Mint Press News incorrectly used my byline for an article it published on August 29, 2013 alleging chemical weapons usage by Syrian rebels. Despite my repeated requests, made directly and through legal counsel, they have not been willing to issue a retraction stating that I was not the author. Yahya Ababneh is the sole reporter and author of the Mint Press News piece. To date, Mint Press News has refused to act professionally or honestly in regards to disclosing the actual authorship and sources for this story.
I did not travel to Syria, have any discussions with Syrian rebels, or do any other reporting on which the article is based. The article is not based on my personal observations and should not be given credence based on my journalistic reputation. Also, it is false and misleading to attribute comments made in the story as if they were my own statements.
I, like many others, made reference to this article in the debate over who used the chemical weapons that killed scores and almost resulted in a US strike on the country. A useful comment posted there was a voice of reason that went against the conspiratorial fervor at the time.
It also jarred me. I am no fan of conspiracy, but am also wary of my nation’s militancy abroad. When I read the article I wondered why such a bombshell was reported only in Mint Press, which is not among the world’s leading journals. But the association of Dale Gavlak allowed me brush my hesitancy aside, and freely share the article along with my own reflections.
All on false pretenses, as it now turns out.
But it is still curious. Why did it take so long for Gavlak to issue this denial? And why did she do so only in personal correspondence to the Brown Moses blog? Another blog, al-Bab, includes other strange elements to this story, all centered around her identity:
There are two other oddities relating to Gavlak’s role or non-role in this affair. One is that a “Dale Gavlak” Twitter account (see screenshot) was deleted around September 3 – just a few days after the Mint Press article appeared. The other is that someone created a “Dale Gavlak” Facebook page on August 30, one day after the Mint Press article, and there are claims that the page may be a fake.
Journalism is about verification in a manner to which blogs are not held accountable. Still, reflecting on this incident – before the Gavlak revelation – made me question another story I shared.
On September 11, I posted an article describing Bishop Thomas’ defense of his church in Upper Egypt. It was shared very widely, striking a cord about Christian non-retaliation and Muslim defense of their Coptic neighbors. I didn’t feel great about how part of the story I did not copy seemed a little sensationalized, but I had heard of the attack from the bishop himself (with little detail) and I have always found him to be a sensible man.
Which is why I was surprised – and fearful – when I received this seemingly very knowledgeable comment:
This bishop is a liar, his residence is within the church perimeter that is walled and has a great gate. They did use soap and water, but no one ever attacked. They were targeting another house in the same street, and they have never approached the church where he resided in. Moreover, the fathers under his command gave some young men weapons (pistols and shot guns), they also gave them Molotov bottles to use in case if anybody attacks the church where he resides; however, no body attacked. This coward tried to protect his life by his parish!
I’ve received similar comments before, oddly enough, on Syria. I have no issue with allowing the alternate version of events, but I thought first to contact the commenter. He is obviously an eyewitness!
But no, there was no response, perhaps not unexpected with an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. So I left the comment out, and let the story stand. I’m glad to have been prompted to investigate, but it also made me remember my uncertainty about the account.
Is it a true story? If the attackers had machine guns, they would not have needed to approach, and then slip and fall on the soapy pavement. I don’t yet distrust, but the comment, which I am glad to have investigated further, gave me pause.
Who would forge a story based on Gavlak’s repuation? And who would use such a weird email address to contradict a story on a blog? There is a mountain of misinformation in this region, and to some degree I have aided and abetted.
Only a small number of readers will see this reflection, compared to the many more drawn to the eye-popping stories I shared earlier. Neither one was my story; if I was writing an article I would be obliged to more fully investigate. Is this a fair enough mea culpa? This is only a blog; it is a place for reflection and questions. It is journalism which requires the verification and answers.
But in passing on both stories, I did not stop to listen to the small voice inside of me which questioned.
It is a good lesson to trust that small voice. I will aim to do so more faithfully in the future.
[For more details on this story, please read this article.]