I can't WAIT for Save Darfur's response to this one
Hoo-boy, there's nothing like losing your umbrella on a rainy morning and a little Darfur-related scandal to get the blood flowing on a Monday morning. The former of these problems, however, has little bearing on anyone's life but mine, and even then, I can live with wet hair and a few damp exams that still need to be graded.
What's the real scandal, you ask? Amanda over at Wronging Rights has been doing some digging to learn more about a refugee named Abu Sharati who always seems to be quoted in stories about Darfur. As it turns out, it seems highly likely that Abu Sharati either 1) doesn't exist or 2) is part of an SLA leader's PR machine. From Part I of her three-part series:
None of my contacts could be sure, but they shared a common theory: that the supposed "refugee spokesperson" was actually part of the PR operation of Abdel Wahid Al Nur, a rebel leader who heads one faction of the Sudanese Liberation Army, or SLA. An activist from a different faction of the SLA, who asked not to be named, confirmed that Sharati was in fact one of Abdel Wahid's men.Why, then, are reporters from the AP, Reuters, and the New York Times quoting this guy when activists can't find him and there's at least limited evidence that he's not actually a refugee? Leave it to Amanda to call and ask (part II):
The AP's Sarah El Deeb responded that she had personally met with Sharati. According to her, he did not hold any official position that allowed him to speak for two and a half million other people. Rather, she said, he was a "self-proclaimed representative" who "travels in hiding from camp to camp" because he is wanted by the government. And then she dropped -in parentheses, after signing off- this minor piece of information:And the Paper of Record?"(By the way: Sharati is a Darfur word for a local representative. I think all this needs to be made clear in the next report. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.)"In other words, she'd published a quote from "Abu Sharati," stating that he was a refugee representative, when in fact he was neither (a) Abu Sharati, or (b) a refugee representative. Another journalist I spoke to, who has traveled to Darfur, confirmed that the name was a pseudonym. And according to Alex de Waal, the word "Sharati" is the plural of "Shartai," which refers to a Fur administrative chief under the Sultanic system. So "Abu Sharati" would mean "chief of chiefs" within the Fur tradition, which I suppose could be translated as "representative."
[New York Times stringer] Izzadine replied that he knew Sharati personally. His full name was "Husein Abu Sharati," but sometimes he also went by "Abu Shartai." (The singular form of the word, as noted above -I guess maybe he's only plural on special occasions.) Izzedine claimed that Sharati was "heading the heads" of the 54 tribes who make up the displaced in Darfur, and was therefore "a representative of all IDPs and refugees" from those 54 tribes. However, Sharati couldn't speak or meet with me, because "the refugees and IDPs would not allow it."And Reuters?
Andrew Heavens was not willing to be quoted by name in this blog, so I haven't included his responses here.Amanda explains why all this matters in Part III of the series.
But because I am willing to be quoted by name in this blog, let me say for the record that I think it's extremely lame for a reporter to publish a bylined article, but then to refuse to discuss it on the record when legitimate questions about the existence of a named source arise. I hope that Andrew will change his mind, and send a response that I can publish.
In my view, this is just one more example of the inexcusably sloppy reporting about Africa that major media outlets do all the time. The NYT's apparent inability to fact check its Africa stories since their fact checkers are so busy figuring out whether the subjects of wedding announcements lied about their prep schools is but one example. That doesn't mean there aren't dedicated reporters working in the continent who take the time to do their homework; there are. But not bothering to look into who your sources are is a fundamental break with the standards of ethical journalism. And news organizations that cut their budgets in an important area while wasting resources on pointless stories about non-issues don't really deserve to have their subscriber numbers go up. They are at least as much to blame for spreading misinformation as are reporters who don't try to find out who they're really interviewing.
The whole series is a doozy of investigative reporting, and I highly recommend reading it. NYT, the ball is in your court.