New evidence is emerging about the failures of the New York Times‘ east Africa correspondent, Jeffrey Gettleman, when he tried to cover the recent upsurge in violence in the eastern Congo. This site has already raised doubts about his worshipful view of the Rwanda-backed M23 Movement, which triggered the latest wave of refugees by seizing the regional capital, Goma.
Gettleman showed up a couple of days late for the main news, even though he is stationed in nearby Nairobi. In his second report from the scene, the M23 let him visit their base of operations north of the capital, in the Rutshuru district. He found that the armed men were “able administrators,” who presided over cleanliness and order. He was especially taken with a sign he saw that read, “M23 Stop Corruption.”
Gettleman went back to Nairobi after only a few days, even though the story has continued to develop. There are 500,000 new refugees; more than 5 million people have died in the region over since 1998, and a more dedicated reporter might have wanted to stick around.
Fortunately other journalists did not abandon the story. Geoffrey York, who works for the Toronto Globe and Mail, stayed and followed up.
York also went up to Rutshuru, and found that Gettleman had been taken in by a “Potemkin Village.” Here’s what the Canadian said:
The rebel capital, Rutshuru, is a showcase for their ideology. Neat and tidy, without a scrap of trash to be seen, Rutshuru is supervised by taciturn young M23 members in clean new uniforms, with new radios and weaponry from their Rwandan sponsors.
But Geoffrey York has the skeptical, doubting attitude of the genuine reporter. He asked more questions:
Yet beneath this beautified surface, the rebels hold power by terror and violence. If you talk to Rutshuru’s residents in a secure place, away from the watchful eyes of the rebels’ spies, they reveal the deadly reality of life under the M23.
“They take whatever they want,” says a carpenter. ”If I report it, they will come back and kill me.”
In the 1930s the New York Times correspondent in the Soviet Union, Walter Duranty, was notorious for not reporting on Stalin’s crimes. Years later, after the truth emerged, there were calls to revoke Duranty’s 1932 Pulitzer Prize for reporting. It looks like the Times‘s east Africa correspondent, also a Pulitzer Prize winner, is Duranty’s successor.