Monday, September 23, 2013

War of Shadows, and Weapons Stories

TRUTH, it's been said, is the first casualty of war. And we might add that presenting what's said as truth can bring another casualty, in credibility.

On September 5, in a posting saying that the use of sarin gas in Syria was a crime, whoever committed it, I quoted an article which said Syrians in Ghouta were accusing Saudi-backed rebels of using chemical weapons in the conflict.

"...the following article does merit attention, even if we cannot vouch for its reliability", I said.

The article, which had appeared on a site called Mint Press News on August 29, was bylined as from two journalists, .

Alas, though we still cannot say whether the article was true, two things have cast doubt on the author's reliability (apart from the fact that the Russians, who might have been expected to welcome the report, and according to some were behind it, appear to have put it aside by deciding to concentrate on getting the Syrian government to register and hand over control of its chemical weapons.

First, Dale Gavlak, who has worked for Associated Press, and was supposed to be one of the authors, has denied having anything to do with the story. "Yahya Ababneh is the sole reporter and author," she said.

This was not quite the whole truth, apparently.  It seems Gavlak had recommended the story to Mint Press, having received it in Arabic, and maybe they credited her in the byline thinking that her name as an established freelance with AP would give it more credence.   After the story had circulated for a week or so and some journalists began questioning elements of it, Gavlak dissociated herself from it, leaving them looking bad.

And what of Yahya Ababneh, the man who got the scoop?  Well, his credibility is looking less since Guardian  writer and Comment is Free editor Brian Whitaker has posited that Ababneh and a man called Yan Barakat, a Jordanian journalist who has written for the Jerusalem Post, a right-wing Israeli paper, are one and the same.

One does not need to start building conspiracy theories or attributing allegiances to journalists who may just have an eye for a good story and use their creativity to provide what different editors need. Having more than one name and identity presumably helps their flexibility.

My fellow blogger Richard Silverstein has more to say on this. 

For my part, I am still not ready to throw away the story about Saudi-supplied chemical weapons as being entirely disproved or untrue.

But for the sake of my own credibility and conscience I think it only right to acknowledge that some doubts have been cast on the reliability of the author of this report. 

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