Media Blog

About That AP Report on Syrian Rebels Using Chemical Weapons

For weeks now, this story has been circulating as evidence the rebels in Syria were behind the chemical attack in Damascus. The AP freelancer on the story’s byline, however, says she didn’t write it. McClatchy:

A freelance contributor to the Associated Press whose byline appeared on a controversial story that alleged Syrian rebels had gassed themselves in an accident told McClatchy on Saturday that she did not write the article and has been seeking to have her name removed from it since it was published by a small Minnesota-based website.

Dale Gavlak, a long time contributor from the Middle East to AP, released an email statement to McClatchy and several blogs denying any role in reporting the story, which was published Aug. 29 by Mint Press News, which describes itself with the phrase “independent advocacy journalism.” The article carried her byline along with that of Yahya Ababneh, a Jordanian Arab-language journalist.

The story likely would have gone unnoticed in pre-Internet days. But thanks to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, it’s become a crucial piece of evidence for those arguing that the rebels, not the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, were most likely responsible for an Aug. 21 chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs.

Within hours of the story’s release, Mint Press’s website crashed from excessive traffic, and the story continues to be cited by conspiracy-minded websites and supporters of the embattled Assad government in the wake of a U.N. investigation whose findings, many say, implicate the Syrian military.

In a phone conversation on Saturday, Gavlak, whose AP connection is often held up as evidence of the reliability of the Mint Press story, confirmed the statement and described a timeline in which she had been trying for weeks to get Mint Press to remove her name from the story. Gavlak referenced her emailed statement in the interview, saying she could not go much beyond it for legal reasons.

“Mint Press News incorrectly used my byline for an article it published on August 29, 2013, alleging chemical weapons usage by Syrian rebels,” the statement reads. “Despite my repeated requests, made directly and through legal counsel, they have not been willing to issue a retraction stating that I was not the author.”

“Yahya Ababneh is the sole reporter and author of the Mint Press News piece,” the statement added. “I did not travel to Syria, have any discussions with Syrian rebels, or do any other reporting on which the article is based. The article is not based on my personal observations and should not be given credence based on my journalistic reputation.”

Because of the incident, Gavlak and at least one other contributor to Mint News have ended their relationships with the website, which was founded nearly two years ago by Mnar Muhawesh, who is in her mid 20s.

Muhawesh, who was described in a January 2012 story on the MinnPost website as the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who graduated from college with a degree in journalism, did not respond to requests for comment left on her cell phone and sent to her Twitter and email accounts.

The rest here.

But MintPress is standing by the story and issued this statement that Dale Gavlak was indeed its author:

By Mnar Muhawesh, executive director and editor at large for MintPress News

Statement:

Thank you for reaching out to me in regards to statements made by Dale Gavlak alleging MintPress for incorrectly attributing our exclusive report titled: “Syrians in Goutha claim Saudi-supplied rebels behind chemical attacks.”Gavlak pitched this story to MintPress on August 28th and informed her editors and myself that her colleague Yahya Ababneh was on the ground in Syria. She said Ababneh conducted interviews with rebels, their family members, Ghouta residents and doctors that informed him through various interviews that the Saudis had supplied the rebels with chemical weapons and that rebel fighters handled the weapons improperly setting off the explosions.  

When Yahya had returned and shared the information with her, she stated that she confirmed with several colleagues and Jordanian government officials that the Saudis have been supplying rebels with chemical weapons, but as her email states, she says they refused to go on the record.

Gavlak wrote the article in it’s entirety as well as conducted the research. She filed her article on August 29th and was published on the same day.

Dale is under mounting pressure for writing this article by third parties. She notified MintPress editors and myself on August 30th and 31st via email and phone call, that third parties were placing immense amounts of pressure on her over the article and were threatening to end her career over it. She went on to tell us that she believes this third party was under pressure from the head of the Saudi Intelligence Prince Bandar himself, who is alleged in the article of supplying the rebels with chemical weapons.

On August 30th, Dale asked MintPress to remove her name completely from the byline because she stated that her career and reputation was at risk. She continued to say that these third parties were demanding her to disassociate herself from the article or these parties would end her career.

On August 31st, I notified Dale through email that I would add a clarification that she was the writer and researcher for the article and that Yahya was the reporter on the ground, but did let Gavlak know that we would not remove her name as this would violate the ethics of journalism.

We are aware of the tremendous pressure that Dale and some of our other journalists are facing as a result of this story, and we are under the same pressure as a result to discredit the story. We are unwilling to succumb to those pressures for MintPress holds itself to the highest journalistic ethics and reporting standards.

Yahya has recently notified me that the Saudi embassy contacted him and threatened to end his career if he did a follow up story on who carried out the most recent chemical weapons attack and demanded that he stop doing media interviews in regards to the subject.

We hold Dale Gavlak in the highest esteem and sympathize with her for the pressure she is receiving, but removing her name from the story would not be honest journalism and therefore, as stated before, we are not willing to remove her name from the article.

We are prepared and may release all emails and communications made between MintPress and Dale Gavlak, and even Yahya to provide further evidence of what was provided to you in this statement.

I say MintPress should release the e-mails and settle this once and for all.

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