The New York Times Cairo Bureau Chief David D. 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.