NYT’s Fisk Factcheck Fail By Peter Hart

8 February, 2011 — FAIR Blog

The United States sent former ambassador Frank Wisner to Egypt to talk to Hosni Mubarak. Wisner garnered headlines when he declared support for Mubarak staying in power, causing the White House to try and argue that wasn’t the message the White House was trying to send.

But Wisner’s background was worth more attention. As Pratap Chatterjee reported (Inter Press Service, 2/4/11):

Frank Wisner, the former U.S. ambassador that President Barack Obama dispatched to Cairo earlier this week to advise President Hosni Mubarak, is employed by Patton Boggs, a law firm and registered lobbyist. On its website Patton Boggs summarises the contracts that it has won in the last 20 years to advise the Egyptian military, leading ‘commercial families in Egypt’ as well as ‘manage contractor disputes in military sales agreements arising under the US Foreign Military Sales Act.’

Shortly thereafter, Robert Fisk of the Independent weighed in with a column (2/7/11) adding more details about Patton Boggs, noting that Wisner’s pro-Mubarak comments were in line with his employer’s long-standing ties to the regime and Egyptian corporate interests. Fisk pointed out that this wasn’t getting much attention from the corporate media:

Oddly, not a single journalist raised this extraordinary connection with US government officials–nor the blatant conflict of interest it appears to represent.

That’s still the case–but some reporters are attempting to debunk Fisk’s story.

New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote a piece for the paper’s website (2/7/11) where she pointed out that the story of Wisner’s conflict ‘erupted in the blogosphere’–we all know what that means–and that Fisk was wrong:

Mr. Wisner’s comments prompted the Independent, a British newspaper, to accuse him of conflict of interest and to assert–incorrectly, Patton Boggs said–that Mr. Wisner ‘works for a New York and Washington law firm that works for the dictator’s own Egyptian government.’

Obviously Wisner does work for Patton Boggs. What Stolberg is reporting is that the company doesn’t work for the Egyptian government (which was part of Fisk’s case). That debunking relies on the word of a Patton Boggs spokesperson, who said this:

But Mr. Newberry said that while Patton Boggs does represent ‘a very small number’ of corporate clients in Egypt, it has had no business with the Egyptian government since the mid-1990s, except for briefly last year, when the Egyptian embassy retained Patton Boggs on a legal matter for which the firm billed less than $10,000.

OK–so does the firm represent Egyptian corporations? Yes. And as recently as 2007 was lobbying on behalf of a company with ties to the regime.

Does it have business with the Egyptian government? No–well, except for that time last year, and many times before then.

So I think I got this one: As the Paper of Record sees it, when Fisk reported that Wisner’s firm worked for the Egyptian government and various corporate interests, he was incorrect. The company in fact works for a small number of Egyptian corporations, and worked for the Egyptian government as recently as last year.

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