It was a good move from British newspaper The Guardian to apologize to its readers for the fabricated reports and articles published by its Cairo correspondent, Joseph Mayton.
Last February, the newspaper received a complaint from a source in Cairo mentioned in one of Mayton's articles, who maintained he had neither spoken to the reporter nor met him.
The newspaper used a neutral arbitrator to check Mayton's Guardian-published material, and discovered various topics and sources he had quoted were in fact fabricated. Some of his sources said they had never met the correspondent or talked with him.
The statement of apology was published on The Guardian's website and is available to anyone who wishes to read it — a move that reflects well on the newspaper. But nonetheless, the whole affair raises many questions.
Mayton worked in Cairo from 2009 to 2016, left to his own devices and with nobody from the editorial board checking up on him. Paying no attention to the disgruntled voices of the Egyptian public regarding Mayton's reports, The Guardian failed to review the material submitted by the correspondent.
In the press, publishing unchecked reports, false news and sensationalist articles can have devastating consequences, and no apology — particularly not one given after some time — will restore things to the way they were.
In 2002 and 2003, most Western media outlets published the information that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was in the possession of nuclear weapons. After the overthrow of Hussein and a US-led war had torn through Iraq, it surfaced that these reports were mere lies, but only after the devastation of the country and the killing of thousands of Iraqis. The people of Iraq still suffer the consequences of that lie to this day.
The question that arises is why the Guardian correspondent did what he did — for whose benefit did he do it? Mayton was unprofessional and unethical, wanting to make reports out of nothing. This kind of journalist is well known in the field; the kind that depend on immature, melodramatic reporting to hide their failure.
But was there a bigger reason behind it? Was Mayton pushed to fabricate and lie for the benefit of a readership of a certain political orientation in Egypt? If this turned out to be true, it would have disastrous implications.
If Mayton's writings were intended to influence anyone, it would surely be the readership that considers the news and views championed by the Western press to be "sanctified"; those who consider the Western press to represent the "truth," and the Egyptian press, "lies".
In truth, this sector of Egyptian society must review the opinions and stances it constructed upon Mayton's fabricated reports.
It is a dangerous business, sanctifying everything published in the Western press, and assuming that the Western journalist is immune to any kind of professional fault, human weakness, or influence from a certain ideology.
In June 1967 Egypt suffered at the hands of Israel, yet the Western media insisted that we were the aggressors, planning the destruction of Israel. After many years, some Israeli historians have begun to admit that this was not true, and that the Western take on events was a deliberate lie.
The ailment that afflicts the press is the same the world over: a lie is fabricated, then snowballs when ignorance is added to the lie. In some cases, money changes hands to ensure a report reflects the views of a certain body, in other cases bias is involved, and in others still, maliciousness and blackmail are to blame. One will find these things anywhere.
But if blind trust in the flawlessness of the Western media is a big mistake, so too is the sweeping accusation that all members of the Western press are conspirators.
There are many foreign correspondents and journalists who work to the highest standard of competence and professionalism.
The Guardian's apology is the start, not the end, and it may present a clue in unraveling the media campaign employed by the West over the past few years regarding Egypt.
The apology came very late — perhaps too late to fix the damaged done by Mayton. But for the Guardian to distance itself from a type of journalism built on lies, fabrications and false prophets, better late than never.