We all know the story. An amateurish YouTube video, depicting Muhammad as a fraud and philanderer, touched off riots throughout the Arab world resulting in the savage murder of four Americans in Libya, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Yet one mysterious subplot has received precious little attention: The media’s reckless disregard for getting the story right. Consider:
When the riots began, the first major news blast came from Associated Press, the mammoth wire service who issued this report:
LOS ANGELES (AP) – An Israeli filmmaker based in California went into hiding after his movie attacking Islam’s prophet Mohammed sparked angry assaults by ultra-conservative Muslims… [Sam] Bacile, a California real estate developer who identifies himself as an Israeli Jew, said he believes the movie will help his native land by exposing Islam’s flaws to the world.
AP also reported that the film “was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors.”
So there you have it. Jewish money, and a Jewish filmmaker – an Israeli, in fact, trying to “help his native land” – whose reprehensible film led to the murder of Americans.
This was the world’s “first impression” – amplified by AP’s thousands of subscribing media outlets worldwide.
As we now know, the AP report is a factual train wreck: Sam Bacile does not exist. The real filmmaker is purportedly an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
The insidiousness of AP’s blunder is that it plants a seed in readers’ minds the idea that reckless Israelis, funded by Jewish donors, result in the murder of Americans.
What’s worse, it comes at a highly critical time, when Israel is struggling with the existential question of stopping the Iranian nuclear threat – and public opinion weighs so heavily on the leader of the free world.
So how did Associated Press – employing 2,400 journalists in more than 300 locations worldwide – fail in the most basic elements of fact-checking?
Could it be that nobody at AP – no writer or editor – bothered to check with the California Department of Real Estate about the existence of this alleged “California real estate developer”?
Didn’t anyone at AP pick up the phone to the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, or to Israelis involved in the film industry, or the Israeli consulate in LA, whose well-connected networks would have immediately warned that no such person exists?
Is it possible that the sleuth journalists at AP never even bothered to check whitepages.com for the name Sam Bacile – who exists not in California or anywhere else in the United States?
Surely AP has access to top-of-the-line information databases, the kind from which any private investigator could get a detailed profile in 15 minutes or less. It’s hard to believe that this multinational, sophisticated information-gathering organization failed to conduct a basic fact-check that could be accomplished by any intern, let alone a teenager armed with a MacBook.
It is inconceivable that AP – whose very mandate is to get the facts straight – would ignore its legal obligation of “constructive knowledge” to act in accordance with basic ascertainable facts.
Unfortunately, this spurious rush to incriminate Israel is nothing new.
This attack in Libya took place on September 11, the anniversary of when al-Qaeda attacked the United States and several reporters were quick to pin the blame on Israel. At noon on September 11, Peter Jennings of ABC News declared that “the hatred of the United States as a patron of Israel, whether you’re from Afghanistan, or whether you’re from Iran, Iraq, or inside the Palestinian territories is so intense at some levels, and has become more intense in recent months, that nobody will be, very many people will not be surprised at this attack today…”
This is no mere rhetoric. A 2007 poll by the University of Maryland found that 28% of Egyptians believe that Israel was responsible for attacking the World Trade Center.
Ironically, AP’s bungled reporting on the Libya story coincided with another anniversary: It was 12 years ago, on the eve of Rosh Hashana, that the very same Associated Press sent out a libelous photo caption suggesting that an Israeli policeman was beating a Palestinian boy to a bloody pulp. In truth, the Israeli policeman was saving a Jewish boy from the hands of an Arab lynch mob.
That event, taking place at the outbreak of the second Intifada, became the first salvo fired in the “David & Goliath” narrative – the media’s myth of Israeli aggression.
More and more, I’m finding that accountable journalism – a hallmark of American liberty – has gone off the deep end.
With cable and the Internet having shrunk the news cycle to 24/7, there is constant pressure on journalists to “feed the beast.” It’s what Dean Starkman, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, calls “Hamsterization” – running on the hamster wheel in a news panic, cranking out volumes of content.
And if a false message happens to get circulated worldwide, then so be it.
With the Libya story, AP sent the consumer public a message that Israeli and Jewish actions place Americans at increased risk for terror. The inference: If America wants to be safe, stop supporting Israel.
This kind of false linkage also puts Israelis and Jews at greater risk of violence from Muslim extremists. It is unconscionable that AP – in dealing with breaking international news of fatal consequence – would release this libelous hot air into today’s volatile diplomatic and political atmosphere.
This is about as close to professional negligence as it gets.