Anyone who has been following the circus surrounding the controversial report filed by The Guardian‘s new (maybe former?) Shanghai correspondent Benjamin Joffe-Walt needs to go read the explanation/examination filed today by Guardian ombudsman Ian Mayes. (Simon World has a nice primer for anyone who wants to get up to speed on the story … or for all you Shanghai Foreign Corresponents Club members who have been deleting all those heated emails about the topic that have been cluttering your inbox. Jayson Blair? Come on. At least Joffe-Walt was in Taishi … or on his way there.)
Since it became apparent that Joffe-Walt’s graphic account of the beating suffered by democracy activist Lu Banglie was exagerrated — his eye was not hanging out of its socket, the ligaments in his neck were not severed — the Guardian recalled Joffe-Walt, only in China since September, back to London for some questioning. Was this an honest mistake — Joffe-Walt may be an award–winning reporter for his work out of Africa, but he’s still only 25, and he found himself in what he believed to be a life-threatening situation (a situation he may have brought upon himself, yes, but potentially traumatic nonetheless) — or was this something more Shattered Glass-esque?
One has to give Joffe-Walt the benefit of the doubt. No one, hopefully, would be so stupid to create facts that could so easily be proven wrong. The team of editors and, yes, the psychotherapist who interviewed Joffe-Walt “developed some sympathy” for the reporter. Mayes, who interviewd Joffe-Walt twice, said he is “sure that it is right to stop short of the wholesale condemnation of him that the matter may appear to invite.” Still, major questions about Joffe-Walt’s story remain — and unfortunately they weren’t asked by the Guardian editors before the piece went to print. The dramatic findings of Mark Brayne, former BBC correspondent and current psychotherapist, were particularly enlightening:
Mr Brayne has no doubt that the situation, the mixture of fear and shame with which Joffe-Walt witnessed Mr Lu being beaten while he himself was locked in the car, contributed to a state of traumatic distress which he was still experiencing when he wrote his account. Mr Brayne said, “The intensity was quite unusual but in Benjamin’s particular context it does make sense.” In this state, he said, Joffe-Walt had lost touch with reality.
He still managed to file a detailed 3,500-word story, however. And he did so back in Shanghai, 24 hours after the beating took place. Shanghaiist doesn’t think we’ve heard the last of this unfortunate saga.
Also on Shanghaiist:
The hazards of being an activist, or a journalist, in China
Photo of Benjamin Joffe-Walt from sceneandheard.ca.