This is a follow-up on the piece I wrote when the media finally caught up to the Avera Mengistu story and began reporting it. I’ve already reported Haaretz’s deliberate refusal to credit my reporting. Much of the foreign press follows on Haaretz’s lead and so papers like the NY Times and even Al Jazeera English reported that the story appeared arose, like the birth of Athena from Zeus, fully-armed from the forehead of Haaretz, once their intrepid lawyers got the gag removed. The Times’ Kershner falsely noted a “ten-month blackout” on reporting the story, ignoring the fact that I reported major elements of the story twice during this alleged blackout.
But what really shocked me was the reporting of erstwhile progressive publications which should have known better. Mondoweiss’ Allison Deger got most of the details concerning my involvement wrong:
Indeed Hamas has suggested for months that it is holding onto at least one unidentified captured Israeli. Hamas posted an advertisement in Gaza with an image of a question mark over the outline of a man held behind bars, reported journalist Richard Silverstein who published an image of the billboard over one month before the gag order was lifted. Although some of the biographical details in his coverage, like Mengistu’s age (Silverstein said the missing soldier was 24) are inconsistent with the information the government released today.
Silverstein also dispatched an unnamed colleague last month to interview Mengistu’s father, Aylin Mengistu. “He was saddened and frustrated by the experience. He’d almost lost all hope,” he wrote.
Deger is confused because she didn’t bother to read my reporting. Last October, a few weeks after his disappearance I posted a blog noting an Israeli Ethiopian had crossed into Gaza. Back then, I also posted the Hamas billboard which she claims was first posted a month before the gag order on the case was lifted. In early June, I published a story for Mint Press News which identified Mengistu for the first time anywhere by name. This article also featured the same photo I’d published last October.
She focuses on the peripheral issue of Mengistu’s age in implying that my reporting is questionable, without bothering to absorb any of the important details of my reporting. Finally, and worst of all, she calls Mengistu, “the missing soldier.” He isn’t a soldier and I don’t believe ever served in the IDF. I don’t know where this error came from.
Then Deger contacted me asking for an interview for a similar story she planned to publish in the Jewish Journal. After trying to contact me once via Skype, I never heard from her again. I tried reaching her several times on Twitter and Skype to no avail. Until I tweeted my criticism of her article. Then I heard from her.
When I pointed out to her the errors in her reporting about my role she told me that before she would correct anything I had to explain to her what she’d gotten wrong. I pointed out to her that if she wanted to interview me for her Jewish Journal story the least she could do was spend 20 minutes reading the three pieces I’d written so that she knew what she was talking about when she interviewed me.
I also pointed out to her and another Mondoweiss editor, Annie Robbins, that after spending most of a year reporting the story, writing thousands of words about it, making scores of international phone calls to the family members and Israeli journalists who refused to become involved out of fear of breaking the gag, the least I could expect would be a willingness to do rudimentary research to get the story right. I don’t see why I should have to spoonfeed it to them and retell a story I’d already told publicly.
I also told both that if they had further questions or wanted me to explain anything to them after they’re read my reporting, I’d be happy to do so. Neither bothered to reply.
At an earlier point in the discussion, Robbins told me I should take it up with Phil Weiss, who supervised staff reporting. This is the same fellow who agreed with his colleague, Alex Kane, who accused me of being a racist when I called Chloe Valdary a “Negro Zionist.” No, there’s no need to have dealings with someone who misapprehends language and irony, and betrays others in such a way.
This is precisely my problem with Mondoweiss. It is long on slogans and short on research. It is shallow and superficial, even sloppy at times. It mistakes breathless cheerleading for analysis. It’s agitprop and pastiche. I try, in this blog, to be everything Mondoweiss is not.
Mondoweiss isn’t the only one unfortunately. Even Middle East Eye, where I’ve published frequently over the past few months, commissioned Jonathan Cook (who I hold in great esteem) to write on this case. His story didn’t mention my reporting either. When I asked him, he said he’d told the editors of my role and assumed they would ask me to write about it. They didn’t.
There is something very wrong when all the press, even your friends, get a story so wrong. Of course, it’s all rooted in Israel’s debasing and toxic system of secrecy concerning national security matters (and almost everything can fall into this category). But that’s not an excuse for the progressive press to report sloppily and lazily as it has.
Deïr Yassin says
You’re right about the slobby article by Deger: she herself writes “former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Avraham Mengitsu (…)” just before quoting you wrongly on him being a soldier.
I also understand your frustration for not being accredited, particularly knowing that Mondoweiss has turned into a ‘professional’ business (by the way, personally I don’t even bother to read the comment section any longer though I’m sure there’re still interesting people along ….), but still we should not forget that you’re all on the same side, and that’s really what’s important (to me at least) but still I understand your disappointment. Earlier when I still read the comment section at Mondoweiss, I remember in such cases of ‘disagreement’, commenters like Donald (who occasionnally comments here) were always nice to accredit you in their comment section.
“Robbins told me I should take it up with Phil Weiss, who supervised staff reporting.”
richard, we shared numerous emails and dm’s yesterday, my sunday morning. i communicated to you several times, in several ways, that i was not Allison Deger’s supervisor but i could email phil and adam and then asked “have you thought of writing them directly?” you wrote back “I don’t communicate with people who call me “racist.” ”
I asked you to explain to me what the problem was and you repeatedly refused. i expressed to you, several times, i was not very familiar with this story and had not been following it. in my second email to you i wrote:
“sorry, i’d have to have more information to be able to determine for myself that in fact allison did get something wrong, i would not just assume she did. i’d have to understand the problem. thus far you’ve informed me allison got your role in the story wrong. perhaps if you elaborate on what and how i could discuss that with allison. as i mentioned before “the specifics here are slim and don’t leave much room for me to speculate.”
furthermore, as i mentioned before, this is not a story i have been following closely (at all). i’m not really understanding the upside of doing a bunch of research by reviewing everything that has been said and written when you could just tell me…… does this mean i’m supposed to research this and just “understand” once i read your report how allison “got it wrong”?
