The dishonesty deepens: Guardian demotes Joshua Treviño but hopes we won’t notice

Earlier today, Al Jazeera published my article “What’s gone wrong at the Guardian” about the newspaper’s decision to hire Joshua Treviño, a right-wing ideologue who openly called for Israel to murder unarmed civilians and journalists attempting to sail to Gaza in June 2011 and gloated at the killing of civilians aboard the Mavi Marmara a year earlier.

A few hours after my article appeared, I received a surprising email from the Guardian’s press office:

Josh Trevino is not a correspondent for the Guardian. He is a freelance writer on contract to write opinion pieces. His articles will appear on the Guardian’s Comment is Free section of the site (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/us-edition) along with articles from many other freelance writers.

Thank you in advance for making this correction.

Did I make a mistake in referring to Treviño as a “correspondent” in my Al Jazeera article, and in my original blog post of 15 August, the day his appointment was announced?

If you look at the Guardian’s 15 August press release as it appears now it begins:

Today the Guardian announced the addition of Josh Treviño to its commentary team in the United States. Formerly of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Treviño will be the newest commentator for the Guardian’s growing US politics team through his column On Politics & Persuasion which launches on Monday 20 August.

But that is not what it said on 15 August, when I quoted it. Here is how it began then (emphasis added):

Today the Guardian announced the addition of Josh Treviño to their editorial team. Formerly of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Treviño will be the newest Correspondent for the Guardian’s growing US politics team through his column “On Politics & Persuasion” which launches on Monday, August 20.

Note the disappearance of the terms “editorial team” and “correspondent.” The Guardian also changed the headline from “The Guardian adds Josh Treviño to growing editorial team” to “The Guardian adds Josh Treviño to growing US team.”

The changes are quite clear from this screen capture of a Google search.

It’s really quite astonishing that the Guardian would ask me to make a correction and think it could get away with such a shoddy attempt to cover its tracks.

Embarrassed but unwilling to come clean

Here’s what I think is going on: the Guardian is embarrassed at having hired Treviño after the revelations about his incitement to murder, as well as possible undisclosed conflicts of interest. But instead of taking responsibility for the debacle, editors are trying to distance themselves from him by subterfuge.

It’s very clear that Treviño has been demoted. The Guardian uses dozens, possibly hundreds of freelancers; I’ve even been paid for a couple of articles. It never issued a press release announcing the fact.

Moreover, the original release and the doctored one say:

Bookings:
For future bookings with Treviño, please contact Jennifer Lindenauer

It’s unheard of – as far as I know – for a newspaper to handle media bookings or speaking arrangements for a mere freelancer. This is surely a service only provided to people viewed as integral and prominent parts of the editorial team.

Frankly, I thought that my piece on Al Jazeera would encourage someone at the Guardian – a newspaper I’ve read since childhood and was thrilled to write for – to end this embarrassing deception. So far editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger and US editor-in-chief Janine Gibson have failed to do so.

Instead they are simply digging deeper. The Guardian may consider this post the correction they requested.

Update 19 August 2012

New revelations of Joshua Treviño’s bigotry and lies, as Guardian insists he hasn’t been “demoted.”

Image of Google search

today_the_guardian_announced_the_addition_of_josh_trevino_to_their_editorial_team_-_google_search.png

Screen shot of Google search results for “Today the Guardian announced the addition of Josh Treviño to their editorial team.” View full size

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Comments

It's rather disconcerting that no sooner do I predict that Trevino won't last long at the Guardian than you post an article to the effect that he's demoted!

I've also done a blog post on him and I have to say Ali that the truth is far worse than even you might have contemplated. Indeed his tweet on murdering members of the 2nd Gaza Freedom Flotilla are tame by comparison!

He is the only person I know to have supported in print the British creation of concentration camps during the 2nd Boer War when over 26,000 women and children died. He is a viciously anti-gay bigot as well. The Guardian is clearly deeply embarrassed by its appointment of him and is backtracking as quickly as possible.

http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2...

