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Jewish World Review May 20, 2002 /9 Sivan, 5762

Nat Hentoff

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Prejudicial journalism | Reporting on slavery in Sudan, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof wrote in an April 23 column: "One approach to ending slavery has been taken by Christian organizations that claim to have purchased thousands of Sudanese slaves and then released them. Unfortunately, there is evidence that many of these slave redemptions are the result of trickery, with false slave traders selling make-believe slaves many times over."

This is a serious charge, and in view of The New York Times' influence, could prevent the release of more slaves. But Kristof, normally a reliable reporter, makes this sweeping accusation without one word of proof. He cites no "evidence."

For more than five years, I have been reporting on slavery in Sudan. I have interviewed redeemed slaves who have come here; American journalists who have witnessed redemption of slaves; and I have many transcripts of statements by released slaves, village chiefs in southern Sudan, and religious leaders of black Sudanese parishioners whose wives and children have been taken on slave raids by militia of the National Islamic Front government in Sudan. None of this kind of verification is in Kristof's column.

A much more egregious example of the very definition of irresponsible journalism appeared on the front page of the Feb. 26 Washington Post by its Nairobi correspondent, Karl Vick. The headline, as prejudicial as it could be: "Ripping Off Slave 'Redeemers.'"

Like Kristof, Karl Vick claimed many fake slaves are involved, along with extensive "corruption" in what happens to the "millions of dollars donated by Westerners" to redeem black slaves in Sudan.

But, as John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International, which has redeemed thousands of slaves, points out, Vick was not an eyewitness himself to any redemptions, did not interview any redeemed slaves, and "after many months of research, failed to find, identify, and produce a single false slave out of the 60,000 plus slaves redeemed by Christian Solidarity International."

Senior Sudanese church leaders from the South and the Nuba Mountains have accused The Washington Post of grossly inaccurate reporting. Bona Malwal of Oxford University, who speaks Arabic, as well as the Dinka language of blacks in the south of Sudan, has witnessed many slave redemptions and found no deceptions. And NBC's "Dateline" and CBS News, when they went to Sudan, had their translations checked for accuracy, as did German state television.

As of this writing, more than two months later, The Washington Post has published none of the protests to the Karl Vick article by actual witnesses to the redemptions; and The New York Times has yet to print any corrections to Nicholas Kristof's charge of "trickery." This is responsible journalism?

One journalist, however, who fell for The Washington Post story, has admitted he was duped. On March 1, columnist Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, wrote a column titled, "Turning a Profit on the Price of Freedom," that concluded, "The Sudanese slave scam is an example of how cynicism distorts even missions of mercy."

But on April 16, Norman wrote another column, "Student's journey to Sudan sheds light on slavery," in which he interviewed Brent Salsgiver, the son of a United Methodist minister, who had recently returned from a slave redemption mission sponsored by the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group. Before going to Sudan, Salsgiver had read Karl Vick's article in The Washington Post.

But once he saw for himself the 615 women and children who were being redeemed by Christian Solidarity International, Salsgiver told Tony Norman that "he trusts the system CSI has in place to guard against fraud and abuse."

Now Tony Norman believes Salsgiver, who has been at a redemption in Sudan, rather than Karl Vick, who has not witnessed one. "This ... hatchet job ... has been particularly galling to me," Tony Norman writes, "because I wrote a column critical of CSI's slave redemption efforts in Sudan based on the Post's Feb. 26 story." The Rev. Walter Fauntroy, a former congressman and long a prominent leader of American civil rights campaigns, has also been there, and he says about The Washington Post story, "I find it curious that after interviewing me for more than four hours, the reporter chose to exclude any of the facts (I gave him)."

The Rev. Gerald E. Bell of the Black Ministerial Alliance in Boston has also been there and says, "It is absolutely deplorable that any newspaper would allow this type of reporting at the expense of such suffering."

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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