” (end of quote)
again, you refused. in my perspective your response to me was absurd. you started chastising me as if i had initially contacted you and was making unreasonable demands on your time to explain this problem to me. in my last email to you i wrote:
“You either decide to spend 15 minutes describing to me what the infringement is or you don’t. reading the 3 articles to figure it out & how to fix before i understand your complaint is not my job. ”
iow, your claim “Neither bothered to reply.” could not be farther from the truth. i kniw it may come as a shock to you and perhaps others to, but i actually have a life outside of mondoweiss. it’s not my job to research a complaint that boils down to “somethings wrong, i won’t tell you what it is, research it and fix it”.
and, if this is the way you’ve mis characterized our communication i’ve no reason to believe you’ve characterized your communication with allison accurately either.
Richard Silverstein says
@Annie: Readers will note in this Mondoweiss editor’s reply, nowhere does she acknowledge the errors in Mondoweiss’ reporting. Nowhere does she acknowledge Mondoweiss has any responsibility to get the story right. Nowhere does she acknowledge any responsibility for her as an editor, or the author of the post to do sufficient research to get Mondoweiss’ coverage right. Instead she places the onus on me to spoonfeed the story to her. When I make an error in my reporting I make it my responsibility to figure out what I got wrong & fix it. That’s what a journalist does. What Mondoweiss does is sit back & expect things to come to them, unless it’s a story they like. Then I’m sure they go out of their way to do at least some research. But in this case, Mondoweiss is officially saying : “We can’t be bothered.” I’ll let readers be the judge of this response.
Mondoweiss does have a responsibility to get the story right and if they have made a mistake they should fix it, Full stop. But that doesn’t make your own behavior something to be applauded here. But if Annie is describing it accurately, and you aren’t denying it, you emailed her without saying what the problem was and demanded that she read your work when she asked for specifics. I frequently complain to the NYT and they have vast resources and while I may reference some human rights report which I think was better on some topic, I always specify what I think their mistakes were. It then becomes their responsibility to check out what I say and then fix it. It is also their responsibility not to be sloppy and/or biased in the first place, but it would be ridiculous to write them about an error or errors and not be specific about it.
Now if Annie is misrepresenting what you did, then what I just wrote is irrelevant, but you didn’t deny it, but only responded with what she didn’t say.
I should be clear that I think Mondoweiss should correct whatever errors they made and apologize to you for whatever mistakes they made in describing your reporting. But like Annie, I really haven’t followed this story–for me, by far the biggest story has been the Gaza War and blockade and the continued lack of accountability. But I do remember reading the MW piece and thinking it sounded different from yours and briefly wondering who was right.
I find both of your blogs valuable, but in different ways. Until recently, MW was less about reporting original stories and more about showing the bias in how the issue was covered in the U.S. You can do that by relying on human rights reports and reports in the foreign press and in various other ways. Phil goes to various talks in the NY area and reports on that. You were doing more of the original reporting with your Israeli sources, which was good too, but it is a different style, MW is now getting more into the reporting business.
On the other hand, NYT does not know you and they are a huge business. To them you are a tiny speck that has to fight for recognition of your point, so you had better spell out all the facts to them in order to be heard. Between Richard and Mondoweiss that is different, as they actually based their information on this story on Richard’s reporting but got it wrong. All in all not quite the same situation.
This matter of a larger group of people cooperating on a website (Mondoweiss) not always acknowledging what one man (Richard) manages to do on his own (through very hard work), is something that is understandably frustrating, as it seems this has been going on before. And apparently there were some insults of racism that were never taken back, making Richard’s angry attitude more understandable. But I wish this could just be resolved, as we all know that the central issue is and should be the fate of the Palestinians.
Well, it is not too much to ask for someone at Mondoweiss (who that should be is not the main point) to take the time to read the three articles and fix the mistakes in the story if Mondoweiss writes about it. I agree with Richard that spelling it all out is not his work.
I do realize it is all volunteer work on your part and everyone else at Mondoweiss, and I have enormous appreciation for that, but remember: Richard is doing it all on his own, and spends enormous time doing in-depth research, and rightly would like to see his role acknowledged and his work correctly reported.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Elisabeth: Thanks.
Mitchell Blood says
Maybe Sect. Gen Ban Ki Moon can shame Hamas into releasing the Israeli citizens it holds captive in Gaza.
Richard Silverstein says
@Mitchell: Not until you accept Israeli shame for abandoning Mengistu for 10 months. There’s absolutely no shame as far as Hamas goes. You’re engaging in a failed effort at displacement. All shame all Israel all the time, in this case.
Richard – your article on Mint Press probably have effected the court decision but so did the T-shirts and other actions by the activists who were involved for months. Former Yesh Atid MK Pnina Tamano-Shata apparently was involved as well and many more. Haaretz completely eliminated your role b/c they wanted to highlight the fact they appealed the gag-order. NRG and Ynet highlight it for the exact opposite reason.
The gag order is part of the story but defiantly not the most important. How he crossed? What happened to him since? What was done to resolve this? These are what the reader wants to know.
Whether you published you billboard analysis in October or in June is as important as where were the Mengistu T-shirts printed at.