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‘New York Times’ reporter in Congo is revealed as incompetent

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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.

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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5 Responses

  1. Les on December 5, 2012, 10:43 am

    Did the Times have him tutored in Occupied East Jerusalem and/or the West Bank? Some of his bosses must be letting him know what is required to succeed at the Times.

  2. marc b. on December 5, 2012, 11:35 am

    what a dope, though a dope with a pulitzer to his credit (just like t. friedman. for what it’s worth.) but he has nice hair. i admire that about him: i sure wish i had his head of hair.

    and this gravity-defying trajectory of meritocratic upward mobility; gettleman (shouldn’t it be the plural ‘gettlemen’ given how prolific he is?) is a cornell graduate, of which unz had this interesting anecdotal tid bit:

    Finally, there was the case of Becca Jannol, a girl from a very affluent Jewish family near Beverly Hills, who attended the same elite prep school as Julianna, but with her parents paying the full annual tuition. Despite her every possible advantage, including test-prep courses and retaking the exam, her SAT scores were some 240 points lower on the 1600 point scale, placing her toward the bottom of the Wesleyan range, while her application essay focused on the philosophical challenges she encountered when she was suspended for illegal drug use. But she was a great favorite of her prep school counselor, who was an old college friend of the Wesleyan admissions officer, and using his discretion, he stamped her “Admit.” Her dismal academic record then caused this initial decision to be overturned by a unanimous vote of the other members of the full admissions committee, but he refused to give up, and moved heaven and earth to gain her a spot, even offering to rescind the admissions of one or more already selected applicants to create a place for her. Eventually he got her shifted from the Reject category to wait-list status, after which he secretly moved her folder to the very top of the large waiting list pile.

    In the end “connections” triumphed, and she received admission to Wesleyan, although she turned it down in favor of an offer from more prestigious Cornell, which she had obtained through similar means. But at Cornell, she found herself “miserable,” hating the classes and saying she “didn’t see the usefulness of [her] being there.” However, her poor academic ability proved no hindrance, since the same administrator who had arranged her admission also wrangled her a quick entrance into a special “honors program” he personally ran, containing just 40 of the 3500 students in her year. This exempted her from all academic graduation requirements, apparently including classes or tests, thereby allowing her to spend her four college years mostly traveling around the world while working on a so-called “special project.” After graduation, she eventually took a job at her father’s successful law firm, thereby realizing her obvious potential as a member of America’s ruling Ivy League elite, or in her own words, as being one of “the best of the best.”

    so poor becca was effectively rejected from admission to wesleyan, but failed ‘up’ to cornell? (curiously, or not so much, an asian applicant with significantly better academic bona fides than becca was denied admission to wesleyan, with no sympathetic admissions officer to bail her out.)

    really, what do any of these ‘elite’ markers mean any more (ivy league admissions, journalistic awards). they are just like stuffed gazelle heads on the wall of some late 19th century WASPish, idiot nephew. (‘failed out of harvard? why i’ll put you on the board of directors of my bank, son.’)

    • Keith on December 5, 2012, 5:51 pm

      MARC B- “In the end “connections” triumphed, and she received admission to Wesleyan, although she turned it down in favor of an offer from more prestigious Cornell, which she had obtained through similar means.”

      You have correctly identified ‘real world’ meritocracy.

  3. eljay on December 5, 2012, 12:05 pm

    >> really, what do any of these ‘elite’ markers mean any more …

    They mean than any well-connected moron can aspire to one day become President of the United States of America, the Greatest Nation the World has Ever Known!

    And that’s not just awesome, that’s noo-kyoo-lur, dude!

  4. Nevada Ned on December 5, 2012, 5:33 pm

    According to Moon Over Alabama, Jeffrey Gettleman confuses two groups with similar names: Alevis and Alawites.
    Hey, it’s a mistake anyone can make. The two groups live in different countries, have a different language, have different religious denominations…but the names are similar.
    Just like going upstate from NYC to Albany and expecting to find Albanians.
    NOTE TO JEFFREY GETTLEMAN: this is a joke about the Albanians.
    Albany is a city in New York state. Albania is a country in Eastern Europe. Trust me, they’re different.

    Want another story about an incompetent NYT reporter? Here goes…Back in the 1980’s, a NYT reporter was reporting on El Salvador, site of a brutal counterinsurgency campaign, in which US-trained Death Squads fought to suppress a grass-roots dermocratic insurgency. The NYT reporter, Edward Shoemaker, found something very weird: an Arab in the Salvadorean resistance. The Arab was named Ali Handro. Members of the resistance only gave their first names (no last names because of fear of the Death Squads). But Ali for some reason gave his last name, too.
    So what was the NYT reporter overlooking? The “Arab” was really named “Alejandro”, Spanish for “Alexander”, his first name. Edward Shoemaker couldn’t Spanish, so to him Alejandro got mangled into “Ali Handro”.
    Other reporters subsequently referred to Edward Shoemaker as “Edward Alejandro Shoemaker”. Another incompetent NYT reporter.
    This story can be verified by anyone who followed the Salvadorean struggle in the 1980’s.

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