Editorial: ‘Fearless’ Journalism? truthout.org Pulls Camp Ashraf Article Without Explanation/Response
Last week, truthout.org pulled an article I wrote. It was cited and thoroughly researched over a five-week period on the Siege of Baghdad’s Refugee Camp Ashraf. It was pulled with a terse note from the commissioning editor saying they will commission no more articles. While that is always any publication’s prerogative, no one in their Administration or editorial staff replied to multiple requests to clarify why the article was pulled. The only reason given from Commissioning Editor, Leslie Thatcher was they were unaware of ties between Camp Ashraf and the MEK.
That is an untrue representation and I am prepared to publish the more than 20 e-mails and transcripts of notes from our two phone calls that were exchanged on this article. Attached with the submission of the 1st draft was an archive of articles from Time Magazine, Foreign Policy Magazine and others showing the charges and their debunking. I was aware of and had concerns having seen multiple stories from many points of view.
The Middle East is all about raw emotion and generations of anger. Because it exists one must, of course, use caution in any story. That does not though forgive doing nothing and caving to the first sign of emotion.
Prior to publication, the article underwent dozens of changes to reflect the fast moving nature of the story and changes on the ground. It could not be published earlier because of truthout holiday staff shortages and I was repeatedly told everyone was very enthusiastic about the story and they especially held it until the Monday to ensure a broader audience.
No one is served by an inaccurate article. As an independent freelance journalist and editor of UK Progressive Magazine, I stand by both pieces having attended House of Lords Parliamentary meetings in London condemning the treatment of Camp refugees and interviewed more than 2 dozen people between 15 November and 27 December when the story first ran. This was certainly not done for the meagre commission, rather a genuine pursuit of more of the story.
Refugee Camp Ashraf is a perfect storm. The real issue is the complex Middle East environment. It stirs passion on all sides. No one involved on any side of this dispute would be mistaken as a candidate for Eagle Scout. The UN spreads whispers when someone is critical of their dereliction of duty. The Iranian government is expert at disinformation. The Nouri al-Maliki government in Iraq hangs on to a fragile peace between Sunni and Shiite and the coalition has its own disinformation team to heat things up.
The MEK and NCRI have a past and are hardly blameless in expressing their righteous indignation. All are pushing for political advantage and the story is the humanitarian suffering inside the camp. There is little sympathy though because too many have vested regional interests. Even Mother Theresa herself would have a hard time getting a point across in this part of the world.
What on earth were truthout expecting, the story would be “greeted in the streets as liberators.” It is a hot topic, well reported and brought out into the open without resorting to WikiLeaks “journalism.”
Precisely because it is hot does not forgive journalists for failing to try to tell the story or shying away because it is too difficult. It also does not forgive censorship by a “fearless” news organisation. If anything, it demands that they ensure all sides are heard and their very intelligent readership make their own decisions rather than being swayed by the number of comments and their ferocity. Come out in support of the refugees and there is chorus of commentators who shoot the entire article down. Come out in support of any government and the refugees scream. Each side tries to push its advantage and ‘truth’ is often stretched for political gain.
Wow, what a shocking disclosure. One need only look at the US Tea Party RW on issues like Climate Change, Birthers and Death Panels, to name but a few, to see daily, if not hourly, message shape-shifting.
As a journalist, I looked at all sides of this issue and made determinations based on balancing facts with that little used commodity in media today, common sense. Is what I am hearing making sense? Can I republish it? Do I have a second confirming source beyond the group pushing the argument? If the answer to all three is yes, I move forward.
Everyone was pushing an agenda. I also know that the UK and EU Parliament have much more to lose than gain backing resolutions and fighting on behalf of the camp’s residents. I consulted with my truthout editor and together we took decisions. Indeed I was urged by this editor to immediately release the follow-up story about the attack so they could pick up the URL and run it and instead chose to wait a further 24-hours becauseof exhaustion and wanting to get all known information.
