HuffPost Removes Fake Aisha Story After iMediaEthics Fact Check

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Abdulhadi Hairan's photo (left) of Nazia, a woman he met in 2007, shows a different injury and facial features than the one displayed by Aisha (right), the now famous Afghan woman. The photo on the right is a detail from TIME's Aug. 9, 2010 cover image. NOTE: Photo on left was rotated 45 degrees. Photo analysis by London Shearer Allen. (Credit: Abdulhadi Hairan, TIME, respectively)

Abdulhadi Hairan’s Aug. 29, 2010 Huffington Post blog post titled “Is Time’s Aisha Story Fake?” issued a serious charge of fraud and mistaken identity.  Hairan claimed that Aisha, pictured above, is really a woman he met in 2007 named Nazia.  He provided photographs to support his claim and argued that Time‘s controversial cover story on Aisha was fake.

Teenaged Aisha’s striking image was spotlighted this year as U.S. media outlets, beginning with the Daily Beast, reported her nose and ears were cut off by the Taliban. Her story has also been reported by CNN, the Vancouver Sun and ABC News, among others.

See above, the banner from the top of Abdulhadi Hairan’s blog post claiming that Aisha’s story is fake gained prominence through its publication on the Huffington Post.  The story has since been removed and replaced with an editor’s note. (Credit: Huffington Post)


“I must conclude that the Taliban story of cutting off the woman’s nose and ears as told by CNN and Time is false,” Hairan wrote.

We looked into Hairan’s charge that Aisha and Nazia are the same woman — and that Aisha’s story was fake — to see if Hairan’s claim was correct.  But, we soon discovered that there was no support for this serious charge of fraud.  After we contacted Huffington Post to ask if they would run a correction and they reviewed our evidence, they subsequently removed the post and posted an editor’s note.


Is Nazia the Same Woman as Aisha? Methodology:

iMediaEthics first contacted Hairan and, throughout a series of e-mails with the blogger, we asked him to support his claims and for further information.  We compared Hairan’s photos of Nazia and photos of Aisha published by Time, CNN and others.

After researching media reports about Aisha, we contacted the three organizations that are reportedly sponsoring Aisha — Women for Afghan Women, the Grossman Burn Foundation, and MADRE.  We also sought out the medical and military personnel interviewed in reports as having treated Aisha at Tarin Kowt in Afghanistan.

The general narrative for Aisha’s story follows:  Aisha was married at a very young age.  She ran away from her husband’s home.  She was caught, and as the story goes, her nose and ears were cut off as punishment.  Her husband and brother-in-law maimed her, and she ran to a family member’s house.  Her father brought her to the U.S. military base for medical treatment.


Comparing Nazia and Aisha’s Photos

iMediaEthics compared images of Nazia and Aisha to determine if they were the same woman, as Hairan charged. Upon a cursory comparison, the women are not the same.  Nazia’s septum (nose cartilage) and part of the nostril are more intact when compared to Aisha’s nose where what is left of her septum is only visible in front view.  All photos of Aisha show less nose cartilage that iMediaEthics has reviewed.

The moles on Nazia’s face, on right, are not indicated on Aisha’s face on left.  Note too, that Nazia’s nose has more of her nostril intact than Aisha does, on the left. (Credit: CNN (L), Hairan (R))


Not only is Nazia’s skin darker, but her eyes are lighter. Aisha’s mouth turns down at the corners and her chin is more defined.

The key differences are the moles and freckles on the face.  Look at Nazia’s chin and in between her eyebrows. Aisha’s skin doesn’t feature any freckles or moles in any photo that iMediaEthics has seen. Aisha also has a scar below the bottom right corner of her nose, prominent in the Time cover.


Is iMediaEthics Right that HuffPost’s Aisha Story was Wrong?

Hairan, an Afghan journalist and research analyst currently based in the Netherlands, blogged that Aisha’s much-publicized story is fake and that she is really a woman he met in 2007 named Nazia.

Hairan explained that he met Nazia three years ago when she was 17 (and, thus, would be 19 or 20 now).  According to Hairan, Nazia was injured then on the first day of “Eid ul Adha, an Islamic ritual of sacrifice.”  Hairan stated that Nazia was injured by her husband, according to Nazia herself and the police, and that he met her in the hospital.

