Do Fact Checkers Still Exist? (Updated)
Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
I've never understood people - usually much more important than me - who have their research assistants draft their op-eds before they polish and print them.
But still when I saw this op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor the other day I couldn't believe that it had passed both RAND's and the CSM's internal reviews. The op-ed by Aidan Kirby Winn is about Guantanamo and, like much of what gets printed on the subject, is full of errors.
Much of the piece, I'll leave to others more qualified than I to comment, but the Yemen section is full of mistakes. Why if this subject is as important as most people think - and I agree - can't they take the time to do a simple Google search? (That really isn't rhetorical.)
Take for instance:
"Yemen has developed a rehabilitation program modeled on Saudi Arabia's, but so far it has yet to work as well. The escape of 13 Al Qaeda suspects from a Yemeni prison in 2006 undermines confidence in the country's ability to secure dangerous inmates if the US were to send them home.
Al Qaeda has a growing presence in Yemen, underscored by the attack last September on the US Embassy – an attack in which Shihri's involvement is suspected. A brutal murder of three foreign aid workers occurred just this month, bearing the hallmarks of Al Qaeda. An infusion of battle-tested jihadists back into that nation could further embolden the movement."
And finally, the only people who believe al-Shihri was involved in the September 2008 US Embassy attack are those that have a firm and unshakable belief in the magical realism of Rushdie or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (Al-Shihri can't be in two places at once - he wasn't in Yemen - and he doesn't have a history of not taking credit for attacks that he was involved in - the recent kidnappings is still an open question in my mind.)
In all fairness, this last mistake is one that keeps getting reprinted in a variety of places so even a Google search wouldn't have helped, one would actually need to read the Arabic of some interviews in Saudi papers and Sada al-Malahim.
There is surely a lot of room for differing opinions on what to do with Guantanamo - and I differ strongly from Winn's that Saudi is the best place for the Yemeni detainees - but certainly all of us, no matter our opinions, must start from what is known. And in this case, certain facts are known, and we should be very careful to get them correct before reaching conclusions, instead of allowing conclusions to shape and shade our presentation of what is known.
Update: In retrospect, I may have come across as a bit harsh in this post - not my intention. I just meant to suggest that on this particular subject, which is particularly sensitive to mistaken facts and information, one should be particularly careful with what one writes. Especially when presenting it as fact. The subject of Yemen and Guantanamo is difficult enough without confusing rumor and suggestion with fact.
- Acosta will be allowed to return to the White House on Friday.
- The case is still open, and the administration may choose to appeal the ruling.
Progressive America would be half as big, but twice as populated as its conservative twin.
New research identifies an unexpected source for some of earth's water.
- Our planet hides majority of its water inside: two oceans in the mantle and 4–5 in the core.
- New reason to suspect that water is abundant throughout the universe.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.