Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Getting It Right

Article excerpt


'The New York Times' and 'The Washington Post' getting it wrong

For more than five years, i have been writing on -- and interviewing witnesses to -- chattel slavery in Sudan. Militias from the National Islamic Front government in the north raid villages of black animists and Christians in the south, abducting the women and children and often killing the men. The women and girls become house slaves and concubines; the boys are forced into Muslim schools.

It took a long time for the American press to take notice, but eventually the grim news spread due to the persistent efforts of the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group, members of Congress, and schoolchildren around the nation -- starting in Denver -- who raised money to buy back slaves.

I have interviewed redeemed slaves living here; have reports from black Sudanese bishops; and have checked with American journalists who witnessed slave redemptions, as well as with Sen. Sam Brownback, R- Kan., and Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., who also have been in Sudan.

In his April 23 column in The New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof wrote, "Unfortunately, there is evidence that many of these redemptions are the result of trickery, with false slave traders selling make- believe slaves many times over." That's all Kristof wrote on this point. He presented no evidence. If I were still teaching journalism classes, I would use this as the denotative definition of irresponsible reporting. As of this writing, the Times has declined to print letters specifically challenging Kristof's unsubstantiated charge.

A much more egregious illustration of reckless journalism was a Page One story in the Feb. 26 issue of The Washington Post by Karl Vick, a correspondent in Nairobi, Kenya. The headline: "Ripping Off Slave 'Redeemers.'" In the story, Vick charged that "buying the freedom of Sudanese slaves" abounds in corruption, and "in some cases ... the slaves were ... people gathered locally and instructed to pretend they were returning from bondage." Redeemers and observers who do not understand the local language were tricked, according to Vick.

John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International (CSI) -- the organizer of the redemptions, whose reports over the years I have checked and never found inaccurate -- said that Vick himself did not witness any slave redemptions, did not interview any liberated slaves, and, "after many months of research, failed to find, identify, and produce a single false slave out of the 60,000-plus slaves redeemed by [CSI]." Eibner also said -- regarding allegations that complicit translators did not tell "fake" slaves the specifics of what Western observers were actually asking -- Dateline NBC and CBS News, when each reported from Sudan, had their translations checked for accuracy. …

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