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October 02, 2013

BuzzFeed Hacks Away At Mint Press News’ Syria Story

Posted in: Uncategorized

Viral media and cat picture experts BuzzFeed decided to once again enter the fray of actual journalism, it didn’t go well. Known for mostly writing and rewriting press releases and practicing access journalism (which is to say not-journalism) the listcle masters decided they would tell the “inside story” of Mint Press News.

The authors of the piece could not be worse examples of the awful practices of Buzzfeed’s “reporters.” One is Rosie Gray whose irresponsible speculations have become legendary and the other is Jessica Testa who is somehow even more problematic than Gray due to authoring what can only be described as straight up propaganda for military intervention in Syria. Gray is a generally irresponsible reporter but Testa is clearly conflicted on the specific issue she is reporting on.

In any case, Gray and Testa decided to do their best to paint suspicion on the news organization that broke a story many believe helped derail the Obama Administration’s unpopular effort to bomb Syria. Although a strong case can be made no one did more than President Obama himself in damaging public support for the war.

Gray and Testa never present actual evidence in their piece about any scandalous activity MPN engages in or really much of an “inside story” beyond a company email or two. But the gist seems to be these people are Muslims and we don’t know where their money comes from. Cue panic button. Thankfully we know the in-depth financial history of every other news organization in the world. Gray and Testa do however offer a conclusion they fail to prove in any way.

Interviews with former employees and people familiar with the inner workings of Mint Press, and an examination of public records, paint a portrait of a dysfunctional outlet where employees are left in the dark about the site’s sources of funding and are alienated from the Muhawesh family that runs it… They also reveal an agenda that lines up, from its sympathy with the Syrian regime to its hostility to Sunni Saudi Arabia, with that of the Islamic Republic of Iran, where Odeh Muhawesh studied under an ayatollah for five years after the Islamic Revolution, and where he visited as recently as this summer.

That is an interesting phrase isn’t it? “Lines up with.” So the accusation here is what exactly? They believe things that people in Iran believe? Or they are acting as agents of the Iranian government? Gray and Testa kept it vague for good reason. What follows this conspiratorial phrase is a complete failure to prove any connection to Iranian interests. As in zero. Gray is back to her old tricks of throwing out unsubstantiated nonsense.

Gray and Testa, after titillating your inner conspiracy theorist on the Iranian connection, then detail a banal hiring process for journalists at MPN as well as an unwitting demonstration of the authors’ inability to be forensic accountants. If Gray and Testa can’t solve the financial puzzle it must be the government of Iran. See? Process of elimination.

Where does the money come from? We can’t figure it out, assume the worst. And don’t forget, they are Muslims who probably can’t be trusted like us Buzzfeed reporters.

Muhawesh had also gained some recognition around campus for becoming the first reporter to wear a hijab on the school’s TV news program.

That was really important to know, thanks Woodstein.

One part of the article that actually would have made an interesting story was what happened with AP reporter Dale Gavlak. Who is pressuring her to distance herself from MPN? That is a really important question to have answered – both for journalism itself and the politics of covering the Syrian Civil War. But whatever.

Perhaps the only question the BuzzFeed “inside story” of Mint Press News poses that is worth considering is can Muslim-Americans publish controversial stories on Middle Eastern politics freely? Or do they have to sit on the sidelines for fear of being labeled by the Rosie Gray and Jessica Testa’s of the world as agents of a foreign power? Maybe MPN is part of some Iranian government conspiracy as implied by Gray and Testa, but even if that were so zero evidence was provided to justify that charge yesterday. A charge sure to follow around the Muhawesh family for the rest of their lives.

That’s a fail BuzzFeed, an epic fail.


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