Even though their names are different, suggesting these are two different women, Hairan asserts that his Nazia and Time‘s Aisha are one and the same woman.


Hairan crafted this comparison of Nazia (left, photo taken by Hairan) and Aisha (right, photo from TIME) to accompany his blog post. (Credit: RAWA)

So, beyond a physical comparison, what proves that Aisha is or is not Nazia?Hairan’s evidence for his serious charge on HuffPost was a 2007 blog post he wrote and four photos of Nazia from 2007 (here).  He also cited a story on the BBC’s website in Pashto language about Nazia’s case (here; no Google Translate available though for Pashto to English).  Basically, Hairan’s support only proved that a woman named Nazia exists who has a similar, but different injury. It doesn’t, however, prove that Nazia and Aisha are the same woman.

Aisha’s story became well-known after her image was used as the cover of Time magazine. (Credit: Time)


Women for Afghan Women dispute Hairan‘s Claims

Aisha, who is currently on the East Coast undergoing preparations for her facial reconstructive surgery, has been sponsored by Women for Afghan Women and the not-for-profit Grossman Burn Foundation, a group of plastic surgeons founded by plastic surgeon Dr. A. Richard Grossman. (The Grossman Burn Foundation features Aisha’s case in its electronic press kit here, noting that the foundation took her case in Aug. 2010.)

Women for Afghan Women is a nonprofit “grassroots civil society organization dedicated to securing and protecting the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls.”

iMediaEthics fact-checked Hairan’s claims with the Women for Afghan Women, who with Grossman Burn Foundation, is paying and raising funds for Aisha’s surgery and care.  We asked if they had any comment about Hairan’s accusations and if Hairan’s claims had any legitimacy.

Women for Afghan Women has been posting news updates about Aisha on its Facebook page and website. (Credit: Facebook, ebook, Women for Afghan Women)


Women for Afghan Women rejected Hairan’s claims and told iMediaEthics that the women are two different people.

“I’ve seen his photos. I know about the case. Aisha is NOT Nazia. These are two different people,” Women for Afghan Women’s executive director Manizha Naderi told iMediaEthics via e-mail (emphasis original).  She explained that “Nazia still lives in Afghanistan” in another shelter, and that a simple comparison indicates that Nazia and Aisha are two different women.

iMediaEthics asked Naderi how old Aisha is.  According to Naderi, via e-mail, Aisha is 19 and was born in March 1991.  Hairan’s Nazia, who was 17 in 2007, couldn’t have been born in 1991.  She would have had to have been born in 1989 or 1990. Therefore, they couldn’t be the same women.

According to Naderi, after being injured, Aisha went to her father’s father-in-law’s house.  He took Aisha to her father, who then took her to the American military center “with a raw wound.”

Slightly adding to the confusion, she explained that Aisha went by the assumed name Nadia — which is close to the name Nazia — in the first Daily Beast article, dated Dec. 2009.  Naderi wrote that her organization has “had no contact with Nazia” and that she knows “about it from the ministry of women’s affairs.  It happened in 2007.”

Aisha, pictured above. (Credit: ABC News)


Additional Evidence:  U.S. Air Force Verifies Treating Aisha in 2009

In addition to the information about Aisha’s identity from Women for Afghan Women, the U.S. Air Force also verifies that they treated Aisha in 2009 – not 2007.

The Daily Beast, Time, and other media outlets reported that the U.S. military was instrumental in helping Aisha in 2009.  We used the information to independently confirm with medical personnel that the woman named Aisha was injured last year – not three years ago, as Hairan claimed.

In the Dec. 2009 Daily Beast article, U.S. Air Force Major Dr. Jeff Lewis, pictured below, is reported to have met Aisha, who was brought to Forward Operating Base Ripley in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan by her father. Lewis helped treat Aisha, according to the Daily Beast.

