Ethiopia, Tigray and Smears: The Truth Behind Jeff Stein’s story

Mai Kadra, where I and a small team went to investigate the massacre of early November 2020.

I knew it was coming, but it was still kind of a gut punch. There’s my name in print, with the most ridiculous accusation parked next to it — an accusation I happen to know isn’t true and which is libelous. I can’t afford a lawyer, so the irony, I guess, is if I could afford one, it would look like the slander is true. I’m still pretty damn tempted to find one.

Any volunteers who want to work on contingency? Anyone want to sue a creep in the U.S. for someone in Canada? DM me on Twitter, we’ll talk.

In an article about “Pro-regime thugs,” Jeff Stein included me as one of them. Which. Is. Bullshit. I know it. The Ethiopian government knows it. A whole bunch of diaspora folks in Toronto, Washington, Colorado, other spots know it. And moreover, if push comes to shove, I don’t make a lot of money, being a poor scribe (and most working writers are poor) but I’ll produce my bank statements for mid-2020 through 2021 up to now to prove it if I have to.

Oh, waaaaaaait, the story claims I was paid in cash. Well, that’s a neat trick. First of all, I live in Toronto, Canada. Why would I need to have conversations with the ambassador in Washington when Ethiopia has an ambassador in our capital of Ottawa?

Stein’s source “says he overheard conversations about the arrangement.” With who, exactly? We’re not told.

But I can tell you that I’ve had maybe one conversation with Ambassador Fitsum in my entire life, and if my memory’s right, it was one for a public Zoom conference or something.

“The ambassador paid him by cash,” claims the source. Did he do this personally? If so, how could he? How would Fitsum Arega pay a guy in Toronto cash when the border between Canada and the U.S. has been closed for months?

Of course, cash is so convenient — especially for lying. Because Stein’s source is then off the hook to produce any bank deposits, statements, anything that would make for real evidence. How about identifying an intermediary? No? Funny how there are no more specifics.

But of course, that did not stop Stein from passing along this slander anyway. And in effect, accusing me of tax evasion.

I take that rather personally.

“Contacted by SpyTalk Tuesday evening, the writer at first refused to flatly deny the allegation and instead heatedly demanded to see the evidence against him. Eventually he did deny taking payments from the embassy.”

Except that Mr. Stein is a big, fat liar by omission. Shall we walk through what really happened? Yeah, let’s do.

Let’s start with the fact that Stein and I already had prior contact with each other. It’s kind of relevant, don’t you think?

I pitched a story about TPLF’s disinformation campaign to him. I needed to give him the background on Ethiopian history, which is a lot and probably made his eyes glaze over, and he showed no interest in that, except for my explanation on the phone that such tactics and strategies could mean a new kind of proxy warfare.

And that was it. I got busy. I presume Mr. Stein was busy. More than two months passed.

Then he approaches me out of the blue, asking about the article I pitched him.

I rather stupidly confided to him that I was on my way to Ethiopia — stupid because folks were genuinely concerned about my safety.

I then asked, “What’s up?” to which he responded, “It’s complicated. Need to talk by phone. Can you call now?”

I thought I would be having a conversation with a potential editor. I thought we were going to discuss an article.

Instead, I got ambushed. Stein informed me that he had been told I was getting paid “$800 an article by the Ethiopian government.”

I burst out laughing. He asked me if I denied it, and I realized he was serious. I told him that if he had done his homework, he would have learned that I had publicly lambasted an Ethiopian government-run media outlet for ripping off one of my Medium pieces and making up things I’d never written.

Oh, I was pissed off, all right. As I told him on the phone, I was tempted to go on Twitter and reveal what a slimy, unethical practice he used, and he declared that I could write what I like about him (great — we’ll come back to that). At one point, Stein suggested in our conversation that a cheap trick like this is a standard journalism practice, and as I recall it, he said something like “You know how the game is played.” Well, I’ve never had to resort to that game, and I consider it a sleazy practice.

Part of the reason for my anger is that I was concerned he might throw in mention of my trip to Ethiopia, which was supposed to be secret (until I opened my big, fat hole, thinking I was talking to a “civilian” in this weird shadow war). I think I ranted about having to worry about him putting a target on my back. His reply was to the effect of “Well, I can leave the trip out of it, I don’t need that for my story.”

Credit where credit is due, it’s not in his piece. And I will even thank him for that. But it’s a pretty damn low bar for professionalism and decency.

See, it’s to be expected that the TPLF trolls lie about me. It takes real pond scum to lap up their lies and also twist my words in public.

Let’s review for a moment some lines in his story: “the writer at first refused to flatly deny the allegation and instead heatedly demanded to see the evidence against him. Eventually he did deny taking payments from the embassy.”

We’ve already established that he approached me as an editor, not as a journalist seeking comment. Nor did he identify himself as one in starting the conversation.

I did not consent to an interview.

Check his wording: “the writer at first refused to flatly deny the allegation and instead heatedly demanded to see the evidence against him.”

This is cute. It’s also backwards. “Refused to flatly deny?”

First of all, you scum-sucking bottom feeder, I don’t answer to you. I am under no obligation to confirm or deny your allegations, but you ARE obligated to show evidence of them in your story. And just because you have one anonymous source doesn’t let you off the hook for libel.

As I mentioned to him that evening, it’s also cute how allegations can make up, say, 100 words or more for a story, but a denial gets one line.

Because he’s not really interested in what I say, just as long as he has me saying something, preferably a string of colorful words that are self-incriminating. Why should I play his game?

