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CAIRO - 7 January 2017: Saturday January 6 marks a dark day in the professional history of the New York Times. Its international correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick, who spent almost five years in Egypt, published a news piece about the relationship between the Egyptian media and intelligence apparatus that includes no substantiated or corroborated information.
We are disappointed. It is not easy for journalists like us, who used to look up to the New York Times as a role model for professional and credible journalism, to see it slips into fallacy and risk its integrity and independence to publish fabricated information simply because it fits its editorial policy on current events in Egypt.
Back to our colleague David D. Kirkpatrick’s story. Published on the evening of January 6, 2018, the story draws the conclusion that Egypt’s official foreign policy towards Israel and Jerusalem is a fabrication, and that the state is undermining and subverting the global consensus regarding the status of Jerusalem through media manipulation. The evidence for this: an alleged, withheld and unverified audio recording, of which the author has failed to verify with the individuals involved.
The protagonist of the story, Egyptian Intelligence officer Capt. Ashraf al-Kholi, is alleged to have spoken with the hosts of “several influential talk shows,” in order to ensure that the “hosts” propounded a rhetoric which undermined the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, countering the official stance.
The first issue lies with the “intelligence officer.” To the detriment of the author’s integrity, Kirkpatrick fails to offer readers a whiff of evidence not just of the recordings’ existence, but that this person is a member of the Egyptian Intelligence. Moreover, a statement from the Egyptian State Information Service refutes Kholi’s existence.
The second issue lies with the other individuals mentioned in the article, and their supposed role as respected political influencers.
Beginning with the celebrity of the group, there is
, an iconic Egyptian actress who is highly respected throughout the wider Arab world. While she has appeared on Egyptian TV, she has never embraced the role of a talk show host, and does not publically express an opinion on political issues.
Yousra has denied any knowledge of a person named Ashraf al-Khouli, and has consequently announced that she will be taking legal action regarding the alleged leak, insisting the defamatory implications will negatively affect her image.
Additionally, when we reviewed Yousra’s social media accounts over the past three months, we found no comment on President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In fact, we couldn’t find any comment from Yousra on any political issue.
Why a newspaper such as the New York Times would believe that an actress like her would receive calls from an intelligence officer to help the government in a political issue is beyond belief.
Yousra does not have a talk show, and she has never published or provided analysis or opinion on any political issue.
Here is an important question: why did our colleague at the New York Times not run any background search about Yousra to make sure that the information in the recordings he claims he received makes sense? Just a quick reminder, Kirkpatrick spent almost five years (from 2011 to 2015) reporting from Cairo, yet he is unaware of what a famous public figure like Yousra is doing; no, actually he thinks she is a political commentator.
The second figure in the article was Saeed Hassaseen, who has also denied being contacted by anyone regarding the status of Jerusalem, and confirmed that he did not know anyone by Khouli’s name.
Aside from his role as a Parliamentarian, Hassaseen is a herbalist first and foremost, and presides over an empire of shops selling herbal remedies. Although he presented a TV show discussing herbs and their medicinal use, this went off air weeks ahead of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration.
As journalists we did not take what Hassaseen reportedly said for granted. We have done our job and run a search on all his press statements over the past month since Trump made his move. We found the following: On October 2, Hassaseen told Masrawy news website that “Egypt will never give up on supporting the Palestinians’ right to end Israeli occupation and have Jerusalem as capital for the state of Palestine.”
On December 6, he called on “all the Arab leaders to be united against the Zionist conspiracy on Jerusalem. From December 6 until January 6, Hassaseen did not release any public statements or appear in the media regarding the Jerusalem issue.
So, it was not hard for our colleagues in the New York Times to run a fact check on Hassaseen to verify whether he played a role in shaping Egyptian public opinion or not. Obviously, he did not and he has never been able to do so. He simply is not popular enough.
The third player in the New York Times fabricated story is Mofid Fawzy who is a well respected Egyptian television presenter, interviewer and journalist, however contradictory to the report he has not presented a television program in many years and has only just recently gone back on air with a biweekly show.
Thus the credibility of Kirkpatrick’s article hinges on the encounter of Azmi Megahed. Megahed, 1974 African Volleyball Player of the Year, former coach of Zamalek and member of the Egyptian Football Association, was the only person supposedly interviewed by the author.
Of those mentioned in the article, Megahed is the only one who currently presents a talk show, which focuses on sports and current affairs in Egypt. Al-Malaf airs on the Al-'Amsa satellite channel.
However, Megahed has promptly rejected these reports. During an interview with Tamer Abdel Moneim for the "Capital" program, Megahed countered that the report is fabricated, and challenged the New York Times for attacking the integrity of the Egyptian media.
Again after running a timeline search on Megahed’s stance toward the US’s move on Jerusalem, we found that on
, Megahed on his talk show hailed Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church’s rejection of Trump’s decision.
This is not the first time the New York Times has found itself facing a tirade of criticism owing to its disreputable articles. Most notability, Thomas Friedman, arguably the NYT most highly regarded contributor, faced widespread condemnation for his over-inflated appraisal of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman which failed to shed light on factors essential to producing a balanced judgement.
Kirkpatrick has not only displayed professional ineptitude; through his uncorroborated attack of the Egyptian media he has made a concerted effort to rip the social fabric which holds Egyptian society together.
Our final questions: who leaked these fabricated recordings to the New York Times? Who benefited from destroying the New York Times’ credibility?
Mohamed Abdelbaky is the editor-in-chief of Egypt Today
Joseph Colonna is a political Analyst at Egypt Today's Middle East desk