Egyptian media gloats over fabricated Guardian articles

As soon as the Guardian accused freelance journalist Joseph Mayton of fabricating sources in pieces he wrote for them, local media reveled in what it deemed “the Guardian’s scandal,” seizing the opportunity to accuse the British newspaper of publishing misleading reports about Egypt.

On Thursday, the Guardian newspaper published a note claiming several of Mayton’s articles contained information and quotes from unverified sources, after launching an investigation following complaints from people he supposedly cited.

“Dozens of sources could not be found — either they had no online presence or they were anonymous and could not be substantiated — and several people quoted in Mayton’s articles either denied speaking with him or giving the quotes attributed to them,” the Guardian said.

Almost all Egyptian newspapers that covered the issue referred to Mayton as the “Guardian’s Cairo correspondent” and said the articles in question were on Egypt, suggesting the British newspaper reported misleading information about the country’s affairs.

Yet, as the Guardian’s statement details, Mayton was a freelance contributor, who only wrote opinion pieces about Egypt in 2009 and 2010.

Local newspapers failed to mention the Guardian’s actual Egypt correspondents over the past five years: Jack Shenker and Patrick Kingsley.

Mayton was also widely accused of plagiarizing and fabricating stories for Egyptian newspapers, as well as for his own news website Bikya Masr.

His Egypt-related opinion pieces for the Guardian covered topics such as the environment and animal rights issues, with a handful of pieces about corruption under Hosni Mubarak.

He later moved to California, where he wrote stories on wildfires, marijuana farms, urban vineyards and whale deaths.

The Guardian said it had removed 12 of Mayton’s news stories and one opinion piece from its website following “the extent of the fabrication and the uncertainty surrounding many of the articles.” The Desk identified nearly all of the stories that were either modified or deleted, and listed them on its website. All of the articles that were taken down were on California, while information and quotes were removed from the pieces on Egypt.

The privately owned Youm7 newspaper’s coverage of the saga was titled, “Scandal,” claiming the Guardian admitted to “its Cairo correspondent’s fabrication of reports on Egypt,” while the privately owned Al-Watan’s headline mistakenly claimed the Guardian apologized for 13 articles on Egyptian affairs.

Youm7 also published an editorial titled, “The Guardian isn’t the only newspaper fabricating news on Egypt … Who will hold foreign correspondents accountable for baseless reports against Egypt?” claiming they, “rely on anonymous sources and false information.”

Meanwhile, under the headline, “The Guardian; a hub for lies and tarnishing Egypt’s institutions,” Al-Wafd newspaper quotes journalist Farida al-Shobashy and Member of Parliament Mostafa Bakry, who are both calling for the closing of the Guardian’s offices in Cairo.

On his show on Al-Nahar channel, host Tamer Amin briefly spoke about the issue, saying it reveals “we’ve been lied to for many years.” Amin explained the Guardian discovered its correspondent had been sending fabricated and biased reports from Cairo, claiming the newspaper apologized to the Foreign Ministry. “Now you know that the conspiracy theory is a reality and not just a theory,” he concluded.

Veto newspaper published a cartoon, showing a man telling his wife to, “Tell your mom to stop creating rifts between us and to stop this Guardian attitude,” as his mother-in-law listens cautiously from behind the door.

On Friday, Mayton responded to the accusations in a statement, claiming he provided evidence “showing that many sources had in fact spoken with me and either did not remember or refused to be truthful.”

He added that some of the interviews he conducted occurred in public at protests or on the street, and that his notes “are gone as I did not keep them or they have been lost.”

Pointing fingers at and reprimanding foreign media for publishing biased and false reports has become common in Egypt. Such accusatory statements are usually issued by the State Information Service (SIS) or the Foreign Ministry.

After the Guardian published its statement, several Cairo-based journalists commented on social media about negative experiences in dealing with Mayton during his time in Cairo. Although many acknowledged the Guardian should have known better, most recognized the newspaper’s commitment to honesty in communicating with its readers and to improving its mechanisms for fact checking.