Saturday, January 21, 2012

Letter to and from the NYT Public Editor

Recently, the internet was up in arms over an article that was published in the New York Times by a reporter who stopped at nothing to get 'the scoop' on a young Afghan girl who was brutally tortured by her husband and his family. A scoop that had already been reported by another news organisation. The reporter, Graham Bowley barged his way into her hospital room to further interrogate her to tell the story that had already been told.

The team over at Wronging Rights brought the reasons (and there are numerous) why this was a horrendous practice to the attention of many, and included a form letter (or email rather) to send to the editor to express our anger at this, which read as follows:

Dear Public Editor,

I recently read your reporter Graham Bowley’s description of his attempts to interview Sahar Gul, an Afghan girl in her early teens who was the victim of horrific abuse at the hands of her husband and in-laws. Bowley states with apparent pride that he “pushed past ‘no,’” and interviewed her after hospital workers informed him that she did not wish to speak to reporters, and was too psychologically fragile to repeat her story.

It’s difficult to formulate a response to this story that does not begin with the words “what the…” As Bowley notes in his article, Gul had already been interviewed by other news organizations. Her story had been told, and was already available to the press and public. Bowley was not adding substantial new information through his reporting (the mango juice does not count). Rather, he appears to have returned to the hospital to soothe the burns to his ego from getting scooped by the AP.

How is it possible that this was not only acceptable journalistic behavior for a Times employee, but that Bowley and his editors saw fit to crow over it by publishing a blog post about the reporter’s heroic success in overcoming the resistance of a traumatized child?

Once again: what the …?


I sent off the email, and have just now received the following:

Thanks for your message about Graham Bowley's coverage of Sahar Gul, the young Afghan girl. I am concerned about the girl's privacy as well and have raised the question with the Foreign Desk. I do concur that news organizations should be careful to respect the privacy of crime victims. This is a case where, I believe, the benefits of doing a story were outweighed by the potential harm to the girl.


Art Brisbane
public editor


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