The New York Times Cairo Bureau Chief David Kirkpatrick’s reporting from Egypt shows a heavy reliance on anonymous sources and unnamed media outlets, according to an analysis by iMediaEthics.
As part of its investigative series on international reporting about Egypt, which has included more than 125 interviews in Egypt, iMediaEthics found that Kirkpatrick has even failed to interview sources featured in headlines to give them an opportunity to rebut or correct facts or statements.
Since iMediaEthics began informing the Times of these reporting problems on Dec. 3, the reports of Dec. 13 and 15 show a dramatic, commendable turnaround. The Times indicates Egypt’s Foreign Ministry was contacted before both stories’ publication.
The second story took Egypt’s evidence and point of view seriously and liberally quoted the spokesman’s rebuttal, in steep contrast to the paper’s earlier reporting.
Before this U-turn, sources in Egypt who were included in Times’ reports or whose institutions were central to news events, such as student protester violence, told iMediaEthics that, during the past eight months, they have become angry and distrustful of international media since the Times bureau never contacted them for interviews or fact-checking.
The Grand Mufti, the Coptic Pope, officials at Cairo and Al Azhar universities, the Ministry of the Interior, State Information Services, and victims and families of protester violence in major incidents say bureau chief Kirkpatrick’s stories don’t include key facts or their rebuttals. Results from iMediaEthics’ recent interviews and study support this belief.
iMediaEthics’ count of sources of the 12 stories between Oct. 26 and Dec. 2, 2014 from the Times Cairo Bureau reveals that 25 percent of the stories had corrections appended and that the stories quoted 15 critics of the Egyptian government while only one supporter of the Sisi government was quoted. Five of the 12 reports contained no named sources interviewed by the Times. The articles’ frequent quoting of anonymous sources (38 in 12 reports) and their reliance on news releases (12 instances) or unnamed “state news media” (19 instances) begged for more original named sources and more extensive reporting. Large infographic is found below.
iMediaEthics Analysis Highlights
‘Mr. David [Kirkpatrick] did not contact me at all’
When the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, Egypt’s highest Islamic legal authority, read the Nov. 3 New York Times headline that featured him, “Egyptian Cleric Defends Forced Evacuation of Families From Sinai,” he was caught off-guard, his spokesman Ibrahim Negm told iMediaEthics.
“Mr. David [Kirkpatrick] did not contact me at all since he was appointed shortly after the Jan. 25 revolution in Egypt. We have never been in contact,” Negm said, adding, “CNN interviewed the Grand Mufti a couple of times.”
The Times “Guidelines on Integrity” policy states: “No subject should be taken by surprise when the paper appears, or feel that there was no chance to respond.”
|The Times‘ policy is clear on rebuttals:“Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages. But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail.”|
The Times article essentially accuses the Grand Mufti of being a lackey for the Egyptian government. The Mufti’s ruling, Kirkpatrick wrote, “was the latest attempt by the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to invoke interpretations of Islam for its own legitimacy.”
Portraying the Grand Mufti as a puppet for Sisi was particularly confusing, as the Times Cairo Bureau report (without Kirkpatrick’s byline) praised the Grand Mufti’s independence from the courts in August. The report, “Key Cleric in Egypt Rejects Executions,” cites an “unusual effort by a prominent figure” when “Egypt’s highest Muslim religious authority refused to approve death sentences imposed by a court.”
Editors caved and scrubbed the accusation, wrongly presented as fact, on Nov. 13, 10 days after its original publication, without any disclosure. Meanwhile editors appended a correction that has additional errors, according to Ayman Walash of State Information Service (SIS), who in a week of email exchanges with Kirkpatrick pressed to get a correction.
Ayman invited colleagues to attend one of iMediaEthics’ free, one-hour media ethics training workshops, first offered to the American Embassy and others, in May. One of iMediaEthics ongoing free services is to help people with media error complaints. Often, we file the complaint directly with the media outlet, but in Ayman’s case he contacted Kirkpatrick himself.
A Nov. 17 message following the Nov. 11 correction shows Walash had politely thanked Kirkpatrick and Karin Roberts, the Times Web editor on the International Desk, for working with him “as we [are] both seeking to follow the international standards and ethics of Journalism.”
