OP-ED

Jacques Pauw didn’t merely ruin his reputation – he dealt another blow to media credibility

By William Bird 17 February 2021

What adds to the egregious act by Jacques Pauw is that the conduct he alleged is sadly all too common. Photo: Jacques Pauw at The Gathering

The investigative journalist hasn’t just caused potentially great harm to those in the story, he has destroyed his own credibility and undoubtedly inflicted great damage on the credibility of Daily Maverick.

William Bird

Last week, Daily Maverick ran a piece by Jacques Pauw – a horrific personal account of what seemed to be a wrongful arrest, false accusations of theft and degrading treatment. On Tuesday, Pauw did an about-turn and published a personal apology for the piece.

It seemed he had got many of his facts wrong/distorted, he had been responsible for his behaviour that led to his arrest, as he was drunk and disorderly, and the police hadn’t stolen his money, as he alleged. He also retracted his vaguely worded accusations against the unnamed restaurant and waiter. There remain some questions, about the charge of theft that was laid and what happened to the R1,000 that was stolen but wasn’t. What is clear is that key facts about his story were either wrong or simply made up. Pauw hasn’t just caused potentially great harm to those in the story, he has destroyed his own credibility and undoubtedly inflicted great damage on the credibility of Daily Maverick.

Here we have one of the country’s most well-known and respected investigative reporters – most prominently for his investigation of apartheid death squads and, recently, State Capture in The President’s Keepers – getting basic facts wrong. Not just wrong but so at variance with the original story that readers are still left with more questions than answers, and wondering what really happened – it was clear he was blind drunk at the time of the arrest, but was he also blind drunk four days later when he wrote the original article? Was he so drunk that he didn’t comprehend the facts even days later, or, more worryingly, was he rage writing? Using his privileged position to lash out and hurt others – the police, the restaurant and, worse, his poor waiter? People are understandably angry and feel let down. What is clear is that in making such egregious claims, Pauw has destroyed his credibility, his apology notwithstanding.

It is interesting to see how those who have it in for him and Daily Maverick are seemingly gleeful and expressing righteous outrage at the debacle. 

The starting point of the criticism is asking why Daily Maverick published the story to begin with. Hadn’t they bothered to check the facts on such serious allegations? But many are missing that the following was published at the end of the original article:

 

What this suggests is that Daily Maverick had sought to verify the story, they had accessed the V&A Waterfront, the restaurant owner and the SAPS, who confirmed in their response that there had been a charge of theft. Further, subsequent to the apology, Daily Maverick published additional comment: “Prior to publication, Daily Maverick interrogated some of the elements in Pauw’s column with him and edited it accordingly where appropriate. Although Pauw admitted he had been drinking, he assured Daily Maverick his version was correct and he pointed to the waiter’s statement to police as corroboration. Once published, we continued our investigation and obtained the CCTV footage.”

Given that the sources didn’t deny the events, and that the SAPS verified the charge, and that they had been given assurances by the author that his version was correct, it seems reasonable steps were taken to verify before publication. Despite this, Daily Maverick still needs to accept responsibility for the piece, and we call on Daily Maverick to also apologise for their role and the harm caused and to set out what internal steps will be taken on this serious violation of public trust on Pauw’s part.

What adds to the egregious act by Pauw is that the conduct he alleged is sadly all too common. There have been too many reports and in the original article, if we recall correctly (it has since been removed), figures around violations by police officers were highlighted. Police brutality and wrongful arrest, according to experts, are not uncommon and in most instances don’t make national media, except in a few extreme cases. Pauw was thus able to use his power, to leverage his reputation as a respected journalist and a white man, to ensure his traumatic experience was heard. In having deceived the public about the events, not only has he destroyed his own credibility, but he has also undermined the veracity of those less powerful who have been victims of police brutality and wrongful arrest. 

Some senior journalists at the SABC are pointing fingers at Media Monitoring Africa, accusing us of hypocrisy because we laid complaints against the SABC at the BCCSA and at the Press Council for their journalists’ self-interested Ace Magashule interview in November. The two cases are distinguishable not because of the self-interested, unethical conduct of the journalists (they are similar although Pauw’s is far more egregious because of the mendacity of the first account) but because of the reaction of the media houses. We laid the complaints against the SABC only after it became clear (despite repeated requests by us) that the SABC was going to ignore the issue and refuse to publish any explanation/apology for the conduct of its news staff who have still not apologised for their own misconduct. 

By contrast, Daily Maverick has, thankfully, gone much further in providing a detailed explanation of the circumstances surrounding publication and has apologised.

