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Bad Faith: Another Evening Standard Update
17 September 2005
Sadly, the story of the Evening Standard's odious and wildly inaccurate article about the Dar Al Taqwa bookshop seems set to run and run. This week we have received a couple of updates featuring correspondences with the Standard Managing Editor Doug Wills. We would like to share them with you.
First a letter written to the Evening Standard editor, Veronica Wadley. We reprint it here in full as it rather speaks for itself. (We're not particularly fond of the practice of publishing other people's private correspondence without their express permission, but in this case, we'll make an exception. The Standard can always sue if they feel we have misrepresented them in any way.)
Dear Ms Wadley
Serious points are being made about you and some of your staff in the matter of Robert Mendick and the Dar al-Taqwa bookshop article. It would appear necessary now for you to address the issue. It would be comforting to hold on to a perception that the article in question was probably shoddy journalism, but the points that have been raised do not really leave that interpretation open. It seems clear, however, that only by facing up to what was really done, can the matter be put to rest. The alternative is to leave it to fester: the resulting taint on the credibility, perceived independence and ethical outlook of ES will take far longer to clear than one incident alone. There is a lot of anger about this issue. A policy of ignoring it will not make it go away.
Complete with a few familiar refrains, the reply came once again, not from the organ grinder, but from Mr Wills:
'Dear Mr Chebib
Thank you for your email to the editor, Veronica Wadley, about the article which referred to Dar Al Taqwa bookshop. I thought it might be helpful to give you some background. As a newspaper we are always very anxious to ensure that our articles are accurate and if there are any mistakes these are corrected. You appear to be under the impression that the article which featured Dar Al Taqwa was inaccurate. This was not the case.
The pamphlets quoted in the article were indeed on sale at the Dar Al Taqwa bookshop. We later printed a clarification saying that the book and DVD covers pictured with the article were not on sale in Dar Al Taqwa. They were actually on sale in other bookshops quoted in the article.
We are very much aware of the sensitive nature of the issue and have offered to publish a letter from the owner of the shop. This offer was declined.
I hope this demonstrates that while it is our responsibility to cover all aspects of the news and public concerns, we do our utmost to present this in a balanced way.
To which Mr Chebib responded, rather eloquently:
'Dear Mr Wills
Thank you for your response.
It is sad to note your choice of interpretation of the concept of accuracy, as evidenced by your use of the word 'inaccurate'. It, and the tone of your reply, suggest a surprising degree of resentment over this issue, and a certain arrogance of outlook. Would it be a fair guess that an apology isn't top of your mind, then? Even if the article were 'accurate', if you and your paper were really concerned with the 'sensitive nature of the issue' involved, as you claim, you would place a higher value on the damage and potential damage caused by your article, than on the technicality of the 'accuracy' of the article... or otherwise.
I hope you and your paper can manage a change of heart.
Our second update comes from Ahmad Thomson, legal advisor to Dar Al Taqwa. Particularly interesting is what he has to say about Wills' tactics regarding the paper's offer to publish a letter from the owner of the shop (as evidenced in the above response to Mr Chebib):
I'm sending this email with Mr El-Atar's knowledge and permission - and in response to your article entitled Robert Mendick: When Journalism Ruins Lives. This excellent article makes no mention of Doug Wills' involvement in this unhappy saga and so I thought I would bring you up to date on that aspect.
When I first spoke to Doug Wills on the 3rd August 2005 on behalf of Dar Al-Taqwa, he accepted that Robert Mendick's article had misrepresented the facts but refused to print the letter on Dar Al Taqwa letter headed paper which was originally sent by Mr El-Atar to the Evening Standard on the 29th July 2005 and which dealt with all the aspects of Mr Mendick's mendacious article which affected Dar Al Taqwa, because he said it was too long.
We therefore agreed that the Evening Standard would publish a shorter article by myself together with an apology, which would take up approximately the same amount of space as the Evening Standard's original defamatory article. This was a reasonable and acceptable compromise.
When I duly sent Doug Wills my article and a suggested draft apology on the 4th August 2005, he then immediately refused to publish either, stating, "It's not going to happen."
As you know, the letter, the article and the apology which the Evening Standard refused to publish can be found here.
Doug Wills still continues to refuse to honour his word to publish an article in response and an apology, but he has made two proposals as regards letters which he would be prepared to publish, either purportedly from myself or purportedly from Mr El-Atar. The letter he has proposed for me (with no apology) is a highly edited/censored version of my article originally sent to him on the 4th August 2005. The letter he has proposed for Mr El-Atar (with an editorial footnote, not an apology) is a highly edited/censored version of the letter Mr El-Atar originally sent on the 29th July 2005. Neither of these suggested letters is acceptable and I have emailed Doug Wills informing him exactly why.
Given Mr Wills' disingenuous and evasive tactics up to now, including lying where it suits him, it looks as if as well as trying to evade responsibility for the damage he has done, he has simultaneously been preparing the ground so that if asked for comment, he can say, 'Well, we offered to publish a letter either from Mr Thomson or from Mr El-Atar, with an apology, but they refused.'
I am therefore taking this opportunity to provide you with copies of his (not ours) suggested letters, together with my emails in response stating exactly why they are not acceptable, so that you remain fully in the picture in the event of the Evening Standard responding to your articles in The Friday Thing. These are copied and pasted below in date order, with my response appearing after the Doug Wills suggested letter to which it refers.
Mr Wills has not replied to any of my emails.
I would like to conclude by thanking you for your supportive and accurate articles. Any words which help to stop the Evening Standard (and other media organisations) spreading terror and hatred by targeting peaceful Muslims in the name of fighting terror and hatred are most welcome. The McCarthy era in the USA is beginning to look pretty tame in comparison with the current witch hunt. - No doubt, the papers are preparing to attack me even as I type! - Who will be first, I wonder, the Mail on Sunday or the Evening Standard?
Legal Advisor to Dar Al Taqwa'
As promised, Mr Thomson included the Standard's emasculated version of his response, and as expected, it was flimsy and pointless. In Thomson's own words to Doug Wills: 'I am amazed that you can act in such bad faith.' In explaining why the Standard's version of his words were 'completely unacceptable', Thomson told Wills:
'You have removed all references to the way in which Dar Al Taqwa has been defamed by the Evening Standard article and to the way in which trouble and loss has been caused to Dar Al Taqwa, the Metropolitan Police and Muslims in general. In effect it completely obliterates the point of view which I have expressed as well as all the relevant facts and, in the circumstances, fair comments.'
So that's the way things stand at the moment. If the Standard continue to refuse to acquiesce to human decency however, legal proceedings will be brought. In the meantime, we will leave you with these words written to Doug Wills by Ahmed Thomson.
'I think in fact you will earn a greater appreciation from your general readership if you not only show that you can publish more than one point of view in your paper, but also that you do have the decency to apologise when you have either made a mistake or intentionally gone over the top, as the case may be, in your attacks on Muslims. You know very well that everyone who works at Dar Al Taqwa is completely disgusted by and opposed to acts of terrorism and the murders of innocent people wherever and however they occur, and having stated the contrary in your article, you should have the integrity to publicly admit that you went too far.'