Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish
Revoking Tom Gardner’s Media License in Ethiopia is a VERY good thing.
I have an old Elton John tune going through my head, though slightly revised lyrics for the sad piano: “Goodbye, English Doofus…”
No, I will not be respectful. No, I will not modify my language when it comes to Tom Gardner. I sincerely hope the son of a bitch is now on his way back to the UK, and if not now, soon. I hope he bumps his head as he boards the plane cabin, and that he gets stuck in coach next to a die-hard, 300-pound, six foot and seven inches tall #NoMore follower who spills a Coke in his lap two minutes after take-off — and another ten minutes before landing. I hope he arrives to the Stygian gloom and pelting rain of a London summer, all the better to remind him how he squandered his time in a beautiful country that bore him and none of his colleagues any malice… until now.
Yeah, I believe in holding grudges against creeps. I’ve already made my case here over Gardner’s despicable conduct, but now we’ll have to go through the temporary “journalistic martyrdom” of Saint Tom, despite the obvious fact that he brought himself down, he alone and no one else.
Let’s get one thing straight. Tom Gardner did not get his license revoked for being a journalist. Tom Gardner got it revoked for NOT behaving like a journalist.
He could have called Ann Fitz-Gerald and requested an interview; he didn’t.
He could have gone to the places she visited to retrace her steps and work and investigate properly; he didn’t.
So, be sure to remind those rallying to his defence —
· The creep lied in his letter about Tigrayan IDPs (they were not POWs and not detainees).
· The creep lied in his letter about who the client was for Actum, which was AEPAC, an Ethiopian diaspora group that has no connection to Professor Ann Fitz-Gerald whatsoever
· The creep lied in his letter about a respected academic.
· The creep gave inappropriate, partisan comments in his letter.
· The creep shouldn’t have sent such a letter at all.
All of the blather in his defence, of course, will be to perpetuate the nonsense that somehow white Western reporters are essential to Africa when their presence and work — reeking of anachronistic entitlement and smug ignorance — is long overdue for dismissal.
And I’ll say this once again, too. Freedom of the press does NOT mean it only needs to come from you, the white Western mainstream media.
Gardner was not sent over to perform a public service. No Africans asked for him to be there — they have their own magazines, their own newspapers, and their own television networks. He went there for a British publication that wants to make money.
Irish reporter Simon Marks — who sources say left behind a reputation for being an insolent boor in Addis and who graced the PMO’s office in flip-flops before they parked his ass on a plane and deported him — did not go to Ethiopia to part the clouds and bring Truth and Enlightenment to helpless Ethiopians. He was there for the New York Times, which exists for one reason and one reason only: to make money.
That is how journalism works in a mixed economy model. You can argue all the live-long day and watch Spotlight a couple more times on Netflix, but the social benefit of news publishing runs a distant second to guys (and they’re usually almost always guys) checking the subscription numbers. For profit.
So, please spare us the sanctimonious moan about how the “candle of a free press is being snuffed out.”
And in retrospect, there should have been red flags being waved far earlier. This, for instance, is from Gardner’s bio on his own website: “I have appeared on television and radio and provide political risk consultancy and business intelligence [emphasis added].”
Hey, kids! You know how you only ever see on North American television the fifty-ish newscaster in commercials for this or that hair goop or for aluminum siding or some other crap after they’ve left their network and their career’s on the down slope?
It’s because it’s a huuuuge conflict of interest! Like renting yourself out for “political risk consultancy” and “business intelligence” in East Africa when you might wind up covering those same risks and maybe even your own clients!
But we’re supposed to believe that Gardner’s expulsion is a great loss or it’s another omen of doom for press freedom. Until you study the latent racism behind the rationale.
It’s usually advanced by the ferenji apologists for the TPLF on Twitter, such as Lauren Blanchard. Consider a tweet for April 29, in which she attacked Ann Fitz-Gerald’s research and included this telling line: “Curiously, she never mentions that the Govt of Ethiopia cut Tigray’s telecommunications and has restricted access by journalists & researchers.”
Only it hasn’t.
Ethiopia has a plethora of its own journalists. I know because I worked there with several of them last year and in January. Do you really want to claim that all of the reporters for Belageru TV, Arts TV, The Reporter and others are not legitimate news providers in their own right?
Do you really want to make a sweeping (and bigoted) generalization that the only genuine news to come out of the country comes from a keyboard typed on by white, Western hands? Or by brown hands but still for a Western media brand?
That seems to be the case regarding Lucy Kassa, one of the most dangerous propagandists for the TPLF masquerading as a journalist. It’s ironic that only a couple of days after Tom Gardner sent his toxic private email to the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, The Economist published for World Press Freedom Day, this preposterous nonsense by Kassa: “The Ethiopian government blocks all communications and bars journalists from the conflict zones.”
No, it doesn’t. I know this because I was in several conflict zones. Several times.
I was in Mai Kadra in August of 2021, with one of our own security detail, who warned us we should get the hell out of Dodge because TPLF units were reportedly on their way. I reported from Wollo and from Afar. My colleague, Jemal Countess, has racked up numerous visits to the conflict areas, including reporting from Mekelle. For crying out loud, there’s video of us standing in these places.
Keep in mind that even as Kassa threw a bone to naïve moderates and suggested “all sides” have committed war crimes, this is an individual who was caught making an anti-Amhara slur and whose claims in her articles do not hold up to close scrutiny.
This, of course, all gets conveniently forgotten by The Economist and the BBC News website, which published her latest spurious allegations. Notice how the BBC didn’t bother at all to cover what the University of Gondar researchers were doing, that they had unearthed mass graves of victims of the TPLF in Welkait and collected survivor testimonies. No, instead, they publish Kassa’s bullshit, which steals focus from and cast aspersions on critical research that deserved Western mainstream media coverage in the first place. Neat trick.