My replies to her were always factual and unequivocal:
1. This editor was told of the entire situation and indeed the Giuliani delegation visit to Paris and Boxing Day hospital attack caused the story to undergo several late revisions before publication as new information became available. I even called back one revision when it was learned NCRI/PMOI President-Elect Rajavi ADDRESSED the Giuliani meeting with the MEK and ALL other refugee groups,
2. I was alerted early in the process to Iranian government disinformation campaigns and included links to negative stories about NCRI/PMOI President-Elect Rajavi in my 1st draft to that editor clearly stating that they had, in my opinion, been debunked, yet I wanted to get it right and for truthout to know there was another side.
3. The evidence beyond the NCRI releases and interviews was massive. Both the UK and EU Parliaments strongly condemned the atrocities through resolutions and political pressure, a high level US delegation met with MEK, NCRI, PMOI and other refugee groups and Amnesty International also condemned the actions in the Camp with their resources and reporting. I thoroughly parsed all NCRI information because it always came from a very strong point of view and was filled with biased and loaded language. I sorted through what was verifiable and printable and did not even mention the Boxing Day Hospital attack as anything but ‘alleged’ until statements were issued later that same day from both the UK and EU parliament leaders most closely associated with Camp Ashraf. I told the editor that the attack was verified and later had video sent of the raw footage of the attack.
4. The Iranian government does not take dissent lightly and has a long history of disinformation campaigns. There is also a dynamic within the US government on the one hand removing the MEK from the list of terrorist organisations, supporting the uprising against the fraudulent Iranian Presidential election of 2009 and a high level US delegation went to Paris. However, no one wishes to take responsibility or real action for fear of upsetting the balance of power in the region. So let the disinformation begin?
This journalist pays the price for diving in and writing a balanced story when the Iranian government would not offer comment. Fine. Again, that is truthout’s prerogative. And it does all professional journalists a disservice to know their truthout editor(s) will just as quickly throw them under the bus to cover their own backside because a story gets too hot to handle.
Text of the truthout e-mail:
“Yes we did (receive your URL link). We’ve taken down your Truthout story and will not be publishing others: we needed to be upfront with our readers about the MEK ties to Camp Ashraf which were not acknowledged. I could certainly have done more research here, but relied on your response to my direct question about that and sketchy history of the camp’s origins.
I wish you all the best,”
How could this truthout editor not know of MEK (again, removed from the terrorist organisation list) ties? With 3,400 residents in the Camp, many for some for 25 years since the fall of the Shah, were truthout naïve enough to think all residents held hands and sung Kumbaya together each night? Attacked by both sides (Iran and Iraq) would anyone expect them to just quietly sit and take criticism? Could one not reasonably anticipate a disinformation Iranian government, UN or coalition response? More importantly, in light of the continuing Glenn Greenwald/Salon conflict over WikiLeaks logs, why are progressive sites attacking journalists and each other vs. the incoming Tea Party and its dangerous agenda?
truthout clearly got pressured politically on the story but from where and whom is unknown. This though is the point of a free and independent press. You go with stories that are uncomfortable if you trust the writer. I had done nothing to harm that trust and indeed my past truthout articles had 65-85,000 hits thus increasing the number of people exposed to important topics such as election machine controversies in Arizona and the Tea Party. I write for many publications and indeed this was the 6th article commissioned by truthout this year (2010). Throughout I was encouraged by the truthout commissioning editor.
This unexplained personal attack on work that took a month to create is strange. With so many attacks on an independent free press, why would truthout, of all organisations fold? Their motto is ‘fearless’ journalism… this seems anything but.
Denis G. Campbell
UK Progressive Magazine
The Monday Line returns next week.
Denis G Campbell is the author of 6 books including 'Billionaire Boys Election Freak Show,' 'The Vagina Wars' & 'Egypt Unsh@ckled.' He is the editor of UK Progressive Magazine and provides commentary to the BBC, itv Al Jazeera English, CNN, MSNBC and others. His weekly 'World View with Denis Campbell' segment can be heard every Thursday on the globally syndicated The David Pakman Show. You can follow him on Twitter via @UKProgressive and on Facebook.
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