The Asheville Citizen Times published an article on Dec. 21 about Moe Davis, who is running for Congress in the 11th District, that was replete with errors, strung together a series of quotes and excerpts that mischaracterized Mr. Davis’s views on torture and violated numerous principles and standards of journalism ethics and integrity that are required to be adhered to by Gannett newspapers.
The campaign is demanding an immediate retraction of the article, a public apology and the publishing of a statement clarifying Moe Davis’s full background with regard to Guantanamo Bay that will be given the same display on the website – front page lead article – that the original article received. We demand the same placement in the newspaper as well.
Among the errors, misstatements and false characterizations we found in the article:
- The quotes strung together from the reporter came mostly from an article published in The New York Times in 2008 that characterized Mr. Davis as an aggressive prosecutor and advocate for military commissions. The reporter cherry picked the quotes to paint a skewed picture of Mr. Davis, failing to note that the point of the article was that Mr. Davis had become a critic of the Bush Administration policy on torture and that some viewed him as “nearly heroic” for his efforts to shine a light on Guantanamo Bay.
- The Citizen Times article appears to confuse the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay with secret “black sites” at other locations around the world. It also implies that Mr. Davis’s assertion that Guantanamo Bay treated detainees humanely in his time there was not credible because he was aware of torture that had occurred at those black sites.
- The Citizen Times article quotes an excerpt from a Columbia University Rule of Law Oral History Project interview of Mr. Davis in 2012 that appears to indicate he was not interested in the torture experienced by detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed but only in the prosecution of him. The article fails to note that when asked specifically about the torture of KSM, Mr. Davis said in the Oral History, “if we wouldn’t condone it being done to one of us, then why would we condone it being done by us?”
- Mr. Davis has long advocated against the use of torture. He wrote a 2008 article in The New York Times explicitly stating that opinion: “The mistreatment of detainees, like honesty, is all or nothing: We either do stuff like that or we do not. It is in our national interest to restore our reputation for the latter.” He reiterated that opinion in a 2017 article for the Los Angeles Times.Neither of those statements were included in the article for balance and clarity, even though they were readily available had the reporter sought them out. Nor did the article note that the highly respected watchdog group CREW included Mr. Davis in the study “Those Who Dared: 30 Officials Who Stood Up For Our Country.”
Indeed, there was no effort to provide a balanced report on Mr. Davis’s actions and positions regarding torture and Guantanamo Bay, causing anger and confusion among voters. Had Mr. Davis been given an opportunity to speak to the newspaper and defend himself, he could have pointed out that contrary to a depiction of him in the article as hostile to detainees, he had actually worked to seek clemency for those who underwent “enhanced interrogations.” He was not given an opportunity to comment before the article was published.
- Mr. Davis’s full name was misspelled in the first sentence of the story. The names of Osama Bin Laden and Salim Ahmed Hamdan also were misspelled.
The Citizen Times did not follow its own published “Ethical Principles,” as displayed on its website when it failed to:
- Print a correction for the numerous errors;
- Seek to gain an understanding of Moe Davis to provide an informed account of his past;
- Include all sides relevant to a story. As stated above, there was no effort to seek out Moe Davis for comment on the story;
- Take into consideration the consequences of its actions in publishing a slanted mischaracterization of a political figure’s past in the midst of an ongoing congressional campaign.
Please note the campaign sent a letter to Elizabeth Anne Brown, the reporter who wrote the article, as well as Citizen Times editor Katie Wadington. It was sent after the initial article appeared online on Dec. 20 and before it was published in the print edition on Dec. 21.
The letter included a list of factual errors as well as a list of misstatements and clarifications. The reporter and editor were also implored to use the best journalistic practices in writing about the complex subjects of torture and Guantanamo Bay. The letter was mostly ignored and many of the errors and mischaracterizations were then published.
The failure to respond to the letter, the failure to reach out to Mr. Davis to seek comment and the failure to act in good faith to correct an article that was little more than an amplification of uninformed allegations posted recently on a Facebook page, were reckless on the part of the reporter and editor.
We have forwarded our request for retraction to Polly Grunfeld Sack, legal counsel for Gannett as well as Katrice Hardy, Regional Editor for the South for USA Today Network, and sent copies to local, state and national media. We’ve also sent a copy to Poynter Institute. In addition, the retraction request will be published on our website and social media platforms.
The Moe Davis for Congress Campaign would appreciate an immediate response to our request for retraction.