Bamboozled by "Bacile"

Friday, September 21, 2012


When riots broke out across the Muslim world in response to an anti-Islamic film called "Innocence of Muslims," news about its origins started pouring in. The media reported that the film was made by Sam Bacile, an Israeli real estate developer in California, who claimed that more than 100 Jewish donors put up the funds for the $5 million project. Those reports turned out to be false, as it was later discovered that "Sam Bacile" was actually an Egyptian Christian named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Brooke speaks to PBS blogger Devin Harner about how the media got duped into reporting falsehoods.

Talking Heads - Psycho Killer (live version from Stop Making Sense)


Devin Harner

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [14]

Celia Wexler from Alexandria, Virginia

I agree that journalists often rush to report too quickly, but they often are under great pressure from editors who push them to report even when they have reservations. This isn't a new problem. Beverley Lumpkin, who covered the Justice Department for ABC News, recalled the flurry of news reports after the Oklahoma bombing suggesting that the suspect had an Arabic last name. Interviewed in my new book, "Out of the News: Former Journalists Discuss a Profession in Crisis" Lumpkin recalled that her bosses were "screaming" at her to report that suspicion. She resisted. And, as we all know, the Oklahoma bomber was homegrown. In 1995, Lumpkin had the courage to fight all the pressure. In an even more competitive news environment, that pressure is even greater. Reportorial courage should be matched by editors' willingness to forgo being first to report a "fact" that hasn't been verified.

Oct. 07 2012 06:15 PM
julie from Michigan

Prob: One thing happens--like 'Innocence of Muslims'--& no matter what happens ANYWHERE that involves Muslims & violence are automatically attributed to that happening. (At least until the next semi-big or even non-existant happening)
A Muslim suffering from bi-polar disorder runs his car into the side of a building (thinking film producers are watching him & would think he would make a good stuntperson if he did this) in Afghanistan because of his disorder, it will be attributed to the film, even though it has nothing to do with the film.
And who actually saw the film anyway? I heard it was so bad in every way that it was almost impossible to watch all the way through. I was going to try to watch it myself, but after I heard that I say 'No thanks. I'll watch reality TV before I watch THAT.'
So who really knows how offensive it was?
Fundie Christians do this all the time. Remember the 'backmasking scare' of the mid-80's? The 'burned, aborted babies used in toothpaste scare' of the early 90's? I could go on, but you get my point.

Oct. 04 2012 08:23 AM

We depend on news reports! I wish they would get it right the first time but cudos to them for finding the truth;although it makes me wonder but hey, everyone makes mistakes! right!

Sep. 30 2012 10:37 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

So, I guess what the public is saying is "Shape up or it won't be a jingle just about re-monetizing the newspaper industry!"

Sep. 28 2012 07:14 AM
David Steinkraus from Racine, WI

Devin Harner was on the right track with his Sam Bacile comments, but I disagree with the conclusion that reporters weren’t doing their jobs properly. As a former newsroom denizen (and now a happy freelance writer) I tell you firsthand it is often not reporters who are to blame for news-free updates. The core of the problem is editor impatience abetted by instant website publishing possibilities and understaffed newsrooms. All exhortations about how to do ideal journalism will fail in the face of daily demands from editors who obsess over the musings of every blogger, demand early and frequent online updates, and also ask for five other stories for the week plus something for the weekend editions. By the way, there’s no overtime for any of that.

An additional complication is the newsroom culture which gives priority to being first — which Harner alluded to — coupled with the employment of not only fewer reporters but younger and less-experienced reporters who are doing more work and may be supervised by editors with limited experience and no time to mentor. So we have newsrooms where no one has time to think or takes it, and where people are reluctant to say there is nothing new and worth reporting. The logical endpoint of all this is the situation we are criticizing here.

Sep. 27 2012 01:30 PM
Allen from NYC

I agree Mr. Harner! Anyone's BS detector who has ever spoken to anyone from the area could hear the preposterous bluster of "100 Jewish donors." Come on!

As soon as I read that, I wondered why this man had ever been given the media attention he was given. He should have been immiedately exposed and investigated, not made into a glorified mystery man. He's a bitter, angry piece of trash.

