With few exceptions (some of the correspondents covering apartheid South Africa — when the nature of the ‘conflict’ was obvious — and more recently the writing of its West Africa Bureau Chief, Howard French), the New York Times‘ Africa coverage has noticeably deteriorated.
Case in point is the reporting that accompany the political violence in the wake of open electoral fraud in Kenya. There, Jeffrey Gettleman, the paper’s East Africa bureau chief’ has made a name (more notoriety) for his missives from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
Gettleman’s first post-election report set the tone, when he wrote about ‘… an atavistic vein of tribal tension that always lay beneath the surface in Kenya.’ Although more recently he has softened his tone somewhat with references to the political uses of tribalism and the more immediate causes of the elections (and is even crediting a Kenyan with doing some of the reporting), he (and his editors) can’t let go of the discredited tribalism angle.
Gettleman’s ignorance and biases do not start in Kenya, however, as his earlier reporting from Somalia confirms. Last Christmas, as a historian friend reminds me, Gettleman arrived on the scene in the Somali capital Mogadishu, just in time to channel the US government line on the Ethiopian invasion and the dismantling of the Islamic Courts there. His ignorance and bias were palpable.
Given the New York Times’ position in the hierarchy of US media and the fact that it is one of the only newspapers with dedicated African coverage — about what the rest is doing with the Kenya story, for example, the less said) — Gettleman’s reporting has not eluded close observers of African politics.
For the last month, the participants on H-Africa, an email listserv of African academics interested in the continent’s history and politics, have been dissecting Gettleman’s reporting.
It includes discussion of the a-historical use of tribe, Gettleman’s experience as a journalist and of Africa before he got the job (we learn that he had very little), as well as highlighting the practice of some publications (the New York Times is a chief offender) to often delete any record of offending content (following public complaints) when articles from the papers’ print editions are uploaded onto their websites.
Some of the participants suggested complaining officially to the Times’s editorial board or its foreign editor. Good luck.
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