In her Letter to the Washington Post, U.S. Undersecretary Wendy R. Sherman chastised the editorial board for “mischaracterizing her remarks” in its May 1 editorial. At issue is what Ms. Sherman said and meant by her words during her press conference in Ethiopia on April 16.
I addressed that issue at length in my commentary “Wendy Sherman and the Ethiopian Election That Isn’t” earlier this week.
The editorial stated, “Wendy Sherman, declared during a visit to Addis Ababa on April 16 that ‘Ethiopia is a democracy that is moving forward in an election that we expect to be free, fair and credible….’ Ms. Sherman’s lavish praise was particularly unjustified given Ethiopia’s record on press freedom…” The editorial provided specific instances of flagrant violations of human rights and evidence of unfair electoral tactics used by the ruling regime in Ethiopia.
In a pathetic attempt to backpedal on her patently untrue and ridiculously obsequious remarks about “Ethiopia is a young democracy”, Sherman accuses the Washington Post of journalistic unfairness and tries to reinvent herself as a covert champion of Ethiopian human rights.
I read Sherman’s Letter to the Post several times. Each time I read it, I became more confused. Is she saying that she did not say what she said about “Ethiopia as a young democracy” on camera? Is she saying she said what she said about the “young democracy” but did not mean what she said? Or is she saying she said what she said but what she said means the exact opposite of what she said she said?
In her Letter, Sherman claimed to have said “Ethiopia has a long road to full democracy, as I publicly said there. As President Obama suggested, my comments were aspirational in hopes that the upcoming election would be a step forward. Later in the trip, I said, ‘Ethiopia is a young country in terms of democracy and over time we hope the political system matures in a way that provides real choices for the people.’” She claimed to have “highlighted [the fact] that more journalists are in jail in Ethiopia than anywhere else in Africa. Civil society leaders told me, ‘They are about solving problems and being advocates for people who don’t believe they have a voice.’”
How could the Washington Post “mischaracterize” statements that allegedly occurred “later in her trip”?
The Post editorialized based on her videotaped remarks. She chose to talk to the press on camera. She made her statements voluntarily. She did not choose to provide the complete transcripts of her statements at the beginning, middle, end and “later in her trip” while she was in Ethiopia.
Now that Sherman has come under a torrent of withering criticism, public ridicule and condemnation, she wants to chocolate-cover and swallow her words.
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