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Major Media FAIL in Reporting on the Man Whose Anti-Islam Film Sparks Riots | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

Media, politics and culture.

Major Media FAIL in Reporting on the Man Whose Anti-Islam Film Sparks Riots

It turns out almost everything most in the media told us for more than half a day about the man behind the anti-Islam film that sparked (and is still sparking today) riots in the Arab world was wrong, and with possibly deadly consequences.

Protesters, along with the rest of us, were flatly informed, based on no confirmation or face-to-face evidence, that the man was Israeli or Israeli-American and that he made the film to help Israel. It turns out he is a Coptic Christian with other motives, although all in the area of anti-Islam. And he is allied with a better-known militant Christian activist named Steve Klein.

Oh, a few other small things: he is not Sam Bacile, is not a real estate tycoon, did not obtain $5 million in funding from “100 Jews,” the film may not even be a real film (see still at left), and on and on. 

[[UPDATE:  The Daily Beast now reports he is a convicted meth cooker. Many more details in this L.A. Times piece.  And the AP has a fresh update here. ]]

As an example of the early reporting, here is the opening of a top story in the Los Angeles Times, based on AP reporting: “An Israeli filmmaker based in California who made a movie belittling Islam’s prophet Muhammad that has ignited Middle East riots and led to the death of the U.S. ambassador in Libya says he is in hiding. Sam Bacile, 56, who described himself as an ‘Israeli Jew’ who develops real estate in California, told the Associated Press by phone that he went into hiding Tuesday after assaults by conservative Muslims on U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya.”

The AP, in an early report, flatly called Bacile “an Israeli fillmmaker.” Even Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, published this under the headline, “Israeli Filmmaker in Hiding.”

The media accounts on “Bacile” slowly fell apart as the day wore on yesterday, as I documented here in update, thanks mainly to reporting by blog sites, including Gawker, Buzzfeed and Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic’s site. Then last night, the AP weighed in with an excellent report that seemed to track down the real Bacile, using some fine investigative techniques, and outed him as one Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (Basseley=Bacile, for one thing) in Cerritos, California.

A bit more here in this ABC report, which also notes police called to his home—and the site connected to the making of the film, “Movies for Christ”—for “protection” after word got out. Just now, a US official source in law enforcement confirmed that Nakoula is Bacile.

What’s disturbing is that so many in the reputable media had reported “facts” about “Bacile” earlier, obviously based on second-hand sources (mainly an ally named Steve Klein, a longtime anti-Islam activist and Christian) and nothing more. Even passing along the $5 million budget concept was ludicrous given the amateur quality of the thirteen-minute trailer on YouTube (since removed). Meanwhile, many rioters believe that this is a major film production—and its creator is Israeli. Some sites, such as the New York Times, did cover the blog updates on their sites during the day.

I’ll be updating all this as there are developments in this story even as I type.

For more on the ongoing riots in the Arab world, read Robert Dreyfuss on Mitt Romney's potentially fatal response to Obama's remarks on Libya.

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