The New York Times Shoots Back, Won’t Apologize to Kenyatta for ICC Story

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (Photo: Kenya Today)

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (Photo: Kenya Today)

It’s a fascinating story that, for whatever reason, simply won’t go away. Frankly, maybe it shouldn’t. The more this drags on, the more we learn about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its intervention in Kenya as well as the mindset of Kenya’s political elite and the struggle to accurately cover accountability issues in the country.

To recap, the New York Times published James Verini’s scathing account of the International Criminal Court’s intervention in Kenya, focusing his critique on the stewardship of the Court’s first Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo. Here at JiC, I added some thoughts on Verini’s hard-hitting and, in my view, accurate portrayal of Moreno-Ocampo’s tenure and, over at Wronging Rights, Kate Cronin-Furman also shared her impressions. Some, including Wanda Boker, responded in defence of Moreno-Ocampo and addressed structural issues (see also the responses from Kevin Jon Heller of SOAS and Bill Pace of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court). In a bizarre move, the rationale for which was cogently surmised in a comment by Ken Flottman, the office of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, ripped into the New York Times for its “steady descent into the murky, rancid morass of gutter press and has abandoned all pretence of journalistic decency in pursuit of the Prosecutor’s agenda.” It also blamed the publication for not contacting the President’s office and relying on what it saw as faulty sources. Today, the Times shot back. Here’s its response to Kenyatta:

In a June 24 statement sent to Kenyan journalists, the communications office of President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya took issue with an article by James Verini in the June 26 issue of The New York Times Magazine, appearing in print with the headline ‘Trial and Error’ and published on The New York Times’s website on June 22 as ‘ The Prosecutor and the President ‘.

The article concerns the International Criminal Court’s failed attempt to prosecute Kenyatta on charges related to the violence that followed Kenya’s 2007 presidential election.

In the statement, the office suggested that the author of the article had not contacted Kenyatta’s office for comment. This is untrue.

Verini attempted on numerous occasions over the course of months to solicit comment from Kenyatta’s office through official communications channels.

Verini’s efforts included numerous emails, phone calls and text messages to Kenyatta’s chief and deputy spokesmen and two other aides.

On two occasions, representatives of Kenyatta’s office briefly answered or returned phone calls and suggested the possibility of further response, and on one occasion they scheduled a meeting to discuss the article with Verini, but the meeting was canceled, and responses to emails, phone calls and text messages eventually ceased entirely.

Throughout this process, Kenyatta’s representatives were informed of the subject of the article and did not at any point address it.

A fact-checker for The Times Magazine also emailed Kenyatta’s chief spokesman and received no response.

The statement also took issue with the article’s reference to Dennis Itumbi, the director of digital innovations and diaspora communications in Kenyatta’s office.

Itumbi’s investigation by the International Criminal Court is a matter of public record. As Verini’s article notes, he was not charged.

The Times makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of what we publish. Verini’s article was based on extensive interviews with dozens of sources in Kenya, The Hague and elsewhere and thousands of pages of court records, and was reviewed by editors and fact-checkers.

While The Times conscientiously corrects any factual errors that we learn of, we have not at this point found anything to correct in this article, and we continue to believe it is both accurate and fair.

Getting things wrong has been a sensitive subject for the New York Times following revelations that it published an op-ed which erroneously claimed it was co-written by South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar. But the facts in this instance seem squarely on the Times’ side. It could have stayed mum, but rightly sought to set the record straight. And it was smart of the Times to publish the piece — not in the Times itself — but as an article in the Kenyan media outlet The Star. The primary battleground over the truth of the ICC’s intervention in Kenya, warts and all, is in Kenya and not New York.

It remains to be seen if Kenyatta, or anyone for that matter, responds.

This story has involved a number of remarkable, controversial, and dramatic turns. For more, see:

A Brutally Honest Confrontation with the ICC’s Past: Thoughts on ‘The Prosecutor and the President’
A Comment In Defence of Luis Moreno-Ocampo
Kenya’s President Rips into New York Times Article Largely Favourable to Him
The New York Times Shoots Back, Won’t Apologize to Kenyatta for ICC Story
As New York Times – Kenya Controversy Continues, Kenyatta Suspends Four Staff
It Continues… Kenyatta’s (Suspended) Communications Staff Threatens to Sue New York Times

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About Mark Kersten

Mark is a researcher, consultant and teacher based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, Canada. His research focuses on the nexus of international criminal justice and conflict resolution. Specifically, Mark's work examines the politics of the International Criminal Court and the effects of its interventions on peace, justice and conflict processes.
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