In our March 15, 2014 issue we pointed readers to an article in the Daily Mail claiming that coins looted by the terror group ISIS
were appearing for sale on eBay. Questions about the article have been raised, and it didn't take much convincing for me to agree
that its general claims were baseless, and its specific references to a particular eBay sale (and seller) were completely wrong.
Accordingly, we have removed the article from our E-Sylum web archive. While the archive is our historical record of past issues,
the potential harm to the implicated seller led us to make an exception in this case.
Blogger Paul Barford had a great post about this story back on that day, but I didn't see it until now. Here's an excerpt.
" There is a lot of irresponsible journalism going around these days connected with alarmist stories on ISIL."
"What strikes me is that right under the heading is a picture of an eBay auction "Ancient coin", and the caption reads
apparently unambiguously: "Stolen coins are among the plundered artefacts going on the open market". After a bit of a search,
one may follow the clues back to the dealer whose auction has been highlighted."
"If I were a dealer whose name figured in such a context, I'd probably be having a word with my lawyer tomorrow. Both
newspapers have enough money to make a lawsuit with them worthwhile. A doddle - on condition that the dealer can come up with
documentation that will stand up in court as proof that the claim is false. Can he? We will see what their next move is. This is an ACCG
Blogger Sam Hardy published a detailed dissection of the original story in The Times and its subsequent mangling by the Daily
Mail and republication by other news organizations. -Editor
"Despite the headline, the Times has not presented any evidence of Islamic State-looted antiquities on eBay."
"Unfortunate sub-editing is always a risk. Hugh Tomlinson has suffered it before, but this time it’s worse – especially because
the prominence of his article’s recyclers has spread the headline far and wide. Tomlinson is sensible and blunt about sensationalist
statements that concern the Islamic State, so I’m confident that he was (literally) thousands of miles away from the Times’ headline. He
was kind enough to discuss the article the morning after it was published, so I know a bit about its background, but the rest is my
"It was written as a review of the problem of antiquities trafficking and illicit sale, which has been worsened by the rise of
the Islamic State. However, it repeatedly explained the functioning of the trade by reviewing how “the Islamists”, “the jihadists”,
“Isis” did things. It did not explicitly identify any non-jihadist paramilitary looters and traffickers."
"Myriads of objects of ‘murky’ legality are available via eBay and other online auctioneers and traders. It is inevitable that
some antiquities looted, trafficked, taxed or otherwise racketeered by the Islamic State – as well as by other jihadist militias, the
Free Syrian Army, other rebel factions, the Assad regime, even foreign forces – will turn up on eBay."
"When Morag Kersel saw the Daily Mail’s churned version of the Times’ original story, she wondered ‘how the author [had made] the
link between ISIS, eBay and these particular coins’. That may have been because the Mail’s author, Jack Crone, did not copy-and-paste
Erin Thompson’s cautious observation to Hugh Tomlinson that it was ‘extremely difficult to tell if individual items were looted recently,
[were looted] long ago or come from a legitimate source’."
"The Times illustrated its piece with an image that was captioned, ‘Stolen coins are among the plundered artefacts going on the
open market’. It was not a stock image of a coin. It was an image of a specific coin that was on the open market – a coin from Apamea on
eBay, which was on offer at a reduced price (down from $106.40 to $85.12)."
"While readers might see “small coins such as these” as an illustration of a kind of object and its ease of transport, it is very
difficult to see “historical artefacts believed to have been looted by ISIS, such as this coin” as anything other than a statement that
this coin is believed to have been looted by ISIS."
"I’m not alone in thinking that these reports could leave the publishers at risk of a libel claim, as long as ‘the dealer can
come up with documentation that will stand up in court as proof that the claim is false’. Is that the only way that publishers will be
convinced to ensure more responsible reporting?"