Nothing is worse when a reporter gets scooped. Watching your diligent reporting appear from another source is excruciating, and it hurts a lot more when you see your story on the front page of the New York Times. Dagger to the heart.
That was my reality on April 1st – April Fool’s Day. One of the key components of our upcoming Afghanistan hour is the story of 6-year-old Naghma, a little girl who’s father ‘sold’ her as a child bride to pay a debt. Unfortunately, the New York Times also got wind of this bit of news and published an extensive front-page article about the family.
While such a story is nearly impossible to fathom, our reporting team met Naghma and her father and we got to see their plight resolved when foreign donors provided the funds to settle the debt and Naghma was saved from becoming a child-bride. This significant portion of the story was NOT reported by the Times in their original story.
Initially I was irate at reading a piece from the ‘gold standard’ of journalism that had so clearly been the result of either bad or lazy reporting. How could the author omit such a major portion of the story? Of course the piece sells as sensational journalism if the girl is doomed to this horrible fate, but the fact is she wasn’t. Secondly, this wasn’t a piece uncovered by the Times, the BBC reported this story back in January and our reporting covered the jirga in early March that settled the debt and sparred Naghma from a premature marriage.
To set the record straight I sat down with our executive producer, Wayne Nelson, and we crafted an essay and short video clip that the Huffington Post published online which outlines the real story and events that transpired.
It should be noted that the New York Times did publish a follow-up article, including the additional information, but they blamed the error in the piece on the Pashtun father, who allegedly mislead the Times. According to editor’s notes and the follow-up story, the father called the Times to admit that the debt had been paid and when asked why he didn’t inform the Times earlier, he did not provide a clear response. Between you and me, I have a hard time believing this because the father is an illiterate man who signs his name with a thumbprint…do you think he was able to read the story online (in English) and call-up the Times and tell them this? Clearly, something was lost in translation between communicating with the Pashtun father and the reporter…or perhaps the reporter never properly updated her piece, or checked her sources. The reality is someone at the Times screwed up and now they’re trying to back-peddle to cover their steps.
To ice this cake, I sat down with Abby Huntsman of Huffington Post Live to talk about the Times story, our trip to Afghanistan and the real facts behind Naghma’s situation. It was a wild ride doing live internet streaming, but I survived. The key was to call out the Old Gray Lady, but avoid shooting the sheriff in broad daylight. The Times is certainly not an enemy I’d like to make, but they should be called into account when reporting goes array.