Roberts then mistakenly sent Walash a text response apparently meant only for Kirkpatrick. She wrote: “The tiger becomes a kitten! I hope this buys you some good will.”
Walash told iMediaEthics: “They are really mean.”
He says he’ll work to get a better correction and an apology. iMediaEthics has asked Roberts to verify the exchange and has offered the chance to respond.
Mistakes in Grand Mufti Story
Did a lack of fact-checking lead to mistakes in the Grand Mufti story? Among the uncorrected errors was his name. Kirkpatrick botched the Grand Mufti’s title by only calling him “a mufti,” and “a cleric,” even though others in the Cairo bureau correctly called him “grand mufti of Egypt, Shawqi Allam” in an Aug. 7 Times story. Kirkpatrick correctly referred to “the Saudi grand mufti” and “the grand mufti of the Sunni Muslims” of Lebanon in stories from 2012 and 2014.
Negm explained to iMediaEthics that a cleric preaches in a mosque, whereas a Grand Mufti, as Egypt’s top legal scholar, studies legal texts and writes opinions of how to apply them to modern times. The Times is known for caring about such distinctions.
(iMediaEthics is preparing a report on Ayman’s journey to obtain a correction, based on emails he provided to iMediaEthics of his exchange with Times editors).
After hearing from iMediaEthics about our study, Kirkpatrick, to his credit, finally reached out to the Grand Mufti’s office, Negm said. The spokesman seemed pleased in a Dec. 8 email to iMediaEthics. “He [Kirkpatrick] requested to meet with me after 10 days when he comes back” to Cairo, Negm said.
The Coptic Pope words were “stupid,” but no rebuttal opportunity was given
What about Coptic Pope Tawadros II? Did he hear from the New York Times before an April 25 front-page story that harshly criticized him?
“Never! Never! Never called the Pope!” Father Angelos Ishak, the Papal Secretary, told iMediaEthics by phone.
Referring to the Times coverage, Leila Takla, lawyer and women’s rights advocate, translated the Pope Tawadros message to iMediaEthics. He said: “I forgive them for the wrong things they say about me, but I cannot forgive the inaccurate things they say about Egypt.”
In the A1 Times story, “Vow of Freedom of Religion goes Unkept in Egypt,” statements by the Pope were called “’stupid and myopic ” by Kirkpatrick’s go-to source, Michael Hanna, a fellow at the Century Foundation. The Century Foundation is a New York-based group that, according to its website, “seeks to foster opportunity, reduce inequality, and promote security at home and abroad.”
Kirkpatrick has also quoted Hanna in 22 other articles. Hanna told iMediaEthics by phone that he and the bureau chief speak “often.” iMediaEthics asked Hanna whether Kirkpatrick should have given the Pope an opportunity for rebuttal. “Maybe,” Hanna replied. “You’ll have to ask him.” Hanna volunteered: “I stand by what I said [in the article].”
What were Kirkpatrick’s other sources for the religion story that slams the Coptic Pope? The count of five named sources interviewed by the Times and two other attempts looks like best practice. However, in a front-page report on religion in Egypt, not getting comments from the Pope and the Grand Mufti –by far, the country’s leading religious figures — seems incommensurate in iMediaEthics view, especially when the Times included a negative jab against the Pope in the story.
NYT Sourcing in “Vow of Freedom of Religion Goes Unkept in Egypt”
5 Named sources interviewed, quoted by the NYT
NYT Didn’t Contact Sisi’s Nat’l Security Adviser, Called her Hostile
Fayza Abul Naga, President el-Sisi’s national security adviser, told iMediaEthics by text message that she had a similar surprise on Nov. 5, two days after the Grand Mufti story. She didn’t have an opportunity for rebuttal even though Kirkpatrick’s critical article, “Egypt Elevates an Official Hostile to U.S.,” was about her.
“Were you contacted by the Times before publication for comment or fact checking?” iMediaEthics asked Naga.
She quickly texted a response: “There were two articles on my appointment. 1st by the NYT Cairo based reporter & the 2nd by the NYT editorial board…on both articles, the answer to your question is NO….”
Michael Hanna, who called the Pope’s words “stupid,” also was quoted by Kirkpatrick in the harsh story about Naga.
