We noted yesterday that The News (Jang Group) published a conspiracy theory on the front page that was filled with inaccurate information. Today, Jang Group bowls wide again, this time with a headline that will surely raise the blood pressure of any patriot: ‘Seals had intruded into Pakistan 12 times before Osama raid’. And again, there is a problem. This latest report is plagiarised from a foreign media report that has been largely discredited.
The report in The News is credited to ‘Monitoring Desk’ and consists of several paragraphs cut and pasted from an article by Nicholas Schmidle in the American magazine, The New Yorker. Schmidle gives an exciting and detailed account of the Abbottabad operation that killed Osama bin Laden in May. The account is so detailed that the American reporter even notes what is stuffed into the pockets of the SEALs as they fly to bin Laden’s compound and what they were thinking as they climbed the stairs in the house to find the al Qaeda leader.
When Schmidle’s report was published, it instantly gained international attention. With this attention, however, came scrutiny of Schmidle’s reporting techniques. Suddenly, the reporter found himself under the spotlight when The Washington Post revealed that Nicholas Schmidle never interviewed any of the SEALs involved in the operation.
Schmidle says he wasn’t able to interview any of the 23 Navy SEALs involved in the mission itself. Instead, he said, he relied on the accounts of others who had debriefed the men.
But a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that; neither the article nor an editor’s note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly.
The SEALs, he writes of the raid’s climactic moment, “instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft,” the mission’s name for bin Laden, implying that the SEALs themselves had conveyed this impression to him.
He also writes that the raiders “were further jostled by the awareness that they were possibly minutes away from ending the costliest manhunt in American history; as a result, some of their recollections — on which this account is based — may be imprecise and, thus, subject to dispute.”
Except that the account was based not on their recollections but on the recollections of people who spoke to the SEALs.
Once this was revealed, other media groups began issuing public corrections. A professor who knows the reporter wrote that his article actually follows a long line of previous problems with his reporting on Pakistan including a time that he said that because he learned some Urdu, he could also understand Pashto. She goes on to note that Schmidle claims in his piece that the translator Ahmed yelled at locals in Pashto to return to their homes. She then points out that this detail caught her eye as “the majority of persons in Abbottabad, where the raid took place, speak Hindko rather than Pashto”.
How could this happen? According to the professor C. Christine Fair, Nicholas Schmidle was not an accredited journalist and had even been denied his visa due to lack of credentials. It was not until he was taken under the wing of Shireen Mazari that he was able to enter Pakistan.
Mr. Schmidle had one serious problem: he was not an accredited journalist, which meant the Pakistani government was disinclined to give him a journalism visa. He sought my advice. I explained to him that visa issues are not my bailiwick but I outlined some of the key issues he could consider if and when he sets out upon his newfound adventure. Though he didn’t know much about Pakistan, Mr. Schmidle struck me as a fast study.
In the end, Dr. Shireen Mazari (an outspoken, anti-American polemicist) agreed to host Mr. Schmidle at the think-tank she ran at the time. However, it was a bargain with the devil: he still was not a journalist and he got his visa at the behest of a dubious shill for Pakistan’s intelligence agency.
Not only did The News plagiarise a discredited article, it plagiarised a discredited article by someone who can’t tell the difference between Urdu and Pashto.
On one day, The News publishes a front page conspiracy theory based on inaccurate information the reporter heard while watching an Indian TV channel. Rather than admit the mistake and publish the correct information the next day, The News chose to publish a sensational piece that plagiarises from a discredited article in an American magazine. Is there any foreign report that is too poor for Jang Group not to repeat it if it makes good headlines? Along with credibility, Jang Group’s shame seems to be vanishing also.