The mystery of MintPress News

Several months ago, I was tipped to a skirmish on the edges of the local media universe. A liberal activist in St. Louis Park named Terry Burke, who’s associated with a group known as Minnesota Committee in Solidarity with the Syrian People, was pointing fingers at an obscure, web­-only “news organization” called MintPress, accusing it of a persistent anti-­Israel, pro­-Syrian-dictator Bashar al­ Assad slant to its coverage, and challenging someone to find out where the organization’s money was coming from. 

All this was very tantalizing in a fringy sort of way. But a problem quickly developed with regard to hearing out each side. While Burke was both accessible and forthcoming with a font of suspicious-­to-­damning details of MintPress’ editorial functions, MintPress was not only inaccessible by e­mails (which weren’t returned) and telephone (which was no longer connected) but even physically, as I found out on a fruitless three­-hour search mission for their Plymouth offices. Pursuit of comment from MintPress’ early and long-­since departed staff have proven equally unsatisfying.

The feud between Burke and MintPress’ founder, CEO and editor in chief, Mnar Muhawesh, flared again this week when ​the latter responded to Burke in the pages of the Star Tribune​, accusing Burke of “a wealth of inaccuracies” in​ an earlier commentary.

Burke had written that, “With the explosion of alternative Internet news sites, considerable misinformation has been circulated about Syria. While there are many reputable alternative news sites, some function as an unrecognized force for Assad. They never publish the international human ­rights organizations’ reports about the regime’s crimes. Instead, they post interviews with Assad, polls that claim most Syrians support him, articles on rebel or ISIL abuses, and stories that blame the U.S. for Syria’s uprising. Sample pro-­Assad headlines: ‘Why Syrians Support Bashar al Assad,’ ‘81% of Syrians Believe U.S. is to Blame for Isis,’ ‘Letter from a Pro­Assad Syrian Resident of California.’ Who are these sites? Mint Press, Info Wars, the Anti­Media, Shadowproof, Media Roots, Counter Current News, SouthFront and Zero Hedge are among the alternative ‘news’ organizations that provide no information on how they are funded or the names of a board.”

Replied Muhawesh: “Much of our funding, like funding for many of the sites Burke named, comes from donations, sponsorships, grants and ad revenue. There’s no secret about who is behind MintPress. Our staff, correspondents, business model and syndication partners are listed on our website.”

Mnar Muhawesh
Mnar Muhawesh

While the MintPress site does indeed list 20 writers and a mission statement, there is nothing there that speaks to where the money is coming from to pay any of these people, the majority of whom are far-flung activist bloggers and none of whom were part of the group filling the operation’s Plymouth office four years ago.

Recall that when MintPress first appeared on the local radar in 2011, it caught the attention of ​David Brauer here at MinnPost.​ A start­up for-­profit news organization actually hiring reporters and paying them? Stop the presses!

From the get-­go, MintPress was your typical left-­of-­center web outlet. Climate change updates? Check. Republican candidates saying bizarre things? Check.

But from the start there was a clear focus on Israel and ways that “American imperialism” was abetting the humiliation and slaughter of innocent Arabs. (Ms. Muhawesh and her family are Palestinian.) In other words, a significantly different mix of focal points.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. A truly free press encourages the widest possible range of voices, and Israeli and American administrations have plenty to be held accountable for. But a steady run of stories sympathetic to Assad, at least in the context of Western powers committed to “regime change” by any and all means possible, is something else again.

A few examples:

“This Is How The War In Syria Looks To An Assad Supporter”

“The West Created & Perpetuates The Syrian Civil War”

“Paris Attacks: 88,000 Police for 2 Jihadis, But What About The Rest In Syria?”

To date, MintPress’ sole moment in the national/international spotlight was a public relations disaster. It involved a hair­-on-­fire scoop, namely that it was the anti-­Assad rebels who had inflicted chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, not Assad’s military.

Unfortunately for MintPress, the blockbuster imploded almost immediately. The by­lined reporter, Dale Gavlak, demanded her name be removed from the story. She asserted that it was actually written by an unnamed Syrian colleague and was never verified, which the ​Strib’s Jon Tevlin reported in 2013. (Tevlin also contacted Muhawesh’s father­-in-­law, a local business man/adjunct professor at St. Thomas who denied being the money behind MintPress.)

Though MintPress could be considered another relatively obscure website with its own particular/peculiar agenda, it has gained a profile in the Twin Cities due to Muhawesh’s energetic self-­promotion. Campuses like Augsburg have brought her in to speak on the question of balance in coverage of the Middle East. A spokeswoman at Augsburg said they knew little more about Muhawesh than that she is the publisher of MintPress, a site sympathetic to Arab issues.

Muhawesh even managed to roll MinnPost into her publicity mill. When Watergate legend Carl Bernstein gave a speech in Minneapolis this past spring as part of the Westminster Town Hall Forum, he lauded the work of non­profit news organizations like, “MinnPress,” which Muhawesh immediately seized on and hyped as a nod to her organization. A check with Bernstein’s people in New York quickly determined that what he meant to say was … MinnPost.

Unfortunately, Ms. Muhawesh’s ​publicity seeking ​has its limits. Repeated attempts to contact her through e­mail, phone and in person produced nothing. Phone numbers on MintPress’s website are no longer functioning and the addresses (plural) listed as their offices in Plymouth haven’t been valid in well over a year. One, with a suite number that no one in adjacent businesses could locate, was actually listed as the office of a medical device company, which itself has long been out of business.

