Saturday, February 14, 2009

To Catch a War Criminal? Why is NBC being so cagey about its new series?

By Jack Shafer

Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009
Photo:
Leopold Munyakazi as pictured on an Interpol "wanted" page


The New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, Inside Higher Ed, and other outlets reported last week that Goucher College had suspended Leopold Munyakazi, a visiting professor from Rwanda, after learning of genocide charges brought against him in Rwanda.

Goucher President Sanford J. Ungar explains in an open letter that the charges—which Munyakazi denies—were brought to his attention in December by "a producer from NBC News … working on a series about international war criminals who are living in the United States." The producer was accompanied by a Rwandan prosecutor, Ungar adds.

A network series about hunting for war criminals among us?

Sounds strange to my ears—and to those of Ungar, a former journalist and one-time dean of American University's School of Communications. In his open letter, Ungar continues: "Some question the unusual circumstance in which the prosecutor traveled around the United States with a television producer and camera crew, rather than talking with the appropriate U.S. government officials through standard channels."

Hoping to learn more about the series, I contacted NBC News, but a spokesman said that NBC News makes it a "policy not to comment on our newsgathering." An NBC News producer working on the series, Adam Ciralsky, also declined to answer questions, referring them to corporate communications. Also working on the program is Charlie Ebersol, whom I tried to contact but failed.

Ciralsky is a successful producer at NBC News who won a 2006 George Polk Award for network television reporting. Ebersol has credits on several documentary films, including one that aired on HBO about South African students, another about snowboarder Shaun White, and another about Notre Dame football. NBC News says Ebersol is not an employee but that it has contracted with his documentary company for the war criminal project. Charlie Ebersol's father is Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports.
According to news reports, Munyakazi was arrested for overstaying his visa and faces deportation. But Ungar states in his open letter that "evidence that would either convict or exonerate Dr. Munyakazi [of the genocide charges] beyond a reasonable doubt simply does not exist at this time, or, if it does, I have not seen it."
Munyakazi argues against the genocide charges in this Baltimore Sun piece. Alison Des Forges, a senior adviser for Human Rights Watch's Africa division who was brought in by Ungar to review the charges against Munyakazi, also contests them in the Inside Higher Ed article.

While it's true that Munyakazi appears on Interpol's "Red Notice" wanted list, a "Red Notice" is not an international arrest warrant. In Munyakazi's case, it basically means that Rwandan authorities issued a warrant for his arrest that passed muster with Interpol. As Slate's Daniel Engber noted in 2006, Interpol once issued a "Red Notice" for Benazir Bhutto at Pakistan's behest.

Ungar's letter states that the NBC series is scheduled for a February or March air date, which means we'll soon know what sort of dossier Ciralsky and Ebersol have on Munyakazi—and a whole lot more about what kind of journalism they're practicing.

Addendum:
Brian Stelter of the New York Times explains it all in a just-posted story. Terrific work.

******
If you know more about NBC's war criminals project, drop me a line: slate.pressbox@gmail.com

(E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise). Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.

Source:
Slate
Related materials in Slate:
In 2003, Joel Simon took a critical look at the Rwandan genocide tribunal.
In 2006, Daniel Engber explained Interpol's color-coded notice system.

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