Kirkpatrick identified him as “Michael Hanna, an Egyptian-American scholar at the Century Foundation and a Coptic Christian” in his story on religion in Egypt. Kirkpatrick renames him “Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egyptian-American researcher at the Century Foundation” in the report on Naga.
“The fact that she is such a recognizable face clearly makes this an obvious slap in the face to the United States,” Hanna told Kirkpatrick.
Why Do Stories on University Protests not have comments from University President or Spokesperson?
Kirkpatrick has reported on violent clashes at protests that left students and police dead at Cairo and Al Ahzar universities. Yet, strangely, Cairo University president Gaber Nassar and Al Azhar University spokesperson Dr. Amed Al-Zare say the Times never contacted those institutions, and no named sources from either campus administration appear in those reports, of Nov. 29, Oct. 29, Oct. 13 and May 20.
In his May 20 article “Killings Revive Fears in Egypt Before Election,” Kirkpatrick writes about a drive-by shooting that killed police during a student protest in front of Al-Azhar University Cairo campus. The article’s only sources are unnamed “state media” and “official media.”
It is Times policy to give credit when quoting from other media. The paper’s Guidelines on Integrity, mentioned earlier, states: “When we use facts gathered by any other organization, we attribute them.”
iMediaEthics was in Cairo at the time for a report on police and violence in Egypt and was also covering this shooting.
iMediaEthics’ 20-plus interviews and research on this incident reveals that numerous errors remain in Kirkpatrick’s story, which already features a correction of an appended correction.
The article now correctly states that three, not four, police were killed. But the story still states, wrongly, that “several soldiers were injured.” Only police were injured (eight riot policemen and one officer). All were taken to a police hospital in Nasr City where iMediaEthics interviewed them and their families on May 21 (see video below).
We asked the Times whether it will issue a third correction of the story, but have not received a response. It was Ayman Walash of the State Information Service who sought and obtained this correction too, as emails between Kirkpatrick and Walash verify.
In the Oct. 13 article “Crackdown on Student Protesters in Egypt,” Kirkpatrick depicts campuses as hotbeds for the repression of students. “At least 14 students were killed in clashes with police, and thousands were arrested; more than 900 remain in prison more than a year later,” he wrote.
He also writes that “several hundred soldiers and police officers” have been killed, “either for revenge or to try to start an insurgency.” He provides no source or defined count.
A firm figure isn’t hard to find. During the past 18 months, 357 police have been targeted and killed in such line of duty deaths, said Brigadier General Hatem I. Fathy of the Ministry of the Interior. “Likely unprecedented anywhere else,” he said.
‘It was his last exam. He finished it around 3 p.m., then he was shot.”
In a Nov. 22 interview in his office, Cairo University President Gaber Nassar wondered why the Times and other international media have not contacted him during the violent protests.
“My own son was shot,” Nassar said. The 21-year-old law master’s student and a friend were leaving an oral exam on Jan. 16 around 3 p.m. “A group of MB [Muslim Brotherhood] protestors saw him and recognized he was my son,” Nassar said, “They shot at them from the back.” This incident was well known in Egypt, he said. His son recovered. The friend, shot in the head, lingered five days in the hospital before dying.
‘It was his last exam. He finished it around 3 p.m., then he was shot.”
As he described the incident, Nasser stood and pointed to a bullet hole in the window behind his chair at the level of his head. It could have easily killed him had he not been in another room.
Students have been arrested and expelled, Nassar acknowledged. But, he says, the Times and other international media haven’t connected those consequences to violence initiated by students.
“We have videos [of student protesters] attacking the law school with Molotov and bombs and attacking the headmaster’s office,” Nasser said. “They stop the professors and burn books. And we have all this on tape if you want the videos.”
His staff was attacked and suffered permanent harm, Nasser said. On the steps of the administration building, he said, a woman cut the ligaments in a security guard’s leg. “He still can use it,” Nassar said, “but not like before.”
The Egyptian Foreign Minister’s office tried and failed on Oct. 16 to have its rebuttals published by the Times, as a “State Information Services survey/report,” and emails between Kirkpatrick and the ministry show.
Badr AbdelAtty, the official spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, confronted Kirkpatrick about not reporting the student protester violence the universities were facing and “the fact that you did not contact or attempt to contact a single government official for comment.”
