltnan and failing, with details like coffee spills, etc. to show the info comes from someone who was there.  So basically this is relaying  the story of the meeting from Feltman's perspective. Not really reporting but ok...  

Second, it reports that Coons spoke to Abiy in "early November". What happened in that conversation is the real substance of the article. Here's what it said:
  • "Washington" heard about the war before it started 
  • Coons called Abiy and tried to talk him out of starting the war
  • Abiy wanted the war and predicted swift victory before it started
  • There is no mention in the article of the actual event that started the war, namely the Nov 4 attack by  TPLF on the national army
The story a normal reader would get is basically that the Ethiopian government was the aggressor against TPLF.  

But if you are not naive a  few things jump out. 
  • First it is saying the call happened in early November before the start of the war, and before the US election, so it must have been Nov 1-3.  At that time Coons was running for reelection.  It is hard to believe that a US Senator is making phone calls to foreign leaders in the last 48 hours of his own election campaign.  
  • Second, the reason Senator Coons has been involved lately is as a personal emissary of President Biden. They are both from Delaware, Coons took  Biden's seat in the Senate when Biden became VP, and it is not unusual for a sitting president or a president-elect to have personal emissaries do some international diplomacy for them.  What is unusual is for this to happen before he's elected.  And it is even more surprising that candidate Biden would be focused on Ethiopia while he is in the final hours of his own very intense presidential campaign!  
  • Third, consider how might have "word reached Washington" about a war that hasn't started. Who gets "word" about alleged secret military plans of a foreign country? Is the claim that Biden was getting secret foreign intelligence while he was still a candidate? The Trump adminstration and Biden transition  were not even cooperating *after* the election, so if there really was a secret channel of intelligence to Biden this would be news!
  • Fourth a quick look at Senator Coons website shows that his calls are logged.  For example the Nov 23 call is there and is consistent with what was widely reported at the time.  But there is no record of a call in early November. Strange exception.
What makes more sense is that there was no pre-Nov 3 conversation. It was the Nov 23 conversation. By taking what Abiy said three weeks after the war was started by TPLF, and placing it before Nov 4, the article creates a false narrative about who the aggressor is. Literally reversing the truth!

This was part of a pattern in all the other articles by the same Declan Walsh. In a June 28 article he wrote ENDF "invaded" Tigray back in November, a strange statement considering ENDF was attacked on its own bases in Tigray.  (I'm using links to tweets as neutral timestamps since publication dates on nytimes.com can change).  In May he wrote that "Abiy began a military operation on Nov. 4" , as if he just happened for no apparent reason.  In February article, he describes the beginning of the war by saying "Abiy launched a surprise offensive".  A surprise! A few people have noted this amnesia. By June, he had written over 6300 words in 4 articles on the war without once mentioning the Nov 4 attacks. The phrase "Nobel prize" appears in every single article in sentences with a negative or ironic tone. Every Ethiopian government or army action is portrayed as if it was done personally by Abiy himself on a whim, a typical "third world dictator" trope.  But the Nov 4 attack by TPLF was not mentioned, not once. Finally, after months, and thousands more words, perhaps as a result of the criticism,  "Nov 4" appeared in the 20th paragraph  of an article on July 3. In the most recent article, perhaps he has retreated  to  using passive voice formulations like ""war erupted in November".  All this to say this detail appeared on Jun 21 against a backdrop of consistent, shall we say, omission.

But this time it was more than just an omission and subjective tone, it was a blatant true or false question. So I asked him directly on Twitter And again two weeks later.

Finally today, (thanks to @Noslata and many others) Declan Walsh responded! He said the article was updated, and blamed the falsehood on Coons misremembering the dates.
Here's what the updated article says as of now 
So basically the main point, the meat of the story, is now completely different. 

Vindicated!  

But I'm not celebrating. The whole thing is still a loss for Truth. Either the reporter was  lying in the article and is also lying now on Twitter when he blames it on Coons; or he simply writes  what a politician tells him without even the most rudimentary checking --  more secretary than reporter. One might wonder how a "bureau chief" of a major newspaper could be such a clumsy liar or so gullible. I guess we are lucky that we are dealing with the B team here. Check this out:  "The New York Times shows how not to write an Africa job advert" a hilarious deconstruction of a job ad. That might even be the actual one that was filled by Declan Walsh!  Reading it you can totally see how the position could go to second-rate hacks who are easily manipulated by their sources.  This is not the first time either -- I've complained before.