Hey, let’s try an experiment. Mr. Stein is based in Washington, D.C. Well, a “knowledgeable source” told me that he overheard a conversation in which someone else claimed they saw Mr. Stein sexually molest a six-year-old girl in a park in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Now far be it from me to say this is true. Let me say categorically that I don’t believe at all that Mr. Stein is a pedophile…

But shucks, I do have that juicy lie from my source, so why don’t I go ahead and print it?

Oh, by the way, I don’t know where Stein learned his craft, but the way I was taught, just getting a denial from the target of your sleaze does not get you off the hook for libel. You still published a false allegation.

Annnnnd, wouldn’t you — wouldn’t any reasonable person — demand to see the “irrefutable evidence” Stein claimed on the phone that he had?

If you’re innocent, you especially want to see it. Stein told me flat out he didn’t have to share his evidence or his source with me. Gee, I guess we should believe the pedophile story then…

Hey, he did tell me I could write what I want about him.

He asked me how, if I wasn’t getting paid by the Ethiopian government, I could afford “trips” (plural) to Ethiopia? I told him that was my business, which it was. It’s also a fact that this is only my second trip to Ethiopia in seven years.

I can now reveal today that my current trip has been funded by two different diaspora groups, one in Canada, one in the United States. They sent me over to find the truth, as well as to help even the odds against the tsunami of propaganda raining down that fails to offer the Ethiopian side of the story. And they are perfectly entitled to do it.

But back to the article. We then get this: “SpyTalk had no intention of identifying him in print without further evidence of the alleged payments, but later that night he outed himself on Twitter and railed against being asked questions about it.”

This is more disingenuous bullshit. Someone comes at you on the phone and claims they have “irrefutable evidence,” you can reasonably expect they would put it in print and name you. Only Stein didn’t, because he doesn’t have any evidence. What a nice pat on your own back! How wonderfully self-serving to claim you would have held back my name when the truth is you know damn well you’ve got nothing.

And since when is defending yourself equivalent to “outing yourself?”


Waiting, Stein. Still waiting…

I’m also curious to know why I’m being lied about over a supposed “$800 an article” (mentioned to me on the phone but not used in his final article) when the poor, poor, victimized Tigrayans in his piece managed to cough up millions to retain the expensive lobby group and SPECTRE-stand-in, Von Batten-Montague-York.

I did not use Stein’s name in the Twitter thread because while he had accused me over the phone, he hadn’t written anything yet. I also happen to think, again, any reasonable person is entitled to “rail” when a creep insists you phone him and then accuses you of being a paid shill for a foreign government.

Stein also left out of his quick summary of our conversation a very telling detail about himself. No, I wasn’t going to make life easy for him by issuing a flat denial up front. What I demanded instead was: “Go ahead and tell me how this conflict started.”

He started goading me to deny the accusation, why didn’t I deny it? Why don’t you deny it? Again and again. This is essentially “when did you stop beating your wife?” as the old baiting technique goes. Our voices rode over each other. But I insisted he tell me, “How did this conflict get started?”

A question every Ethiopian can answer right off the top of their head. Even the dumbest TPLF troll would have a ready response, even if it’s the second verse from their fantasy narrative. How did this conflict get started?

Stein couldn’t answer it.

Or to borrow some of his phrasing, he “at first refused to flatly deny the allegation that he was pig-ignorant of the underlying facts.”

There was a pause as I waited for the revelation of him actually having done his homework on a war in East Africa, and he said, “That’s just background.”

And this is another part of why you are a bottom-feeding dumbass son of a bitch, Mr. Stein. Because to millions of Ethiopians, both in their home country and in the diaspora, how the war got started is a fact of crucial importance.

You dismissing it would be like me saying, “Yeah, we don’t have to bother with 9/11.”

And this tells us loads about your journalistic approach; instead of discussing my work, you dismiss it as gun-for-hire “pieces lambasting… a vast global propaganda campaign that has ‘duped’ the U.S., the U.N. and E.U. into taking Tigray’s side against Ethiopia.”

You’ll remember, Mr. Stein, that at one point I asked you flat out if you denied the facts of my articles, and you said no. And then you scurried back to trying to get your fill-in-the-slot denial.

Since you insist on trying to portray me and others as conspiracy theorists, I suggest you read my article citing the experiences of photojournalist Jamal Countess with the little fixer mafia in Mekelle. Maybe you’d like to do some actual journalism and notice that the Western media as a whole has relied heavily on the same damn people over and over and over again: from William “fungus on Ethiopian current events” Davison to Alex de Waal to everyone’s favorite TPLF propagandist, Kjetil Tronvoll.

Maybe you’d like to try to tear and slash at the opinions of respected academics and experts such as Ann Fitz-Gerald, Bronwyn Bruton, Jon Abbink, Lawrence Freeman, Simo Parviainen and others. Good luck with that, as you’re out of your league. They would quite properly seize on your clear ignorance of both Ethiopia’s history and its current situation and virtually cut you to ribbons.

But my, that would make for an entertaining confrontation, since you apparently like that sort of thing.

Integrity is a gift we make for ourselves. Some of us guard it jealously, knowing that once we drop it or toss it aside, it’s damn hard to pick it up again and knock out the dents and bruises.

I’ve joked many times on Twitter that sure, please, TPLF, go ahead and try to bribe me — I’ll gladly take your money and then still write what I want. The fact that this creep in Washington seizes on my throwaway gag and includes it in his article, while completely missing the point of it just boggles the mind.

Why did I write all this to defend myself against a few defamatory paragraphs? Because yes, I do happen to care about my good name. It’s my right, and I’m entitled to it, just as you are for your own name and reputation. In our current age, we let the human mudskippers slip and slide and get away with far too much.



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Jeff Pearce

Writer person. Books - Prevail, The Karma Booth, Gangs in Canada; in June 2021, Winged Bull, a bio of Henry Layard, the Victorian era’s Indiana Jones.