Bad Journalism In Huffington Post

Worst. Journalism. Ever.


Mona Sarika wrote an article in the Huffington Post and cited me as Tamil. I’m not. I repeatedly told her so. She also makes up whole parts of my quotes and changes them to say something completely radical and different. In her article she writes “I spoke to many Sri Lankan Tamils, but most of them were reluctant to divulge any information fearing government reprisals. However, a few did respond. One was Indi Samarajiva”. Literally the first email response I gave her was ‘I’m not Tamil.’ And then she calls me Tamil and puts different words in my mouth. It’s absolutely terrible journalism and the Huffington Post should be ashamed.

This started when this Mona woman contacted me to see how Tamils are feeling. I told her I’m not Tamil, bcc’d some Tamil friends and told her to ask them. She contacted me again and I called some people, gave her what I observed on background and actually phoned and lobbied Tamil friends to respond. Most didn’t but I tried. And then she publishes this article which cites me as a Tamil, makes up words for me and plagiarizes from the Economist. When I told her in every single email that I was not. Either she can’t read or she’s incredibly stupid. It’s shocking really.

This is two answers I gave her:

How are Srilankan Tamils responding to the crisis?

First off Sri Lankan is two words. And it is no longer a crisis per se.

Sri Lankan Tamils did not celebrate as much as Sinhalese and Muslims did. The few I’ve spoken to are grieving for friends and relatives in the North. They are basically keeping quiet. In private I think some do regret the LTTE losing. Many simply feel like there is no ‘balance’ now, no counterweight to the radical Sinhala elements in the state (no matter how terrible the LTTE was).

I’d say the response is generally quiet and discreet. The Sri Lankan Tamils I know are anxious for their own safety and they keep quiet. They do help with relief, but they do so very discreetly.

How do they handle the emotional weight?

I don’t know. That’s a stupid question. I have no particular knowledge of the emotional state of Tamil people. It’s Sri Lanka. People deal with death and messed up stuff all the time. Tsunami, terrorism, war, whatever. We’re a hardy people. We deal.

And this is what she wrote:

I spoke to many Sri Lankan Tamils, but most of them were reluctant to divulge any information fearing government reprisals. However, a few did respond. One was Indi Samarajiva, a print media analyst based in Colombo who said “Sri Lankan Tamils fearing their own safety were grieving quietly for their friends and relatives killed in the war. Some even regretted the demise of the LTTE (no matter how terrible the LTTE was) as it had provided a formidable counterweight to the radical Sinhalese government.” When asked how the Tamils were handling the loss of their loved ones, he retorted with pride that “We are hardy people who know how to cope with death and destruction all the time.” He cited the examples of the devastating tsunami, and the decade long civil war.

As you can see, her article is complete nonsense and I’m amazed that the Huffington Post published it. Any Sri Lankan or even Indian should be able to read my name and figure out that I’m not Tamil. And she’s making up quotes from a written interview where she could easily copy and paste. As in, rewriting them to mean something else entirely. But citing a Sinhalese as a Tamil after he repeatedly points this out, please. I don’t think Mona Sarika should be writing for the Huffington Post at all and I’ve complained.

Also, however, one commenter said I shouldn’t have answered the questions at all. I think perhaps they’re right. Sri Lankan Tamils need to speak for themselves, I feel like I shouldn’t have corresponded with this unscrupulous person at all.

Wtf, I think she’s also implying that Nalaka Gunawardena is Tamil, and he’s not either. I don’t think she’s … OMG WTF, she actually plagiarized an entire paragraph from the Economist as well.

Economist:

For Rajan Hoole, a prominent Tamil human-rights activist, how the fighters died is less important than the government’s plans, if any, for post-war reconciliation. The war, he argues, has left the minorities feeling less Sri Lankan. So if the government does not act wisely, Tiger leaders might come to be seen as martyrs to the cause of a separate homeland. Sulochana Ramaiah, a Tamil journalist, hopes the end of the war heralds a new era of prosperity. But she worries that Tamils might have to live in fear under a pro-Sinhalese government that is now cockier than ever.