More depressing is that on the article itself, even now there is no indication that a correction was made! No editor's note, no diff.  It just says updated as if it was a minor punctuation change.  It's hard to overstate the impact of this.... One of the most influential newspapers published a completely false narrative about one of the biggest most tragic events, then after millions had read it, quietly reversed the facts.  It's much worse than the old problem of print corrections not getting as much visibility as the original falsehood. In this case the damage is done and what little evidence there was is erased....  

Another disappointment is that  this  July 11 artcile in Al Jazeera  covers the same conversation with the same tone, and misses the opportunity to clearly put in the right context (i.e. after not before Nov 4). Before today's admission by Declan, I had asked the author privately if he had more info on this conversation but didn't hear back.  

So what can we do?   When this kind of stuff happened leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the NY Times played an infamous role. Here is their own list of articles that contributed to deceit about the war. Their ombudsman aka public editor, whose role was to hold the paper  accountable on behalf of readers wrote a scathing rebuke of the Time's failures. Sadly, this position was abolished in 2017 it seems. So I resorted to asking the question on Twitter. And that is the silver lining. You are now the public editors!  And unraveling falsehoods  can now happen in a few days instead of years.  And of course, the evidence was never really erased merely swept under the rug. We can see on archive.org that the change occured between June 25 and June 27.  Also I usually don't grab screenshots but for some reason something made me latch on to this  on June 21.   The summer solstice maybe?  Anyway  I hope  this little experiment shows there's hope for truth. Strengthen your mind we are living in serious times

P.S. The title of this post is borrowed from the autobiography of M. K. Gandhi, one of my favorite books

18 comments:

  1. The damage has already been done. So sad!!!

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    Replies
    1. Trust Takes Years To Build, Seconds To Break And Forever To Repair - Dhar Mann

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  2. History is written by winners. Now there is no other option but to get to the finish line first and tell it as is on the ground. But in the mean time we got you.

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  3. Proud of what you are doing. Keep on exposing these fake privileged African saviour.

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  4. Proud of what you've done! The truth shall prevail!

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  5. Thanks for putting this together. It’s very informative and clearly exposes the ill-intentions of NYT and the reports towards Ethiopia.

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  6. You did a great job. Though, it takes time the truth prevails
    Thanks

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  7. Thank you Nemo! You did it again!

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  8. wow great article... please do such a research on other articles of Ntimes by Walish. Thank you

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  9. Thanks,to show how this media in particular, the Western Media in general, baised against Ethiopia.

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  10. Thank you for being a voice for truth! We all should put our effort to fight liers who wish to enrich themselves at the expense of our dear country!

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  11. They wrote what they want to us to be as usual, not the truth...

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  12. Thanks, for enlightening us on how corrupt, and deliberately truth is twisted this day

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  13. Thank God for truth tellers like you in exposing corruption in western media who are compromised by TPLF's millions of looted treasure. I now believe the Nov attack in Ethiopia was coordinated with the US with clear plausible deniability.

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  14. A few of us here are planning to meet with our senator and towards that, I am charged with preparing background notes to leave with the senator so he/his staff might learn what is wrong with the current narrative of the US administration and of western media as it relates to developments in Ethiopia. It would be helpful to our effort if we could liberally extract key facts woven into logical arguments in your recent pieces. I am hopeful you would not mind that. Our notes will not be specifically attributed to you to protect your privacy but also we plan to make our own contributions towards shading light on the facts on the ground.

    If you agree, kindly drop me a yes not at my email address dralem@yahoo.com

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  15. Nice sleuthing & follow-up with NYT to get the truth out.

    One aspect is the extreme sloppiness of today’s journalists who masquerade as truth tellers. When they are not spending their time fabricating stories, they act as “stenographers” for governments which constantly lie to their public, never mind the role the press is supposed to play as custodians of the “fourth estate” in search of the truth.

    Beyond the possible hidden agendas being promoted, what can be more sensational than headlines of a “war mongering” Nobel peace laureate! This suffocated reasonable discourse and reporting, especially during the early months of this conflict. It was incredibly difficult to inform and educate, as the relentless flood of falsehoods and distortions made even normally intelligent people doubt the truth.

    In the era of vibrant and virulent social media, it sometimes feels like a Sisyphean task since “a lie travels halfway around the world while truth is still lacing its shoes”

    All the same, thanks Nemo, and please keep it coming.

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  16. Hi it also came to my attention that when you try to share this video on Facebook

    https://youtu.be/6jwo2R3i67c
    It automatically changes the headline....I don't know if it's hacked but very disturbing to see this can be done (altho thot surprising) if the news outlet knows about it then....

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