Sep. 26 2012 10:00 AM
JanPinsky from Brooklyn

As the first comment correctly concludes: one's house will be burnt down as well. So perhaps in this matter of 'bamboozling' and poor fact-checking, it would behoove WNYC to apologize for having reported, or through its client BBC, and rather enthusiastically, that it was an Israeli-American who was at the root of this. It seems that it was not necessary to 'check' that fact...The conspiracy of 100 wealthy American Jews could not be far behind. Anyway, to report such scapegoating of the 'usual suspects' shows a serious news bias affecting the Rush Limbaughs of America just as it does his liberal counterparts 'in the media'.

The 'Jewish' connection, amounted to another sort of accusation altogether, and I have yet to see anyone root out that unfortunate error, nor show any remorse for it. And yet the consequences could have been very bloody: especially for the Jews of Europe, Turkey and even here in armor plated America. Had it been an Israeli-American, would it have confirmed the anti-Zionist hysteria which so affects America's parlors? Would Senator Kucinich have felt vindicated in his heart-felt plea to 'liberate' East Jerusalem?

I expect WNYC to ask the harder questions and to examine itself a little more honestly than the Rushes of America. What are you waiting for?

Well you can make up for it: invite Queen Rania over for a chat and ask her whether the departure of her family would not go a long way towards consolidating a viable Palestinian homeland. Then perhaps, one day, your egregious fact-checking errors about Israeli conspiracies will matter a little less.

Sep. 24 2012 09:29 AM
Edmund Singleton from Bronx, NY

In the MiddleEast 'fact' does not matter, rumor does, which can be deadly. 'I was told that you burned a copy of the Koran, so I am going to burn down your house'with you in it...

Sep. 24 2012 03:13 AM
R Sterling from Southern California

Watch this poorly edited (and acted, for that matter) piece and decide for yourselves:

Sep. 24 2012 03:09 AM

What seems obvious to me as I heard this report today is you have still missed the point completely. "Why are you being so obtuse? Is it deliberate?"
This "movie" had nothing to do with the Libyan attack and the reason it enflamed the muslim world is because the embassy in Cairo released an apology in advance of anyone knowing of it's existence internationally.
The Libyan attack was completey a terrorist attack on American sovereign soil on 911 and the media has totally allowed the Whitehouse to spin this point away to reduce the impact at home. So the government causes another muslim temper tantrum and totally skate on not keeping our embassies safe while condeming American citizens and proceding with there law enforcment threats towards the criminals (read not terrorists in that) a la Clinton. Hey media, especially NPR, mission accomplished!

When you are so blind with loyalty you are incapable of fact checking, don't you see that?!

Sep. 23 2012 06:18 PM
Daniel DuPre

Devin Harner suggests that journalists go around demanding to see people's ID? He should teach the students in his introductory journalism class to carry first aid kits, because if you go up to complete strangers and start demanding personal information from them, they may occasionally respond by giving you a bloody nose.

Sep. 23 2012 01:10 PM
Laurie Mann from Pittsburgh, PA

It is annoying how badly the story about the movie played out. The initial reports about "Innocence of the Muslims" sounded like the press was just reciting someone's press release, including, sadly, NPR.

Sep. 23 2012 12:18 PM

I am wondering whether "On the Media" was bamboozled in beginning this story with this line: "When riots broke out across the Muslim world in response to an anti-Islamic film called "Innocence of Muslims..."

That narrative -- that in the case of the most alarming event of the past couple of weeks, the murder of Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens at the American consulate in Benghazi, was purely a product of rioters reacting to an internet video -- is being rapidly debunked.

It is perhaps that Brooke Gladstone, preparing a radio script on September 20, or 21, would have had little idea about how the Obama Administration's original explanations of the Benghazi consultate assault had all been disproven, retracted or modified; it is because NPR essentially dropped the story after September 18-19. A search of the website bears it out.

The conservative press has done a good job on the further-developing story. The liberal media -- public radio in particular -- have ignored it.

Sep. 23 2012 08:35 AM
LHRussell from Newark, DE

Finally, someone who can explain how the mainstream media got played. Good advice too: if a reporter can't write a piece using good information than FIND the good information (that's what a good journalists does) and stop the boo boo honey yakety yak! Let's send some of these top reporters back to Prof. Harner's 101 journalism class for a refresher.

Sep. 21 2012 08:01 PM

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