Mona Sarika’s article

Rajan Hoole, a prominent Tamil human-rights activist feels the war has left the Tamils feeling less Sri Lankan. He says “If the government does not act wisely, the LTTE leaders might be seen as martyrs to the cause of a separate homeland.” Sulochana Ramaiah, a Tamil journalist worries that Tamils might have to live in fear under a pro-Sinhalese government that is now more powerful than ever.

Wow. Plagiarism, misidentifying races in a story about race, and manufacturing quotes based on written interviews. This is terrible journalism and I hope the Huffington Post does something about it. I thought this Mona Sarika was a bit slow from the start, but I like the Huffington Post and I tried to help. In hindsight I should’ve gone with my instincts. I think she’s editing the piece as I type but the whole thing should really be pulled. Arrghh. I can’t go back to sleep now. Bloody nightmare journalism.

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24 Comments »

2009-06-25 04:20:59

am i wrong or has it already been taken down?

cached?

huffpo is the lefty version of the drudge report, helmed by Matt Drudge and Andrew Breitbat, and can not, in any reasonable argument, be considered a vehicle for delivering reliable hard news reporting. It’s not ProPublica.

 
2009-06-25 07:06:18

Indi,
The original post is no longer on Huff Post as at Thursday June 25 at 7 am Sri Lanka time – taken down? Did anyone save this?

Mona contacted me through my own blog earlier this month with a set of questions, and I too very clearly told her accident of birth placed me in the Sinhala camp even though I don’t wear that label in everything I think, say and do. I felt uneasy speaking for Tamils, and even though she kept asking me to do so, I didn’t — and in hindsight, it was just as well. I did introduce her to a prominent Sri Lankan blogger who is ethnically Tamil, and I know he responded to her questions briefly.

Bad journalism can appear anywhere…even on the respected Huff Post or NYT. But now it’s harder for them to get away with it.

2009-06-25 07:17:25

dude,

HuffPo is respected by no one. They may get one individual news aggregator with access to a timely subject but it’s so far from a respected outlet that it would be more accurate to call the Wall Street Journal a communist rag.

 
 
chandare
2009-06-25 07:49:31

There is a big brouhaha about Obama taking a question(a setup) by a Huffpost guy.I think you did the correct thing.They are not doing journalism.Most part they are a big news agrregator plus opnions of celebrities .Most people who visit the site knows that.They get insane amount of trafiic .If the post is still up,You could have asked them to posta correction.
(I think they are trying to setup a investigative journalism unit as well so these kind of incident are birthing pains of the medium).

 
Chanuka Wattegama
2009-06-25 07:55:39

Indi and Nalaka,

This is an occupational hazard faced by bloggers. You get exposure for your opinions but sans control. This is one reason I don’t blog. Love my low profile.

I too cannot access original article. (from Ottawa)

 
2009-06-25 08:13:32

Huffa Post’s coverage was better than most during the end of the war, cause they actually cited SL blogs and twitter and stuff. It’s too lefty and cacophonous for me, but I still think it’s OK. It’s just a bad writer.

The article has been pulled. Perhaps I should pull this post too.

Sam
2009-06-25 17:55:18

You don’t have to pull your post down in the current absent of the other. Blogs are snapshots of milliseconds, not bronze statues.

 
 
2009-06-25 08:26:01

please do. i’m about to split my sides laughing.

 
2009-06-25 08:30:41

Indi, the decision is yours, but I’d ask you not to pull down your – and our – reaction because it’s a cautionary note for uninformed, careless bloggers who write on serious issues that they know nothing about, and take no trouble to find out either. If you can locate the original post from some cache and post it, that would complete the discussion here.