But clearly, MintPress is still in business. New stories appear every day. At the moment, much attention is being paid to the heinous assault of a Somali-American woman at a north metro Applebee’s restaurant. 

To be sure, there are no laws against suggesting that Bashar al­ Assad, who MintPress concedes is a thug, has been made ultra bad by American (and British) imperialism. Nor are there any requirements that MintPress disclose who pays to keep its lights on.

But with Burke and MintPress taking their fight to the pages of the major media, you’d think MintPress would get smart and seize the opportunity to introduce itself to the wider public. But that would involve significantly more transparency than they have offered to date.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Nathan Fisher on 11/11/2015 - 01:20 pm.

    Nice article Brian

    Pieces like this make me more ok with you not writing two Gleans a day anymore. Glad you’re sticking with the media beat

  2. Submitted by Dan Feidt on 11/12/2015 - 04:05 pm.

    Try Facebook

    It’s not hard to get ahold of Mnar on Facebook. Also maybe they stowed the real postal address because of death threats, plenty of those lately.

  3. Submitted by sue martinson on 11/13/2015 - 11:54 am.

    Mint Press News

    Dan Feidt is correct about the death threats. Islamophobia is alive and well unfortunately both locally and nationally. I have heard Mnar Muhawesh speak several times and her analysis of current events is thoughtful and well-informed. As for Terry Burke, those of us in the antiwar movement have been dealing with her antiwar=pro-Assad rhetoric (not true, and not logical, of course) for several years now. Her attacks on the antiwar movement in the Twin Cities are well-known by local antiwar groups. She has now taken it farther and has provoked response from Mnar Muhawesh and others on a larger level, thus drawing Brian Lampert’s attention locally. MinnPost is a very well respected source for local news and politics, probably the best source as a matter of fact. But far deeper research and understanding is required re Burke’s history of declaring she is antiwar while promoting the U.S. government line about Assad, who is an ally of Iraq. I do not defend Assad’s actions, anymore than I defend U.S. imperialism and NATO encroachment and endless war. But Burke’s attacks ring false. And her attempts to discredit the antiwar/propeace movement become more and more transparent.

    Muhawesh: “To hear the mainstream media tell the story, if you are against U.S. intervention in foreign wars you must be pro-dictator. But when it comes to our supposed allies in the peace movement like Burke, shouldn’t we expect more than parroting establishment talking points?” Here is Noam Chomsky in an interview on truthout.org: “The official US interest is to eliminate Assad, and naturally Russian support for Assad poses a threat to that. And the confrontation not only is harmful, if not catastrophic, for Syria, but also carries a threat of accidental escalation that could be catastrophic far beyond.”

    • Submitted by Max Millon on 11/13/2015 - 12:50 pm.

      CISPOS and Mintpress

      Sue, can you elaborate a little? I have to admit, I am a little bewildered by all of this.

      My (anecdotal) impression of CISPOS from the community and personal experience is that their primary interest is advocating for refugees in Syria, not rhetoric or parroting of establishment of talking points. I’ve met many members of the Syrian community at CISPOS events and they seem very involved and passionate about what the group represents. I’ve also seen them condemn US military bombings such as the horrible tragedy at the hospital, but also Assad atrocities and Russian bombing.

      Burke seems to be validly pointing out that Assad’s regime is not just condemned by NATO and its allies, but by a wide variety of very well respected international human rights organizations. That of course doesn’t justify war in itself, but it certainly seems at odd with the tone of some of the articles from Mintpress. Also, Mr. Lambert echoes some of Burke’s very valid sounding concerns about poor or outright-suspicious journalism and highly nontransparent business practices from Mintpress. I understand the false dichotomy of anti-war = pro-Assad, but it seems to me that anti-Assad hardly means pro-NATO and pro-war either. Thoughts? I’m interested in your response.

  4. Submitted by Barry Ranger on 11/16/2015 - 09:02 pm.

    Assad is the issue

    Brian, you’ve basically got the story straight, but I think the dispute is a political one, not a personal feud. Mint Press repeatedly pushes aside any serious criticism of the phenomenally brutal Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and squawks “Islamophobia” at criticism of her own editorial slant.

    While human rights groups from the UN Human Rights Commission to Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and many others have repeatedly condemned Assad’s massive war crimes, using industrial level torture, barrel bombs and poison gas, Mint Press goes extremely light in criticism of his regime.

    Like commenter Coleen Rowley, Muhawesh prefers to criticize all resistance to Assad’s regime as a pro-war US/CIA/NATO/Israeli plot, denying that the Syrian people could possibly rebel on their own against the tyrant who rules them.

    You are incorrect in saying that Burke has criticized Mint Press on the issue of Israel. While Burke’s focus in the Committee in Solidarity with the People of Syria is clearly on Syria, I have seen her at numerous events in the Twin Cities in support of the Palestinian people.

    Yes, there is indeed a dispute within the “peace community” in the Twin Cities. Some folks live by the mantra that the only responsibility of US antiwar activists is to condemn the policies of the US government. Others believe that tyranny and aggression should be condemned wherever it occurs. With Syria now as the bloodiest war on Earth, serious peace activists ought not downplay the massive crimes of the brutal Assad regime, as does Mint Press.

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