(Note: This is fifth and final entry in a series on the suicides of three detainees at Guantanamo Bay in 2006. The other entries are listed at the bottom of this post.)
For over a year I’ve written about Harper’s Magazine and their “Guantanamo Murders” conspiracy, most recently when the story won the American Society of Magazine Editors’ National Magazine Award in the category for “Reporting.” Until now Slate’s media critic Jack Shafer and I were the only two journalists publicly critical of the story. But today Adweek‘s Alex Koppelman weighs in with what should be the final, devastating word on this issue:
Horton’s story, which the judges for the award—administered by the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) and regarded as the Pulitzer for magazines—found so compelling, was actually a well-shopped one, familiar to some of the most experienced investigative journalists in the business. These included The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh as well as teams from CBS News’ 60 Minutes and ABC News’ Brian Ross Investigative Unit that had looked into the alleged killings and the accounts provided by the men who became Horton’s key sources, and found more flight of fancy than fact. (Horton acknowledges in his story that his source had been in contact with ABC News.)
Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News’ chief Pentagon correspondent, was another of those journalists. He worked on the story off and on for four months, during which time he reviewed “thousands of pages” of documents, interviewed Horton’s main source, and “talked to at least a dozen people.”
“Ultimately I just didn’t find the story credible, quite frankly,” Miklaszewski says. “I devoted a lot of time to it, and my conclusion was that it just didn’t seem possible that that many people could have been involved in a conspiracy and to have [the killings] remain secret. It stretched all credulity, I thought.”
Hersh confirmed to Adweek that he had dug into the story and dropped it too. A New York Times reporter was also approached by the parties who’d been pushing the allegations of homicide and cover-up at Guantánamo, a person close to the situation says.
Only after the big guys passed was the story shopped to Horton. He won for reporting, but in fact the story fell right into his lap, factual flaws and all.
“We couldn’t really believe it when the piece came out,” one of the reporters who looked into the story says. “I can’t believe Harper’s, I really can’t.”
Read the rest of Koppelman’s eviscerating critique. If the ASME doesn’t respond soon to Koppelman’s article, it will have done, like Harper’s, permanent damage to the organization’s reputation.
Koppelman and Shafer deserve the highest praise for their efforts getting to the bottom of Harper’s sham story. It’s encouraging to see that there are still journalists who are willing to follow the truth wherever it leads.
Scott Horton, The Guantánamo “Suicides”
Jack Shafer, Suicide or Murder at Guantánamo?