The New York Times Stands Behind Its Haile Gebrselassie Story
November 17, 2010
LetsRun.com received a response from the New York Times on Thursday to the accusations made on national television in Ethiopia by Haile Gebrselassie's agent, Jos Hermens, and Haile Gebrselassie himself that the New York Times story on Gebrselassie's un-retirement on Tuesday was full of fabrications.
The New York Times stood by its story.
Tom Connelly, assistant to the sports editor, who assisted Jeré Longman with the story on Gebrselassie, said the following to LetsRun on Thursday afternoon:
"The New York Times stands by its story. Jeré reported what he was told. We reported the story correctly."
When asked why, then, was Hermens saying the NY Times was inaccurate in its reporting, Connelly refused to speculate.
"You'd have to ask him why he said what he said (on Ethiopian TV), (but) Jeré got it right. He spoke with Gebrselassie's agent and that's what he was told. We have no reason to present this in any other way."
LetsRun.com exchanged emails with Longman, who said, "The editors want to speak for the paper."
To us, it logically makes zero sense that a sports reporter would make up such a major accusation about the tapping of phone lines. If that's the case, then the only logical explanation is that both Gebrselsassie and Hermens were strongly encouraged to denounce the story by the powers in charge in Ethiopia - either that or Gebrselassie realized he needed to have Hermens do it soon or he'd have some significant problems on his hands.
The question therefore is - Is this type of coercion commonplace in Ethiopia and does it make sense that this actually would have happened?
The answer seems to be most definitely be yes.
LetsRun.com has exchanged emails over the last few days with a person with knowledge of the current political situation in Ethiopia, who said Haile's and Hermens' denunciation is very much in line with how the government has been operating of late in Ethiopia. Our Ethiopian expert wrote the following:
As for the big news of the political pressure on him, that theme has been developing ever since the aftermath of the 2005 National Election when he was part of the mediation team between jailed opposition members and the ruling party. More recently, he was a featured speaker at the annual congress of the ruling party which I would expect Haile would not agree to do without some pressure.
I have to say the recent development does not totally surprise me and I believe he and Hermens were "strongly urged" to denounce what NY Times reported as part of the governments effort of damage control. It is the governments MO to "solve" such PR problems by parading people on the government controlled national TV and refute any unfavorable report from western media or organization. They recently staged a similar event when the nation's most famous political dissident was given pardon from life sentence after admitting guilt in writing then paraded on same TV. Many other such stories can be listed. Haile could have had a choice of media to respond to NYT report and it is significant that he did this on ETV in Amharic. His demeanor when discussing the political topic is completely different from when he is talking about running topic later in the interview.
To read our original story on Haile Gebrselassie and Jos Hermens denouncing the NY Times' reporting, click here.