Following AP reporter Dale Gavlak’s attempt to disassociate from the Mint Press News report: “Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack” (see previous article for background here) Mint Press Editor in Chief Mnar Muhawesh published a statement in response reiterating her support for, and the credentials of, the two journalists involved, along with the substance of the report they had produced. The report in question included statements from residents and relatives of rebel fighters in Eastern Ghouta, who alleged that Saudi Intelligence Chief, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, had supplied extremist elements in the region with chemical weapons.
The Muhawesh statement went largely unnoticed in mainstream media, instead, the usual actors produced a variety of baseless lurid smears and conspiracy theories directed at Mint Press and Yahya Ababneh, the reporter on the ground in Ghouta, in transparent efforts to discredit them and the substance of the report.
One particularly vulgar conspiracy crafted by the BuzzFeed “journalist” Rosie Gray – reminiscent of crass attempts to play on orientalist stereotypes of “Iranian deception” abundant in civilised US media and diplomacy-speak – attempted to portray the Mint Press as bias fabricators, on the grounds of the Editors father-in-law being a Shi’a Muslim. In effect casting him and Mint Press as Iranian stooges intent on subverting the western-promoted falsehood that the Assad government ordered the alleged chemical attacks.
In recent weeks, corporate media has largely gone quiet on the whole affair. With the Russian-brokered deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles thwarting a determined effort by US hawks, Likudniks, and Gulf monarchs to escalate the Syrian war; the push for overt US intervention has subsided, and along with it the incessant parroting of fantasy narratives and dubious “evidence” attempting to blame the Assad government for the alleged chemical attacks on August 21st.
Muhawesh, fearing for the safety of Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh, has remained silent on the issue since the release of the aforementioned communication, but has now released a full statement outlining a timeline of events surrounding the report, which is reprinted in its entirety below, I urge all to read in full:
I wanted to personally express my appreciation for your continued support and readership following our newsroom’s August 29, 2013 exclusive report titled: “Syrians in Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack.”
I’ve been silent until today out of concern for the safety of the journalists, Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh, while we worked to bring clarity to their findings and ensuing events. I’m relieved to now be able to share happenings of the past 60 days as Human Rights Watch addresses ongoing threats to co-author Yahya by Jordanian and Saudi actors in Amman, Jordan.
To be clear, my MintPress colleagues and I continue to stand by Dale and Yahya and their reporting. The tragic incident in Ghouta on August 21—and the Syria conflict as a whole—is complex and, as the article stated, some information could not be independently verified. While efforts to discredit the story and our organization have disappointed us, we have been most concerned by the tremendous pressure placed on Dale by the Associated Press and more serious threats faced by Yahya.
Since the article was published, I’ve been in almost daily contact with co-author Yahya in Amman, Jordan. He has related ongoing threats of imprisonment by the Jordanian police for his travel to Syria if he were to continue to report on this story or grant further press interviews. Yahya has also described increasing pressure from Saudi actors to retract his story and the specific allegation by Ghouta residents of a rebel link to Prince Bandar.
In line with Dale’s description of Yahya as “a reputable journalist” to the New York Times, she distanced herself from the article only after stating in emails to MintPress that the Associated Press demanded her name be removed from the byline nearly two days after the article published. She has not informed MintPress of the AP’s reason for this request—nor why they and National Public Radio (NPR), subsequently, suspended her. For background on the situation, here is the timeline of events:
- Feb 8: Freelance journalist Dale Gavlak—an Associated Press stringer for nearly a decade—joins MintPress News (MPN) as Middle East Correspondent and files her first of 26 weekly articles on regional news and politics.
- Aug 28: Dale pitches the Ghouta story to her MPN editors. She then conducts research, fact checks with colleagues and Jordanian government officials and writes up article based on interviews her reporter colleague, Yahya Ababneh, conducted a few days prior while on a delegation to Ghouta, Syria. Dale files the story to MPN.
- Aug 29: Dale emails with readers about the report after it is published at MintPressNews.com with the byline note: “This is a collaborative report by Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh.”
