Did Philip Gourevitch rush to the Congo partly to protect his tarnished reputation?

As soon as the fighting started up again in eastern Congo, the writer Philip Gourevitch, who has reported on the region since the middle 1990s, jumped on a plane and flew there.

But to judge by his first blog post in the New Yorker, one of his aims in making the trip was to do some damage control to his own threatened reputation.

Gourevitch deserves credit for reporting at length on the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, including his well-known book, We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families.  But over time, he became an apologist for the post-genocide regime of Rwandan president Paul Kagame, even as evidence mounted of Rwandan killings and massive theft of minerals from eastern Congo.

The latest surge in violence there was triggered when the M23 Movement, a Rwandan-sponsored and -led band of armed predators, captured the Congolese provincial capital of Goma.  The M23 has been denounced by human rights organizations and United Nations investigation panels.

Gourevitch’s November 27 blog post, “Outraged in Congo,” is cagey and cunning. The heart of the post is his quotation at length from an angry, eloquent Congolese who stops him in the street in Goma to indict the weak, corrupt Congolese government and the international community for exploiting the Congolese people for the past 150 years.

Here are the two key Gourevitch sentences:

Most of the international press coverage of this latest war in the east, which began in April, has focussed on allegations in a U.N. report that neighboring Rwanda was behind M23.

Salvador Muhindo, the gaunt little man who button-holed me in the rain yesterday afternoon, didn’t care about that.

First and most obvious; M23 agents are still in Goma, so if Salvador Muhindo spoke out against them on a crowded street he might later pay with his life.

But more important, Gourevitch’s tactic is obvious; change the subject away from the Rwanda/M23 attacks, which actually re-started the war, in which another 500,000 people have had to flee for their lives since April.  Salvador Muhindo’s harsh view of both his own government and the West is unquestionably valid, and the more we hear from people like him the better.  But until Rwanda stops killing and stealing in eastern Congo, there cannot be even tentative steps toward peace.

Philip Gourevitch could have acted differently.  He could have stopped covering up for his one-time hero, Paul Kagame, and for the Rwandan government.  And he could realize that the best way to protect — and enhance — your reputation as a journalist is to tell the truth.

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{ 2 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. marc b. says:

    gurevitch has devolved into one of those characters, a practitioner of the journalistic new wave starting with pioneers of the ‘creative non-fiction’ genre such as george orwell or ryszard kapuscinski, whom i wouldn’t trust as far as i could throw (although gurevitch isn’t half the writer they were). salvador muhindo? yeah, maybe.

  2. Nevada Ned says:

    Philip Gourevitch got a very big story very wrong: the massacre in Rwanda. See this chapter, part of an important book, The Politics of Genocide, by David Peterson and Edward Herman. Ed Herman is the co-author (with Noam Chomsky) of a comprehensive book, The Political Economy of Human Rights, an oldie but goodie.