Editor’s note on retracted Jacques Pauw column about his arrest at the V&A Waterfront, and an apology to our readers

If there is any silver lining to these clouds over journalism it is that it has reminded us all that when journalists get it wrong, particularly if there is a sense it might be deliberate, they don’t just get it wrong and do damage to themselves and their reputation, they also undermine the credibility of the institutions they work for.  

Pauw has undermined the credibility of himself, his publication and journalism and has contributed to further erosion of trust in our media. Despite this, credible media – including, and especially, entities like Daily Maverick and the SABC – could not be more critical to our democracy. DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 31

  • What evidence have you that Pauw was “BLIND DRUNK”? Don’t you think that’s going a bit far? Also Pauw clearly WAS treated poorly by the police. Does this amount to police brutality or not?

    As others have commented on this sorry saga, nobody’s perfect. We all make mistakes and poor decisions. Should this hang over one permanently? Especially if one admits one’s error and apologises.

  • I don’t agree at all. I see that the Daily Maverick has increased its credibility by it’s swift, immediate and definitive actions. My trust in them has increased correspondingly. In our culture of zero accountability, the immediate (and correct) cessation of relations between DM and Pauw is a welcome breath of fresh air.

  • I find the DM editor’s cancellation of Mr Pauw – forever, it seems – over the top. Yes, maybe expel him from your pages for a year, but come on, how about a little mercy, sir?

  • This article needs updating because the DM Editor, Branko Brkic HAS publicly apologised. He did so immediately he had all the correct facts to hand. And he has run his apology on the front page, so to speak. Most major publications / media…seldom do this. They tuck it away on page two, at the bottom in 8point type. If at all! I trust Daily Maverick and its brave editor and I will most definitely continue to read it both digitally and in print.

  • One question regarding the comparisons between the SABC journalists’ self-interested Ace Magashule interview in November and Jacques Pauw’s recent column: Was the SABC interview also labelled as an OPINION piece?
    Because there’s a big difference between an opinion piece and a news piece – as anyone who recently read Jessie Duarte’s waffling diatribe defending the RET faction and attacking the Zondo commission on DM would well know!

  • What does the claim that “he has destroyed his credibility” mean? That everything he has written in the past is false? Clearly not. Yet those he has accused of corruption will no doubt want to cite your words when they assert their innocence.

    It is obvious that his credibility has been undermined. But words such as “destroyed” and “ruined” make for much more titillating reading.

    It seems to me that almost all journalism, including the article above, inclines towards hyperbolic language. In some sense, one cannot blame journalists for (probably instinctively) relying on such techniques to attract readers. There is an onus on media consumers to be highly discriminating and critical of what they hear and/or read.

  • I am bitterly disappointed in Pauw but nobody is perfect and i do not agree with those who say that all of his work is now suspect . i think that DM has done the right thing by coming out and apologising in this instance but to put the blade in and sever all ties ad infinitim is going a bit far . The crowing of News24 at DM misfortune does stick in my craw.

  • After a few days, and following the apologies of both Jacques Pauw and the editor of Branko Brkic, my anger at both has declined significantly. This is especially after listening to eNCA this morning, basically slamming both Mr. Pauw and DM. This to me was even worse than the articles, apologies, etc. by both parties. As if eNCA is the angel of news in South Africa. Since Anton Harber has left as editor, the quality of this TV channel’s broadcast, including on-air anchors, have declined significantly declined. And SABC TV News and NewzAfrica is no better either. Many times I amsurprised, and shocked, by the opinions of these so-called anchors. Their own investigations are poor, often wrong, and more often outrageous, just like Fox TV in the US and Sky TV Australia. Whether Daily Maverick wants to keep Jacques as a contributor or not, he is and remains one of the of top journalists in our country. And DM is the very top news medium in our country as well. So Mr. Pauw, Daily Maverick, move on. Compared to all the other bad things happening, and the poor news quality of other news media, this is a minor incident, and certainly not worth the anger, and all the news that followed this incident. Both parties will be wiser following this. I for one would be disappointed if you stop running any article from Jacques. He did not commit fraud, murder, or any crime. So, move on, and leave bye-gone’s as just that.

  • Have already written my comment, but find this article by William Bird appalling, similar to the rubbish on the matter this morning on eNCA. Who the hell is William Bird? This issue, relative to what else is happening in politics and in the country, is so minor that it is not worth any pen to be lifted. So Mr. Bird, whoever you might be, go and learn something about journalism from the very person you now try to rip to pieces.