The email continues: “The reader is even bombarded with the number of people allegedly arrested, with no reference to why these people were arrested or what charges they face. You seem to have forgone the formality of providing a counterargument or criticism … simply omitting some of the most crucial elements of the story in their entirety.”
His complaint further states that “the article makes no mention whatsoever of the attacks by Muslim Brotherhood members against other students and against the university’s security personnel, or the beating and harassment of faculty and staff.”
|From an Oct 16 email by Badr AbdelAtty, the official spokesman
of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to David Kirkpatrick, NYT Cairo bureau chief
The article focused instead on the security measures taken to confront this phenomenon, which naturally seemed out of place due to the failure to mention a solitary crime or violation by these so-called protestors from the countless cases on record. These security measures are also conveyed vaguely, and in some cases inaccurately.
For instance, security forces were not granted “new access to campuses”, but were merely stationed in the vicinity of the campuses. A private security firm was contracted to inspect incoming individuals in order to make sure that they are in fact students in the University and avoid weapons being smuggled into campuses. The personnel of this firm were beaten by these so-called protestors, and their metal detectors destroyed. Applicants for student housing are also “screened” by the Interior Ministry not to identify any political affiliation, but for security reasons given the aforementioned infringements, not to mention the threat of terrorism faced every day by Egyptians.
Kirkpatrick makes no counterarguments or denials. He emailed the Foreign Ministry spokeman, AbdelAtty, Oct 16: “As we discussed on the phone, I will try to revisit the subject of the student protests and their degree of violence or Brotherhood sponsorship when I return to Cairo. And I have shared your feedback with my editor.”
| “State Information Services survey/report” regarding NYT article:
“Crackdown on Student Protesters in Egypt,” October 13, 2014
Claim #1: “Egyptian security forces are tightening their crackdown on student activism by arresting scores of students at the start of the school term in an effort to crush a renewed wave of protests against the military-backed government that took power last year.”
Fact: This erroneous conclusion is made to seem plausible by the complete omission of the crimes and acts of violence committed by these “students”. The article even fails to mention what charges they face.
Claim #2: “The country’s security forces were given new access to campuses, while a private security force got a contract to operate metal detectors and search arriving students.”
Fact: Security forces were not given new access to campuses, and it is unclear where this baseless assertion came from. No military or police forces whatsoever entered university campuses; for that purpose, a private security contractor was hired. The government’s security forces were merely stationed in the areas in the vicinity of campuses to secure them, having absolutely no access to the campuses themselves
In Kirkpatrick’s Oct. 16 report, the only named sources are advocates for student protesters: “Mohamed Atef, the president of the student union at Al Azhar University in Cairo and the founder of Students Against the Coup” and the “Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, which has chapters on campuses across the country.”
The way the “higher education minister, Al Sayed Abdul Khaliq” and “Mohamed El Kenawy, the president of Mansoura University” are quoted from unnamed news sources in Kirkpatrick’s report gives the false impression that the state is instigating the violence.
Without knowing about the severity of the student protester violence, how can Times readers determine whether university or police actions are necessary for safety or whether they are an affront to free expression? So far the Times has failed to provide a full view by neglecting to interview the most obvious primary sources.
What does the New York Times say?
iMediaEthics is waiting for Michael Slackman, Kirkpatrick’s editor, to answer specific questions about its reporting. Slackman, a veteran Cairo reporter, is now the Times‘ International Managing Editor.
Starting on Dec. 3, iMediaEthics asked Kirkpatrick in multiple emails and by phone about his reporting practices. He responded: “Please print this on the record comment from me, it is: I ask you please to contact the editors at the New York Times for a response.” He also suggested that we contact the Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan. We did.
On Dec. 11, Slackman emailed. “As for your specific questions,” he wrote, “I will review with David. I would also be happy to have a conversation to better understand your background, your role and your relationship with the Egyptian government. Egypt is a challenging place to work as a correspondent, I wonder if you have any idea just how challenging.”
