According to the Arabic language weekly Al-Ousboue, quoting an anonyms diplomatic source, the American President asked the Moroccan government to give up its 2026 World Cup bid paving the way for the joint one from USA, Mexico and Canada to win in exchange of a firm American support to the Kingdom’s positions in the Western Sahara conflict.
Since Al-Ousboue used an anonymous source, it will be difficult to prove that the weekly is factually mistaken, but it is clearly willfully misleading.
While it is known that President Trump threatened nations who did not support the joint North American World Cup bid with political repercussions, Al-Ousboue story seems to be far-fetched. The fact that the President will meet face to face with a Moroccan diplomat to convey such outlandish demand seems unlikely since given the various and more subtle ways such pressures make their way between capitals.
While efforts of the American government to use political muscles to win votes for its bid are real and true, the allegations that the American President explicitly linked the World Cup event and the Western Sahara conflict is a deliberate spread of false news that tend to manipulate people.
The original piece was published in a small rubric buried in pages 10-12 of Al-Ousboue’s May 17, 2018 edition, even though it was highlighted in the front page as “the dossier of the week”. It is far from a good piece of journalistic writing in a weekly not known for good sourcing.
In fact, the story did not make clear how and when this alleged exchange between President Trump and the Moroccan diplomat took place. Furthermore, such hot topics can be effortlessly distorted and altered affecting the way individuals interpret them.
In this case, once translated into English and French, the story took on a life of its own making the rounds of Facebook and Twitter in Morocco and in circles involved in the World Cup and the Western Sahara conflict. With the fast and vast reach of online journalism and social media, this news moved from an obscure Moroccan weekly to the world stage with a global public engagement.
As the bad practice of “copy and paste” journalism continues to flourish in Morocco, the re-production of stories without proper vetting could have serious implications on Morocco’s positions in the Western Sahara conflict and its bid for the World Cup.
In the last few years, Journalism in Morocco has been in a state of flux with a fixation on creating “the buzz” to attract web clicks and make money at any cost. The digital platforms have opened the door to new players but also to bad journalistic practices.
The Moroccan press has every right to criticize the American government’s clumsy approach to counter Morocco’s World Cup bid, however, linking it to estern Sahara is dangerous. This story is an example to why it is important to keep media’s digital sphere open and fair, while cracking down on those who profit from disinformation.