    • “Who the hell is William Bird?” He is the director of Media Monitoring Africa. Who the hell is Coen Gouws?
      Credibility is everything in journalism – how can you not know that? The issue, relative to all kinds of things, like the war in Yemen or Covid-19 deaths, may be minor but you certainly found it worth lifting a pen, and so you should. As should William Bird. I don’t normally attack other commenter’s views but you seem to be missing the broader point of journalistic integrity in your zeal to defend Jacques Pauw.
      In my view, William Bird’s piece is apt and his point well made.

  • Oh dear, Jacques properly kakked on his own stoep this time. What’s the bet he’s as sorry for his flight of madness as those who are taking pleasure in rubbing his face in the mess.

  • Dear Mr. Bird the term ‘media credibility is similar to the term military intelligence during the apartheid years, it is commonly referred to as a “contradictio”.

  • Jacques Pauw clearly has a problem with his relationship with alcohol. He needs help and support to deal with this. No need to ‘put the boot in’ for a human failing.

    • It is a very human failing and its we have no reports as yet that this is a regular happening – him being a “known figure” usually means we would have heard about a lot more incidences. Things obviously went pear shaped at the VAW but we would have heard if this was a regular occurrence? And even if it was then I agree with Paddy that he needs help and support – not a boot. I still respect everything you have contributed to our society Jacques! p.s I in know way know JP personally, actually haven’t even read his book/s but the way he is being attacked is frightening.

  • Oh please, you are becoming a bunch of prima donnas at Maverick! I am getting more and more irritated with the way you are going. So our hero has feet of clay – don’t we all? Have none of you ever F—-d up? This is an intelligent man and like most South Africans is under huge stress. How can you suddenly forget all the input he has offered to the fight against corruption in this country? I am very disappointed with Mavericks’ response to this. And I also don’t like how you are towing the party line with the whole covid, vaccine etc story – I am not a conspiracy theorist, but as an intelligent person I reserve my right to question everything we are fed, and you are slipping up.

  • Pauw lied and used his media profile to give credibility to his lies. He went so far as to knowingly and falsely accuse the SAPS of wrongdoing. There can be no excuse for his behaviour. It is not unreasonable for the public to expect the highest standards of honesty and truthfulness from him because we rely on journalists like him to keep us informed about what is going on in this country which is being run by a cartel of criminals who’s activities would never be exposed if it were not for the pursuit of the truth by journalists. He took on that responsibility and then violated it. Well done to the DM for getting rid of him, one strike and you’re out, it’s too important to apply any lesser standard.

    • And you are the the expert Mr Scholes, like all of Donald J Trump’s advisers.. his daughter, son’s, and son-in-law. Your knowledge and opinion will sit well with Carl Niehaus, Magashule and the like. So please, rather than posting comments like this, go and play your game at the next EFF rally, or attend Magashule’s next court hearing in Bloemfontein on Friday. Who knows, you might get a free packet of fish-and-chips

  • I agree with the readers who have expressed their confidence in DM after this incident. Getting the balance right between verifying the facts and breaking the news cannot be easy and it was clear in the original article that they had attempted to do the verification. Not only did they attempt to verify them before publication of an opinion piece, they also continued to follow up and dig up the real story (like the investigative journalists that they are).
    Then the immediate and humble apology by Branko was emailed to all who are on the email list and it was posted as a top story on the DM site. This is what accountability and responsible reporting should look like. Nobody will get it right all the time, but their accountability is in direct contrast to the likes of the Sunday Times who defended their SARS rogue unit narrative for years before admitting culpability. And as one of the esteemed readers highlights, this was not published as a news article but an opinion piece – the self same platform that has seen the likes of Jessie Duarte and Trevor Manuel express their very different views of the world.
    Personally, I am sad and disappointed by Pauw’s actions in this instance. As a white male in a society where many who are less fortunate are indeed targeted and abused by the police, he has used his reputation to defame the SAPS and to diminish the lived experience of those South Africans that have been abused. There is no doubt that Pauw has offered a critical voice to the political discourse in South Africa and this I don’t believe this situation undoes that great work. However, it does limit his credibility moving forward and, in the interests of quality journalism, I believe that DM parting ways with him is the sort of responsible and credible move that makes me a happily paying subscriber.

  • Oh my very goodness gracious all the judgment and froth over a humanity condition. Neither was it unimaginable that someone behaved in a colourful manner after consuming alcohol nor was it great that he apologised after. That mr Pauw is well known does not give anyone the sanctimonious right to condemn. Get a grip youall

  • As all of this has wasted our reading time, can we please see the CCTV footage, you did promise us a story and it may provide some insight on how hard it is to police. The above may clarify, but it seems radical to state that he won’t write for you again, maybe a couple of months in AA is a more appropriate?

  • OUR BURNING PLANET

    New poo hits the fan as chemicals company puts pressure on Durban to reopen polluted beaches

    By Tony Carnie