Lt. Col. Jeff Lewis states that Aisha had fresh wounds in 2009. (Credit: Air Force)


iMediaEthics asked Lewis via e-mail if he could confirm with fair medical certainty that Aisha’s wounds were fresh in 2009 when he treated her. U.S. Air Force press secretary Vicki Stein told iMediaEthics via e-mail on behalf of Lewis, emphasis ours:

“Absolutely.  There is no question that the wounds to Aisha (whom we referred to as Bibi) were new wounds that occurred from traumatic injury likely within a 24 to 72 hour time frame prior to her arrival at our facility.  If she had sustained a prior injury 2 years before, this was never relayed to me.  Regardless, even if she had had a prior injury, the wounds we saw were fresh wounds with exposed cartilage, mucosa, hemorrhage and clot.”

Hairan’s Admissions Via E-mail to iMediaEthics : At first, Aisha and Nazia are the same.
After questioning, “may be” they aren’t. 

Hairan explained in both his 2007 blog post and his 2010 Huffington Post report that he encountered the 17-year-old Nazia in a hospital in Qalat just after her husband mutilated her in the domestic dispute.  Hairan wrote for the Huffington Post:

“After reading both the stories, and having a close look at the photos, I must conclude that the Taliban story of cutting off the woman’s nose and ears as told by CNN and Time is false. The reason behind this conclusion is that I had myself reported this incident in December 2007.”

iMediaEthics asked Hairan by email for more details about how and why he is so sure Nazia and Aisha are the same woman. (Emphasis ours)

  • iMediaEthics: Have you confronted Time or CNN directly?
  • Hairan:  “No, I have not confronted TIME or CNN.  I have never been in contact with them, neither before nor after this story.”
  • iMediaEthics: Have you had any direct comment with the woman Nazia/Aisha since the CNN and Time covers?
  • Hairan: “I had no direct comment with the woman after Time published the story…”
  • iMediaEthics: Do you have any other comments regarding your claims the story is fake? Have you had any support in your claims?
  • Hairan: “I believe it is the same woman. The photos provided by Time and CNN and the photos I took a few days after the incident are of the same woman. The only difference is that the photos are taken in different situations and from different angles, so some people think it may not be the same woman. I took her photos in 2007, just three or four days after she was through the incident. The Time took the photo in 2010, after there were lot of surgeries and treatment.”
  • iMediaEthics asked if he had the contact information for the police chief and hospital spokesperson who confirmed Nazia’s story in Hairan’s 2007 blog post. Hairan said he didn’t.
  • iMediaEthics took Women for Afghan Women’s assertions that Aisha and Nazia are different women to Hairan.  We asked for more support of his claims.
  • Hairan on Sept. 22: “I went through a video of the woman CNN reported as ‘Bibi Aisha’ and she is the same woman.  I concluded that she is the same woman. What Women for Afghan Women think about them is their own thinking.  But somebody told me that Nazia/Aisha was shifted to the US, she no longer live in Afghanistan.  And it was after that, when she was offered to be relocated to the US, that she started blaming Taliban for what her husband had done with her.”
  • Hairan on Sept. 23: “May be they are not the same woman, it was just a question that I put forth in a blog post, as my circumstances don’t allow me to investigate about this.  I thought other people may do.  Now it is upon you to decide if it is the same woman or a different one.  I am not going to say that what I say is absolutely right.  These incidents happen in Afghanistan everywhere as family disputes and honorary issues.  But I doubted this particular case.”
  • See complete e-mail exchange with Hairan at link here. (Note: Redacted phone numbers and e-mail addresses for privacy. Also redacted one paragraph written by Hairan at his request for confidentiality).NOTE: Total exchange of emails between Hairan and found here



iMediaEthics Asked for Correction, HuffPost Removes Blog

We wrote again to Hairan Oct. 27 asking about how his blog and its claims ended up on the Huffington Post’s site.  He didn’t respond to that e-mail.  We again wrote to Hairan on Nov. 21 asking if he intended to post a correction either on his blog or on the Huffington Post’s site.

As a reminder, Hairan had gone from saying definitively “I concluded that [Aisha] is the same woman” as Nazia to “May be they are not the same woman.”

We also told Hairan that the U.S. Air Force informed iMediaEthics that Lt. Col. Jeff Lewis verified that he encountered Aisha with raw wounds in 2009.  We let Hairan know our deadline — Nov. 23, and that we intended to publish Nov. 24.  (We ended up holding this story’s publication as we were still waiting for factual information and comment.)