Fascinating. Just one comment on the first concentration camps, which were actually during the Ten Year War and especially the Spanish-American War in the late 1890s (in the framework of the Cuban War of Independence). There the Spanish General Valeriano Weyler "deprived the insurgency of weaponry, supplies, and assistance by ordering the residents of some Cuban districts to move to reconcentration camps near the military headquarters. Although this strategy was brutally effective at slowing the spread of rebellion, it stirred indignation in the United States. McKinley remarked that this “was not civilized warfare" but "extermination.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S...

The Boer War was the first time the system of concentrating civilians was spread to entire regions, in fact the entire country.

I think you are right about Guardian being embarrassed and looking for a face-saving way out--a way that would not credit you.

In a response to a commenter about Trevino's other writings at "Enchiridion Militis and notably his own site tacitus.org where his writings betrayed political extremity. He deleted those" Matt Seaton had this to say:

"I'm thinking about it but I don't know that there's a duty of disclosure on a columnist for past views expressed from way back; I'd say the responsibility lay more with the media organisation to do whatever vetting it deems necessary. But with online archiving, screengrabbing and caching changing the accessibility and permanence of people's publishing record, the issue you're raising needs our attention and policy development."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worl...

I wrote to the Guardian's legal department.

Legal action should be taken against Josh Trevino and his likes. The Guardian should also be held accountable.

Keep up the great work Mr. Abumniah.

Thanks

That's terribly a terribly 1984-ish sort of thing for a prominent newspaper to do.

This is great work and a great catch, and their seeking a correction from you is very rich indeed! But I think it's possible, in the vague world of freelance contracts, that the change in wording of the press release doesn't represent a sneaky demotion of this guy but just a correction by someone in London head office who didn't like the quite badly written original. My sub-editing eye is caught particularly by the fact that the original version is ungrammatical: "the Guardian announced... to their editorial team", when "its" is the correct possessive. Also "editorial team" could easily be read as "team of editors", which is wrong clearly, and "correspondent" is a lousy word for someone writing opinion pieces.
As for the media bookings, who knows, but Jennifer Lindenauer does PR for progressive causes (presumably including the Guardian in the US) and maybe didn't fancy being publicly associated with Trevino.
So I wouldn't assume this change of wording means the pressure is working and he has been demoted. His contract surely hasn't changed a jot.

"My sub-editing eye is caught particularly by the fact that the original version is ungrammatical: 'the Guardian announced... to their editorial team', when 'its' is the correct possessive."

You would be correct in North America but not in Britain, where newspapers (and others) regularly refer to singular institutions using the plural.

Excellent analysis and investigation, Ali.

I really do think the Guardian has stumbled badly on this one - both the appointment itself and their handling of the subsequent fallout - which we have you and the EI to thank for. It's been obvious for some time that the Graun is prepared to jettison what you might call its core readership - British, left-wing, pro-Palestinian (or at least not rabidly pro-Israel) - in the hope of breaking into the lucrative US market. Its pandering to CiF watch, the near-disappearance of stories critical of Israel, and its hilariously biased Syria 'coverage' are all evidence of that.

But I do think it's gone too far this time. It's not like Trevino is an established journalist or someone whose views, appalling though they might be, are important to know about. Instead, he's a nobody, an obscure Texan hack. And now, for the sake of this non-entity, the Guardian has set itself into a bind - if the continue to employ him (however much they might faff about with the semantics over his appointment) every one of his blog posts is going to be full of reminders about his advocacy of murder. If they sack him, they'll be seen as 'giving in' to the 'leftist' 'anti-Zionists' the paper is so obviously trying to distance itself from, in the hope of cultivating a nice New York Times friendly image. It will be interesting to observe how they deal with what is sure to be continuing fallout. No doubt they are hoping it will all just go away. It won't.

And thanks once again for your excellent work in breaking this story and keeping it in the news, Ali. If it wasn't for you, the Guardian would likely have got away with this. It's a shame the EI doesn't take donations in pounds or Euros, as I would love to support your work.

Ancient Euro & Tzarists maintained that Zionists rallied to Kill Non-Jews.Now JS Trevino Call to Murder Humanitarian & Peace Activists gives truth to that very ancient
dogma. Instead of Commending Peace Activism from Both Palestinians & Israeli's Trevino supports Crime,Hatred & Murders.And UK's mislead Guardian jumps on Trevinos HateMurder BandWagon to Give it National Promotion & Recruits!
Shame on The Guardian publication!