He also stated, “Officials in Egypt know me. I was a correspondent based in Egypt for about eight years, and I have continued to visit every year since leaving in 2010. Officials there know that I am always open to hearing whatever issues they may have with our coverage. Please feel free to pass on my email or phone.”
iMediaEthics’ understanding: It is not the job of the Times sources to contact editors and reporters. Rather, it is the Times‘ job to contact sources. And it isn’t iMediaEthics’ role — as a watchdog asking questions in a media inquiry about possible problems in Times coverage — to “pass on” an editor’s contact information to sources so they can call him.
iMediaEthics view: Respect to sources — shown by seeking them out, speaking to them and caring about accurately representing their positions — is fundamental to quality reporting and to building trust that fosters democracy.
Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, has a program she calls AnonyWatch. “Editors need to…rigorously enforce the existing in-house rules that say that anonymous sources should be used rarely and only as a last resort,” Sullivan wrote in a column.
“When sources are nameless, they are also unaccountable,” She wrote, “There is no price for them to pay when they get it wrong. But readers — and The Times’s credibility — do suffer. And in some cases, so do the reputations of those The Times is writing about.”
Here is the Dec. 16 response from Joumana Khatib in the Office of the New York Times Public Editor: “Thank you for taking the time to write. Margaret and I have looked over the correspondence you sent, and Margaret has asked me to reply. It is good to see that you’ve had substantive exchanges with various Times journalists on this topic.
“Our office is concerned with the use of anonymous sourcing in The Times, and I have added the instances you pointed out here to our AnonyWatch file. We will continue to monitor this issue closely going forward. Thanks for bringing them to our attention.”
iMediaEthics sent her this source analysis from Times front-page story:
“Militant Group in Egypt Vows Loyalty to ISIS,” Nov. 10, 2014, page A1, By David D. Kirkpatrick
Named sources, interviewed by NYT: 3
- … said Ahmed Sakr, a government official working on economic development in Sinai
- … said Diaa Rashwan, a researcher on Islamist groups at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies
- … said Abdel Rahim Ali, an analyst with close ties to the Egyptian intelligence services.
Anonymous sources 14
- … say Western officials
- … according to Western officials
- and Egyptian analysts familiar
- … the officials say
- … several Western
- and Egyptian officials
- … the officials say
- … according to Western officials
- … Some Western officials question
- … Western officials say
- … Western officials …say
- … said several other Western officials
- … Western officials say
- … Some Egyptians…argue
UPDATE: 8:08AM EST: Information added about the State Information Services survey/report and about Michael Hanna, Century Foundation.
This story is part iMediaEthics’ investigative series on international media reporting on Egypt. iMediaEthics’ editor-in-chief and publisher, Rhonda Roland Shearer, spent much of May, June, October and November in Egypt reporting for this series. She worked with Nader Gohar and his CNC team to produce video reports for iMediaEthics.
Disclosures: iMediaEthics first heard from Ayman Walash, State Information Services, quoted in this report, in relation to his complaints about media errors. He organized colleagues to attend one of iMediaEthics’ free hour-long media ethics training workshops for sources, first offered to the Embassy of the United States in Cairo and others, in May.
Since 2003, Shearer has been working on a book on the crash of flight Egypt Air 990 and has visited Egypt approximately 30 times since 2000.
She served on the board of trustees of Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, following her late husband, Stephen Jay Gould, starting in 2002 and, since her term expired, has sat on an advisory committee comprised of retired board members. She hosts the Friends of Bibliotheca Alexandrina Foundation, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Incorporated in the State of Delaware, March 24,2008. $18K in donations received to date.
Disclosure included in Shearer’s media inquiries: “Art Science Research Laboratory, a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit that I co-founded with my late husband, Harvard professor and scientist, Stephen Jay Gould, publishes iMediaEthics as part of non-partisan journalism ethics program. Students, young journalists and media professionals work with senior researchers to learn how to foster the media’s use of scientific methods and experts before publication. We also publish international media ethics news stories and investigations of factual errors and ethical breaches by media outlets.”
Contributor: Lindsey N. Walker
Translators: Mai El Shamy, Malak Abdel Nabi
Videos of Cairo University president & Grand Mufti spokesman:
Cairo News Company
Cameraman: Gad Hashem
Soundman : Yasser Hosny
Video editor: Soha Alaa
Police hospital video:
Cairo News Company
Cameraman: Gad Hashem
Soundman : Karim Hanafy
Video editor: Soha Alaa