The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) has admitted there were “several errors of fact” in an article it published last week by American journalist Justin Heifetz that sharply criticized his former employer, the Bangkok Post.
While admitting that there were some factual errors in the article, the CJR stood by Heifetz after “conversations with more than a dozen journalists and legal experts in Thailand and elsewhere”. It also did not offer the “retraction and apology” demanded by the Bangkok Post.
“While CJR’s review did surface factual errors, none of them challenged the general thrust of Heifetz’s narrative or perspective on his time at the Bangkok Post,” read an ‘Editor’s Note’ at the top of the original article.
Heifetz’s account of his time at the Bangkok Post, ‘Pork, bullets, and my rocky stint at the Bangkok Post’, sparked an online war of words last week, with Bangkok Post editor Pichai Chuensuksawadi issuing a statement on April 16 saying Heifitz’s story was “riddled with flaws and is simply malicious innuendo”.
In his article, Heifetz painted a damning picture of journalistic practices at the Bangkok Post based on his 8 months working there in 2013 and 2014, though not all of it stood up to close scrutiny.
In the article he appears to suggest that he had to shoot a dead pig’s carcass against his will as a part of the job.
“My role was special, and I didn’t want to risk losing it. I felt there was no room to complain,” he wrote.
However, the CJR has clarified that “shooting the pig was a decision he made, and that his editor did not force him.”
The article also described a run-in Heifetz had with Bangkok Post reporter Wassana Nanuam. And though there did appear to be tension between the two journalists, the CJR statement clarifies that ‘he and Wassana “never spoke nor saw each other.”’
The statement from the CJR also clarifies some factual inaccuracies in the article relating the laws surrounding the employment of foreign journalists in Thailand, and defamation laws there.
The CJR, however, rejected the Bangkok Post’s claim that it was not given a chance to verify the story.
“Before publication, Heifetz contacted the managing editor of the Bangkok Post, Chiratas Nivatpumin, seeking his response to many of the points that the Post has since disputed,” the CJR said, pointing out that Chiratas chose not to answer the specific claims in Heifetz’s article. This was clearly outlined by Heifitz in the article, who tweeted on April 17:
I gave the Bangkok Post one week for fair comment. It gave me nothing. Its latest account is libel.
— Justin Heifetz (@JustinInBeijing) April 17, 2015
The Bangkok Post published a more detailed rebuttal on April 17, where it specifically responded to the claims in Heifetz’s article. It has yet to respond to the CJR statement.
While management the Thai English-language daily may derive some satisfaction from the CJR’s clarification, it does not emerge from this spat looking good. Most of the facts in Heifetz’s article – including legal threats from a Thai rear admiral – hold up to scrutiny, and paint a grim picture of life working as a foreign journalist for the outlet.