These are weasel words from the Guardian. They wouldn't hire, say, David Duke to write freelance opinion pieces, so the problem isn't Trevino's job description.

The best part of all of this is imagining the squirming that has gone on between Joshua and his nebbish friends explaining this change of status. And the Guardian - sneaky? No. Really? What a shocker.

Either the Guardian comes clean or the Guardian Weekly had just lost a subscriber of a great many years. I don't want to be connected to such a mothership.

You err in thinking there are only two classes of commentators at the Guardian: staff and freelance. Many of the paper's major columnists and bloggers are hired on contracts where they are paid to deliver a certain number of columns a year (and may have restrictions on what they are allowed to publish for rival publications). I would guess Trevino falls within this class. So he is not just "a mere freelancer" and there's no real evidence that the paper has demoted him, simply that it sought to clarify his position and did not acknowledge the retroactive changes to the press release wording, as perhaps they should have done.

That only makes it worst for The Guardian, doesn't it?

From what I understand, the major difference is between a correspondent and a commentator. I would guess that the Guardian is simply trying to save face by pretending that he is now still a commentator and that they intend to get rid of him as soon as decently possible.

If not then they have stirred up even more trouble for themselves.

Credibility is what remains after the talk. Before Ali's article, The Guardian had the benefit of the doubt. After the reply not anymore. But the question that really intriques me is: How can a small minority get so influential?

I was alerted to this via twitter trying to get me to tweet again, of all things, but I thought a word to the wise might be worthwhile.

If you were to flip this article along the axis of the Israel/Palestine dichotomy this article and these responses would not far from what regularly appears on CIF Watch, a web site that constantly attacks the Guardian from another perspective. Does the whole world have to sink to the level of CIF Watch?

Must everyone seek to tirelessly demand rigorous conformance to a single political perspective?

The Guardian's Comment Network has included such atypical posters as the main reactionary at Conservative Home and one of their editorial staff even left to join David Cameron's staff of spin doctors. Nick Griffin, the UK neo-nazi leader, has written for the Guardian CIF pages although such demagogues are usually allowed to be insulted by CIF regulars.

People with established blogs are more likely to form part of the the Comment Network, which is very broad church. Allowing some people to contribute means that Guardian readers don't have to venture onto the Daily Mail website and thus expose themselves to the allegedly acceptable face of UK racism there.

The chronology appears to be roughly (correct me if I'm wrong) the Guardian posts the first announcement of Trevino, Abuninah responds, the Guardian corrects and asks Abuniah for a correction too.

Ali Abunimah has every right to be suspicious but I see it as more evidence of cock-up than conspiracy.

I write this as someone who want the Guardian to exist, flaws and all, rather than for people to try to attack from both sides for any perceived I/P deviation.

Speaking only for myself, I agree that I am somewhat losing my focus. It makes me so furious to think that my money is helping pay the bills of this person! However, your comparisons don't hold. The main point here is that Trevino has incited to murder, and that The Guardian does not, appoarently, find this reason for ending his contract.

There is no question that Trevino is an unpleasant protagonist that has voiced murderous incitements. However conflicts like Israel/Palestine, Apartheid and The Northern Ireland Struggles inevitably evoke such out bursts on either side but two of those three have worked towards a resolution with protagonists often becoming peace makers.

To reach peace in much seeming impossible, eternal struggles you need to empathise with such protagonists, civilise them and allow them to reach their fellow travellers that you can't reach. To call for the isolation of every protagonist means you have lost confidence that people can be reached and that something approaching normality can ever be achieved.

As an Englishman I didn't think Northern Ireland could be resolved, or that outspoken terrorist spokesmen that advocated murderous bombing would become statesmen, but they have. Despite being their target I empathised and understood them. Fortunately "my side" (the UK and Irish governments) also found the necessary civilisation to calm the "enemy" (the paramilitary groups who fought each other and bombed).

If you stand for civilisation then embrace tolerance, forgiveness and empathy. Try to draw out those same values in your "enemies" in the hope they too will cease to hate.

Inflexibility and wrath is more likely to remind us that "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" and drags us all down to the paranoid level of CIF Watch.

So maybe Lindenauer will arrange speaking engagements for me too??! Not likely.