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.