Is @JasonKStearns being sloppy or purposefully vague? You decide. #Rwanda #DRC

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September 13, 2012 by soniauwimana

I have written before of my (mild) admiration for Jason Stearns as an author and simultaneous disdain for him as a blogger. The self-styled Congo expert is too much of a self-serious know-all on his Congo Siasa blog to make for entertaining reading. He is also very often vague and sometimes outright wrong. Rwanda’s brilliant Foreign Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, corrected him with characteristic elegance a week or two back when Stearns made claims about her on Twitter that were, simply, false. It was a glorious sight to behold (though, to his credit, after resisting for a while, Stearns finally admitted he got his facts wrong):

There is undeniable schadenfreude to be had when witnessing a smarty-pants like Stearns humiliated in such a clinical fashion.

(I use schadenfreude because, fittingly enough, only the Germans have an word to describe the pleasure one can derive from the suffering of others.)

On to his latest post. This is How Trouble Starts: Alleged Killings Spark Anger. It begins:

I was visiting an ex-CNDP senior officer this evening when he received news that four Tutsi ex-CNDP soldiers, include a major and a captain, had been tortured and summarily executed in Burhinyi, South Kivu.

Apart from the typo (include/including), this is quite an opening sentence.  I was certainly gripped enough to read through to the end, no small feat given the amount of material competing for my attention these days.  And yet, what struck me as Stearns went on to describe these alleged executions was this:

Nowhere has Stearns mentioned who carried these executions out. 

Now, Stearns employs the phrase “ex-CNDP” or “CNDP” no fewer than five times in a post of 312 words, but does not once mention the FARDC (the Congolese Army) who carried out the crimes.

This is either incredibly sloppy journalism (can you imagine reporting on the Sharon Tate murders but neglecting to mention Charles Manson?), or purposeful vagueness.

An educated reader can infer that the killers in this instance are the Congolese Army.  But a low information web-surfer — no doubt the majority of Stearns’ readership — could have no way of knowing.  Given the lack of specificity, they could be forgiven for thinking some other group — say, I don’t know, let’s say M23 for argument’s sake — may be culpable.

Unless confusion was the aim, Stearns should amend the post to correct this glaring omission.

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