Forbes Middle East has retracted—or, more precisely, deleted—a lengthy cover profile of Ezekiel Osborne, a.k.a. Zeke de Jong, a.k.a. Zeke Echelon. The profile had credulously repeated Osborne’s claims to be a “cofounder” of Monero, the privacy-focused cryptocurrency. Many of those claims appear to have been entirely invented by ‘Osborne,’ as we reported in late October after the Forbes ME article’s initial publication.
That’s right—October. A Forbes ME representative claims that “our writers had no intention for . . . our platform to be a part of any unclear profile or a platform that would support scammers.” Yet the publication took nearly three months to investigate and correct a mistake that could likely have been prevented entirely by a five minute phone call with almost any warm body other than ‘Osborne’ himself. Our own initial investigation, though admittedly partial, took only two days from start to finish.
This delay by Forbes ME is significant because Osborne could have easily, in the intervening months, continued to leverage the legitimacy conferred by a Forbes-branded cover to mislead others. Sources have contacted BREAKER since our original story claiming that ‘Osborne’ has been recruiting high-end public relations firms to help improve his online image (meaning in part: suppress negative information). Sources also claim that he was making appearances at finance conferences, and continuing to make false claims about his background, as recently as October of 2018.
Forbes ME may be playing further into Osborne’s hands with its unusual approach to correcting its reporting mistake. According to a notification sent to BREAKER by Forbes ME, the publication took “an internal action on the person who [wrote] the story.” They have also “recalled all magazine copies from the market and . . . deleted all relevant articles, posts, photographs, and coverage from our social media platforms as well as the website.”
And they do mean deleted: The former web address of the Osborne article now leads directly to a 404 page (in Arabic). Videos published by Forbes ME have also simply disappeared. Forbes ME also requested that BREAKER remove images of their cover featuring Osborne from our story.
We won’t be doing that, for the same reason that simply deleting inaccurate stories is not a sufficient corrective. In instances of inaccurate reporting, it is standard practice for publications to issue a public correction or retraction, usually appended to the top of the original story itself. Neither Forbes ME nor Claudine Coletti, the author of the original profile, have responded publicly to controversy around the initial story. They also do not appear to have made an announcement of the retraction on Twitter at press time. We have reached out to Forbes ME to ask if they plan to publish a correction or retraction.
Forbes Middle East is published by Arab Publisher House, which licenses the Forbes brand from Forbes Media U.S. Forbes Media U.S. says it does not have any editorial oversight of Forbes ME—though the licensee’s shortcomings could nonetheless harm the Forbes brand.
Public corrections are an important form of accountability for publications, but they serve a more immediate practical purpose, too. If they simply make their deeply flawed story disappear, Forbes ME may benefit from short-term damage control, but could in fact be making it easier for Osborne to continue scamming people. There is nothing to stop him from continuing to distribute copies of the original story, cover image, or even print edition (I would bet Osborne got his hands on as many as he could) to bolster his fraudulent claims in the future. If the original material is simply deleted, without a note emphasizing that its reporting was incorrect (and, perhaps, describing what Forbes ME’s three-month investigation found), he’ll have a free pass to do it.