- Aug 30: Dale notifies MPN by email that editors at the Associated Press are demanding her name be removed from the article byline by end of day.
- Aug 31: MPN cites editorial transparency for not removing Dale from byline and, instead, adds clarification of her exact role that now appears at top of article.
- Sept 1: MPN receives letter from Dale’s attorney demanding it remove her name from byline completely.
- Sept 3: Dale accepts payment from MPN for her role in the article.
- Sept 12: Yahya informs MPN via Skype of first visit by Saudi actors.
- Sept 13: Through legal counsel, MPN offers to remove Dale and Yahya’s names both completely from the byline and replace with the statement: “MintPress, in order to protect the authors of this story from any retribution or outside pressure, has removed the authors’ names from this story. MintPress believes in the journalistic efforts produced by all of the parties involved in this story but does not want to see any harm come to any of the parties.”
- Sept 20: Dale claims MPN “incorrectly used my byline” in a statement to bloggerBrown Moses.
- Sept 21: Dale shares Aug 29 email to MPN on NY Times “Lede Blog”: “Pls find the Syria story I mentioned uploaded on Google Docs. This should go under Yahya Ababneh’s byline. I helped him write up this story but he should get all the credit for this.” MPN’s Mnar Muhawesh makes her only public statement on the situation.
- Sept 26: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov cites allegations in MPN report as evidence in talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and in press interviews at the UN General Assembly.
- Oct 7: Yahya notifies MPN that the United Nations commissioned him to present his witnesses for the UN Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013.
- Oct 14: Yahya informs MPN via email of visit by Jordanian police: “i am ok, and they find two Saudi arabia one of them his name [REDACTED], he is a Salafi, I know him before, he try to find me and give me to KSA police in Saudi, they know an old police man (he retired) they still fellow, they ask me to make a statement which say opisit of the report about Bender”.
- Oct 28: Yahya describes conversation with Saudi actors in email to MPN: “any way, they ask me to go to Saudi and say sorry, and talk to Saud TV live to tell them that i was under pressure when i was in Syria. they (my tribe) have a pressure too in Suad, they ask them in the borders and airport about me.”
We deeply sympathize with Dale and Yahya as they continue to endure pressures from interests seeking to silence their reporting. Their courage, and that of many reporters before them, has emboldened MintPress to expose these threats to investigative journalism and has served to strengthen our commitment to in-depth reporting on social justice and human rights issues.
As an independent journalism startup that found itself embroiled in an international crisis, we’re grateful for the advice and assistance provided by experts at The Poynter Institute and Knight Foundation as well as International Federation of Journalists and Human Rights Watch.
Again, I appreciate your support and truly value your readership. I welcome any questions about the report, ensuing events and our ongoing coverage of the Syrian conflict.
Mnar A. Muhawesh.
Editor in Chief, MintPress News.
It becomes immediately clear from the above statement that the fantastical conspiracies posited by BuzzFeeds’ Rosie Gray and former Guardian Editor Brian Whitaker, to name but two, were clearly based on nothing more than wild speculation in a vain and somewhat organised attempt to discredit the report; it is no coincidence Gavlaks’ disassociation statement was initially handed to Brian Whitakers eager protegé “Brown Moses”, aka Eliot Higgins, to promote right alongside his lead effort in touting dubious “evidence” pointing the finger at the Syrian army as responsible for Ghouta, much of which has now been thoroughly debunked.
The immediate questions then remain: why so much effort from establishment media players to discredit and smear? Why are elements of Jordanian and Saudi security services threatening Yahya Ababneh and his family, and attempting to force him to retract the statements he gathered in Ghouta if they are merely falsehood, or baseless planted rumour? And why did the AP and NPR suspend Gavlak even though she made (futile) attempts to disassociate from the report to save her career and her colleagues safety?
The logical answer is that those reflected negatively in Yahya Ababneh and Dale Gavlaks’ Ghouta report have something to hide, and are going to great lengths to keep it hidden.