[Update: Howard French has also written a reply, below.]
Re: “One Man’s Rwanda: Philip Gourevitch softens some hard truths” by Tristan McConnell (CJR, January/February)
So CJR, having produced a piece whose sole purpose is to discredit me and my work, attached a note to it, concurring in an apology to me by its author, Tristan McConnell. To me that translates into plain English as saying the reporter can’t be trusted. Why? Because when McConnell interviewed me last September, he did not tell me it was for a piece about me. He said it was for something else—“about the changing media perception of Paul Kagame how attitudes toward Kagame have changed over the years.” McConnell represented the project the same way to the only other journalist he quotes who reported from Rwanda in the 1990s, Chris McGreal of The Guardian—and he used McGreal falsely in the piece, setting him up as if he were in opposition to me, and as if I disagree with what he says. Yes, I saw the killings of Hutus in the Congo by Rwandan army forces in 1996 and 1997 as a “worrying sign”—and yes, I believed, as most journalists who knew the situation in Eastern Congo firsthand at the time did, that the camps (and the mounting campaigns of terror that Hutu Power fighters from the camps were waging against Rwanda, and against Tutsis in the eastern Congo—a factor McConnell ignores) justified the invasion. The invasion, not the massacres. But McConnell never asked me about any of this. He never asked me about anything I’ve written, and never asked me to answer any criticisms. He pretends in the piece that I was “energetically” defending myself against accusations and then changing my mind, when I was, in fact, volunteering my longstanding approach to covering Kagame and Rwanda. No wonder the future of journalism is endlessly debated at journalism schools if this is how they do it at the best of them.
CJR calls itself a “watchdog and friend to the press,” and yet CJR wants you to believe that pretty much the entire international press corps in Central Africa took dictation from me for the past decade and a half. What a preposterous insult to so many journalists who risked their lives in the region. In reality, their work often inspired me.
Maybe I should really be thanking CJR and McConnell for recognizing my omnipotent domination of the media, and of the foreign policies of several great Western powers. After all, my subordination of all other points of view on Rwanda and the Congo wars to a facile fairytale—that Paul Kagame is “benign,” and that the story of post-genocide Rwanda is “beguiling”—has never before been fully appreciated.
Then I should thank also the former New York Times-man turned Columbia journalism professor, Howard French, who has labored for years to bestow the respectability of his credentials on the legend of my awesome reach as a Tutsi-loving, Jewish-influence peddler, and master player of the Holocaust card. French’s writing about me reads like a template for CJR’s piece: agenda-driven, systematically dishonest in method and in substance. And now French has been appointed to CJR’s Board of Overseers, where he’s charged with helping to guide the magazine’s editorial strategy. What a shame that CJR didn’t disclose this cozy relationship, which was established before the article appeared.
Now, CJR—on the defensive and after the fact—has invited me to respond. But what can you say about a piece that is such a porridge of innuendo and insinuation, misrepresentations and deliberate distortions? Its claim that controversy boils around me is conspicuously unsubstantiated. McConnell says I allowed Kagame, in 1997, to dismiss reports of massacres by his troops in Congo, when in fact I quote Kagame admitting such killings more than he ever had before. He says I was a booster of Meles Zenawi, about whom I’ve never written a single word, and of Laurent Kabila, about whom I never wrote a kind word. He says I count “justice” among Kagame’s many achievements, but in the article in question, I actually say that Kagame “clearly favors political expediency over justice.”