A FOREIGN journalist who published fabricated quotes of President Robert Mugabe has said he takes “full responsibility for the mistake” after Zimbabwe protested.
The New York Times’ Kenya Bureau Chief Jeffery Gettleman lifted quotes from a satirical website, spectator.co.ke, which claimed the African Union chairman had called Kenyans “thieves”.
Harare believes Gettleman’s actions were a deliberate attempt to “contrive conflict” between Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Gettleman only tried to verify the truthfulness of the quotes after he had caused their publication in the world-respected American newspaper.
This week, after being called out on the shocking boob by President Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, who accused the journalist of being “a blunderous, if not outright racist”, Gettleman was forced to admit professional failings.
“It was not intentional,” Gettleman says in an e-mailed letter to the President’s Office seen by The Chronicle.
He added: “As soon as the error was brought to my attention, I corrected it and published a retraction. I took full responsibility for the mistake.”
He claimed he had contacted a Zimbabwean journalist in Harare, who assured him the President had made the phantom comments.
He wrote: “Just so you know, I had contacted a Zimbabwean journalist in Harare before we published the story. I sent a copy of the article to that journalist in order to confirm with government officials in Harare that President Mugabe had in fact said those things about corruption in Kenya. The journalist came back to me several hours later, but still before we published the story, saying that it appeared that President Mugabe had indeed said those things. That was my attempt to verify the story and it was only after the story was published that I learned that the journalist had not checked with your office or other appropriate sources.”
“Again, I’m sorry. It was important to me to own up to the mistake and I’ve learned from it.”
In an article published on November 5, the New York Times quoted the President as having said that “those people of East Africa shock me with their wizardry of stealing. You can even think that there is a subject in their universities called Bachelor of Stealing.”
President Mugabe, it was further claimed, “told his countrymen to be on ‘high alert’ in case they visited Kenya” because “they might infect you with that disease”.
Gettleman came under a barrage of attacks on Twitter after Charamba exposed the lie and accused him of disrespecting Africans.
Charamba said Gettleman “should never be entertained on the African continent”, adding it was a “shameful anomaly that a great paper like the New York Times finds the boldness to make him a Bureau Chief.”
In his mea culpa to Twitter attacks over unprofessionalism, Gettleman said: “Guilty as charged. The Mugabe quote was fake. I deeply regret the way we presented it.”
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Senegal Trudy Stevenson welcomed the retraction, stating: “Thank you for admitting error. Other journalists should follow your example.”
But others were not so forgiving, like James North (@jamesnorth7) who said: “Now maybe you should go back to DRCongo and correct your mistaken reporting in 2012.”
James Ochola (@kakajaluo), a Kenyan, was unimpressed by Gettleman’s naivety, stating on Twitter: “Problem is the horse has bolted the barn already, there are some things no matter what (that) head of state can’t say in public.”
The New York Times’ online paper no longer carries the fabricated quotes published in the print paper on November 5.
At the foot of the story, the New York Times says: “Correction: An article last Thursday about an extraordinary rise in public corruption in Kenya, no stranger to graft, erroneously included remarks attributed to Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, saying that Kenyans were thieves and telling his countrymen to be on alert when visiting Kenya so as not to catch ‘that disease.’
“The Spectator, a Kenyan newsmagazine that published the remarks, said last week that they had been fabricated, and were intended as satire.”
(My Zimbabwe News & Chronicle)