If Huff Post has indeed pulled the post, I’m disappointed. In the spirit of discussion and debate, they should have kept it on, along with irate reader comments and protests.

Just as journalism is too important to be left solely to full-time, paid journalists, citizen journalism is too important to be left simply to irresponsible individuals with internet access who may have opinions (and spare time) without substance or clarity to make those opinions count.

 
2009-06-25 10:38:14

Can somebody please invite Sinha to this blog?

 
2009-06-25 20:35:39

I’d keep this post up. It points out some stupidness on their part.

 
Sami
2009-06-26 01:54:04

Indi,

Even your comments to her in the email you provided carries this aura that all Tamils live in perpetual fear. They do not. Not all of them.

I don’t know how many Tamils you know, but even your generalisation of things in Sri Lanka on this blog doesn’t help anyone.

“They are basically keeping quiet. In private I think some do regret the LTTE losing. ”

Maybe you don’t see it, but you are doing very little to help those in need in Sri Lanka. Visiting camps, taking photos, and publicising grief for the benefit of your blog and not for the genuine concern for people, has done little to help Sri Lanka.

I don’t know how long you have lived in Sri Lanka, or what your background is, but what I have read and seen so far, you squashed the chance to put things right when the Huff contacted you.

She didn’t ask you what you thought as a Tamil, she asked you what Tamils in Sri Lanka felt like. Because you are in SL.

 
Sami
2009-06-26 01:59:31

You can imagine how “good” her other aritcles are:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mona-sarika

 
pathi
2009-06-26 02:39:03

she contacted me, too.. what a inexperienced graduate student from india trying to poke into our problems.

 
2009-06-26 03:42:50

Please don’t pull it down…. It should stay on record. Obviously by pulling it down Huffpost is attempting to sweep their bad journalism under the carpet.

 
 
Dee
2009-07-08 17:37:49

Yep, I think it’s been removed..

 
2009-07-10 20:34:18

I was contacted by her too — didn’t say much though because her questions seemed uninformed. But I’m disappointed that HuffPo seems to have just deleted the article, rather than issuing a retraction or acknowledging error. I see a “Report Corrections” button on their homepage, but no corrections for the reader to see.

 
2009-11-21 07:33:29

[...] at how we can strengthen anyone, anywhere who takes up communicating in the public interest. As I said in a recent online discussion concerning one of the world’s top citizen media platforms: “Just as journalism is too [...]

 
Glenn Fleishman
2009-12-05 09:43:50

For what it’s worth, Mona Sarika has been revealed as a plagiarist at all the outlets for which she wrote, including Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, and the Wall Street Journal. It seems that pretending to have access to people far from the United States led editors to publish her work without checking her bona fides or confirming any of her quotes.

 
2009-12-05 18:04:22

Looks like the HuffyPo is not content to just bar her from their site:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/virginia-moncrieff/plagiarism-mona-sarikas-d_b_380880.html

Basically, the internet is exposing what a joke these ‘newspapers’ — BusinessWeek, The Wall Street Journal, as well as that rag the HuffyPo really are. Retraction? In new media? Sorry, it’s black humor to me.

Please keep this page up. This women should never work in “journalism” again. Bearing in mind that she was probably hired to write a “story” (read: PR piece of sensationalism) for an agenda. Facts? What are those? Not needed.

Anyway, they (WSJ, HuffyPo, etal) all got caught with their pants down. Business as usual in the “mainstream” media of the west.

 
 
Roy Lawson
2009-12-06 20:07:33

Her lies were finally uncovered. In some places, misattribution could result in inprisonment or death so what she did was serious. In the case of her last story, she wrote a political puff-piece that harmed a political cause I am involved in.

You can rest easy because her career as a journalist is over now. Perhaps she should consider fiction. She’s really good at that.

 
2009-12-08 13:52:54

[...] Sarika once cited me as a proud Tamil and made up a bunch of quotes for a Huffington Post article. I complained and that article got [...]

 
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