Twitter spat between CENTCOM and Al-Jazeera Arabic over Votel’s comments

At heart of the squabble were the American general’s comments about Qatar dispute and its impact on operations in Yemen

US Army General Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command, testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 27, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB
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A spat erupted on Twitter between the CENTCOM and Al-Jazeera accounts shortly after the testimony of US Central Command (CENTCOM) chief General Joseph Votel concluded in Congress on Tuesday.

At the heart of the squabble was General Votel’s comments about the Qatar dispute and its impact on military operations in Yemen.

At 5.07pm EST (2.07am Abu Dhabi), Al-Jazeera Arabic's breaking news account tweeted:

“Breaking. Head of Centcom: Gulf crisis distracted attention away from #Saudi operations in Yemen”

Twenty-six minutes later, CENTCOM Arabic hit back accusing Al-Jazeera of misquoting Gen Votel:

“This statement is inaccurate, below is the accurate statement of the head of Centcom General Votel: The #Gulf_Crisis has proven to distract focus from the operations of #Saudi-led coalition in #Yemen.”

In response to CENTCOM, Al-Jazeera's general manager in Doha, Yasser Abu Hilalah, issued an apology, blaming the issue on inaccurate translation.

Mr Abu Hilalah tweeted at 6.08pm: “We used this wording and it is on Al-Jazeera’s breaking news account, thank you for clarifying and we apologise for the unintended confusion caused by mistranslation. Al-Jazeera is obligated to correct in accordance with the journalistic code of honour.”

A few minutes later, Al-Jazeera's breaking news account sent out a new tweet about Gen Votel's comments without deleting the old one.

The new tweet included general Gen Votel's quote, as corrected by CENTCOM. It read: "Breaking. General Votel: The #Gulf_Crisis has proven to distract focus from the operations of #Saudi-led coalition in #Yemen."

The difference between the two tweets is the first describing the Qatar dispute as a distraction from Yemen, while the actual quote from Gen Votel was echoing concern that the continued dispute with Doha is taking focus away from the military operations in Yemen.

Between the two-and-half million followers that these accounts have on Twitter, the spat did not go unnoticed. Users were divided between lambasting Al-Jazeera, defending it or noting its apology.