Hairan quickly responded to that e-mail on Nov. 22, telling us “No, I am not going to change anything in my HuffPost post.”  He claimed that his post “was a question” and that his “points are clear.”  He also told us again that he hadn’t been “able to do research or do some follow-up work on the incident.”

iMediaEthics replied to Hairan, asking for him to explain several points — including his e-mailed claim that his Huffington Post article wasn’t definitive.  We noted that the only question or expression of doubt was in the headline of the story, not in the body of the story’s text. We also questioned why he didn’t include in his blog post that he didn’t research or verify his claims.

In a response just twelve minutes later, Hairan stated “Once the circumstances allow me, I may research about it and write another piece.”  But, he didn’t address our further questions.

We contacted Mario Ruiz, Vice President of Media Relations for the Huffington Post, asking if the Post intended to publish a correction and asking about the fact-checking process for Huffington Post blogs not written by Huffington Post staff.  We spoke with Ruiz on the phone Nov. 23 and offered the information we learned through our fact-checking.

We were surprised to receive an e-mail from Hairan Nov. 24.  He wrote informing us that his blog post had been removed from the Huffington Post:

“Finally I know that your purpose of writing to me was not for making any report, but removing the post from Huffington Post.  It is done as you wanted. The Huffington Post editors removed my post.  I have posted something about this whole issue on my blog”

We responded to Hairan, informing him that we were working on a report, but had delayed publication as we were still awaiting fact checking information on Thanksgiving eve.

Hairan’s blog summarized his Huffington Post definitive claim that the women are the same.  “I carefully read all the stories, compared the photos and concluded that it was the same woman. I wrote a blog post about the whole thing and posted it on Huffington Post,” Hairan explained about his original story.  He added that iMediaEthics had contacted him asking questions about his post.

Hairan wrote:

“Initially I thought she was asking the questions for some kind of report, but at the end she started demanding me to run a correction on Huffington Post.”

That is, of course, a misleading statement by Hairan.  In our e-mails we clearly stated who we were, and we didn’t “demand” a correction. (See a link to our e-mail exchange with Hairan here, with e-mail addresses and phone numbers redacted.)  Instead, we asked Hairan, throughout our e-mails, for evidence and support for his claims.  We presented him with the evidence we found which we believe had proved his claim false.  With that and his changed stance via e-mail that he wasn’t sure if the women were the same, we asked if he would post a correction.


Hairan tweeted and blogged about his post being removed from the Huffington Post’s website.  In his blog post, he incorrectly charged that iMediaEthics never intended on writing a report about his blog. (Credit: Twitter)

Hairan wrote that he “immediately” responded letting the Huffington Post know that iMediaEthics had been e-mailing him asking for more information about his blog post.  Hairan wrote:Hairan himself stated that he told the Huffington Post they could remove his post.  He said that Huffington Post’s managing blog editor e-mailed him “saying that my claims about Time’s Aisha story were unsubstantiated, and if they don’t hear from me within 24 hours, they will be ‘forced’ to replace the post with a correction.”

“I told him that, in my post, I had provided a link to my 2007 story and Nazia’s photos, to a BBC Pashto report, and reasons why I doubted the story. I asked them if there was any pressure from somebody to remove the post. If that was the case, they could remove the post altogether. They did that without a reply to my question.”

The Huffington Post had replaced Hairan’s post with the following statement:

“Editor’s Note: As is our policy, when the accuracy of the claims made in this post was called into question, we asked the author to substantiate them.  He was unable to, so we have removed the post from the site. ”

After an iMediaEthics investigation, this Editor’s Note replaced Hairan’s blog post on the Huffington Post. Yellow highlighting added to screen shot detail.  (Credit: Huffington Post)

We e-mailed Ruiz of the Huffington Post asking about this.  He responded:

“The post was removed, as you noted.  Our policy is that we give our bloggers 24 hours to substantiate the facts in dispute.  That’s what we did with Mr. Hairan.  When he was unable to provide backup, we removed the post from the site and replaced it with the following Editor’s Note:”

Part II of our Special Investigation is coming soon….

Update: 12/15/2010 11:00 AM EST : Minor line edits made.


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HuffPost Removes Fake Aisha Story After iMediaEthics Fact Check

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