And even after they did a brief story on the University of Gondar’s letter in protest, notice that they still didn’t bother to do a full story? They were too lazy to even use one of Jemal Countess’s photos taken of the research dig and easily available from Getty Images and opted instead for a pointless shot of a rifle being held. Nor did they bother to go interview Jemal or Betty Sheba Tekeste, who has done outstanding work on reporting the university’s findings.
But this is the heart of the issue: just who gets to be considered a “journalist” or a “researcher,” which in turn helps decide what will be news.
We have truth on our side, but it doesn’t matter because they have virtually all the platforms, and they know it.
There is no communications leadership on our side, and worse no strategy. When doing a public relations campaign, you need goals and objectives for why you’re doing something, but I can only think of four significant “wins” for our side that decisively hurt the enemy, and at least two of them were cases where the enemy shot himself in the foot, and the third was a case of good luck. The fourth was PR and activism as it ought to be done.
The first is the child soldiers scandal. The idiots did it to themselves. It would have come out eventually, but the fact that Declan Walsh and Finbarr O’Reilly glamorized those victimized kids, the fact that AP and Reuters are both just as culpable, is appalling. No walking that back, and they know it.
Then there’s the stolen UN whistle-blower audio, another aim-gun-at-foot outcome. Never forget that psychopaths don’t really understand natural human behavior; they’re desperate to imitate it to “pass.” And it’s astonishing in retrospect that after they stole the audio from yours truly, they didn’t think through just how much Ethiopians would appreciate what the two sources were saying. It shook them to their core and rattled their most infamous accomplice, the UN.
The third is the video of the diplomats gushing and conspiring with a TPLF official. Sorry, trolls, you can pretend it doesn’t matter. We all know differently. But this is a case of a lucky break with a source, not anything planned, and there should have been a harder push back against the U.S. and its allies over the conduct of their diplomats.
As for the fourth… The #NoMore movement started with planning, its organizers knew what they were doing, and they knew how to build and carry its momentum. It’s why there were such rapid attempts to discredit it, especially on the part of William “Fungus” Davison, who has never missed a chance to try to smear it as some kind of government front (which is beyond ridiculous, given the unique and assertive personalities minding the store).
But we’re still left with the same problem. We don’t have the platforms. The enemy does.
There are only two possible scenarios I can see that are helpful to our side. One is the one that I predicted months and months ago, and I’ll keep on sayin’ it, kids. A hungry dog has no loyalty. The TPLF will keep up its body count until the stench and their horrific acts are so overwhelming that they can’t be ignored or covered up, even by their staunchest media pals. So, they’ll turn on them in pursuit of the story.
But how many lives will be lost until the media abandons its “plucky underdog?” How many will suffer until these irresponsible half-wits finally do what they’re supposed to do, and that is to investigate the truth? We can’t wait.
So we got to get smarter. We got to get bolder. There is nothing lost, especially now, in being timid.
Ethiopians and diaspora types need to reach out to their counterparts in other African countries to form their own financial and media “blockade” of Western mainstream media outlets intent on doing their harm.
The message must be made clear. If BBC keeps publishing the lies of Lucy Kassa, it’s not welcome in Ethiopia. Or Nigeria. Or Tanzania. Or anywhere else on the continent. If you cheer on the duplicity of Will Brown and Lucy Kassa and promote their work on social media platforms, your own media licence should come under hard scrutiny — like maybe that of Zecharias Zelalem.
You can scream censorship all you like. Go ahead, puff out your little chest and have a beautiful tantrum.
And I will counter with the same argument: a free press does not mean reportage has to be done by you.
And you will stamp your little foot and say, “Oh, you’ll only allow outlets that give you a pass or do positive stories!” Not at all. It’s entirely possible to do good journalism, even critical journalism of government and institutions, even how the government conducts it war, but that coverage should be based on facts.
Not your bullshit games of “Hey, we got video from Tigrai Media House,” or we took long distance phone calls but didn’t go to the place we’re talking about, or hey, we ran with this angle and placed a single phone call to the other side and left a voicemail, but gosh, shucks, they didn’t respond within the hour. Nice try.
What it comes down to is you don’t like the fact that you would be held accountable.
These are strong steps being suggested. But the country is literally fighting for its life as a political entity with the full power of the United States, its “ally,” trying to crush it economically through legislation, and you guys keep refusing to live up to the most basic standard of ethics we ask of first-year journalism students.
You have Nima Elbagir, CNN’s star correspondent, breaching practically every rule of ethics I can think of and openly cheering on a government position and a lobby group’s attacks, something no proper journalist should ever be doing.
You have a literal war criminal in charge of the World Health Organization, and not one of you has called out the fact that this guy has repeatedly used his position of power to promote a terrorist group.
So what recourse does Ethiopia, does the rest of Africa have, when the enemy has all the platforms? It’s not journalism under fire, it’s you. You who don’t act as journalists should.
In a way, Gardner was a perfect fit for The Economist. A guy who went from an elite public school to Oxford, and if you don’t think that still counts in Britain, you’re kidding yourself. He took African Studies, moved to Africa, wrote about Africa, yet it’s patently clear that even after five years, this guy never truly respected Africans as individuals.
He peddled conflict. Stuck on his mental safari in Addis, he never got into his thick skull that pleasing an editor in London should come second to doing right by the people next to him.
Africans need to make all of his kind accountable now. Tell the Western mainstream media, Hands off Africa. You lie about one, you lose your privileges to all of it.