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February 27, 2013

BuzzFeed On Defensive After False Report On Palestinian Filmmaker

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Internet meme platform Buzzfeed published a story attacking Michael Moore’s account of the TSA’s detainment of Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat at LAX. In the now corrected post Buzzfeed writer Tessa Stuart claimed “sources told her that Moore’s account of the incident was “baloney” and the entire matter was likely a publicity stunt for Mr. Burnat’s documentary film 5 Broken Cameras. Burnat flew into Los Angeles to attend the Academy Awards due to his film being nominated for best documentary feature.

Later BuzzFeed issued a correction:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred in its deck and first sentence to “sources” at LAX; in fact, as the body of the story made clear, the criticism of Moore’s account came from a single airport official.

The revision of the account to a single source from multiple sources raised suspicion as did the seeming lack of skepticism the reporter showed towards a government official who had a clear interest in defending the government and was enjoying anonymity in doing so.

Further problems arose when both Moore and Burnat demonstrated why claims in the article by the anonymous government official were inaccurate.

But what looks like an egregious example of post-9/11 racial profiling to Moore and Burnat came across as a “publicity stunt” to others. Who exactly are these others? We don’t know, because the only source quoted by Tessa Stuart contesting the documentarians’ versions of events has been kept anonymous. She cites an unnamed LAX official who thinks the whole incident is “baloney” and adds that Burnat was “not racially profiled.” This unnamed source claims Burnat was immediately allowed to enter the country after producing a ticket to the Oscars ceremony. But, as Moore points out, no such ticket would’ve existed.

So the story had only one source and that source got a key fact wrong.

The woman in charge of Oscars ceremony ticketing confirmed to Moore that Burnat wouldn’t have possessed a ticket at the time even if they had been sent out early. Academy Awards tickets are never mailed out in advance — not to actresses in New York or to farmers in Palestine.

Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian went on HuffPost to slam the story as reckless and irresponsible for granting anonymity to a government official to justify government action. MSNBC Host Chris Hayes called the Buzzfeed story “embarrassingly shoddy journalism.” Greenwald and Huffpost’s Media Editor drew parallels to US media coverage of government statements in the run up to the Iraq War.

BuzzFeed has not defended the journalistic practices (or lack thereof) used in the story but instead is taking issue with the amount of time Burnat was detained. Moore for his part called out the transparent misdirection tactic and offered a detailed critique of BuzzFeed’s coverage of the incident.

Hopefully the reporter and BuzzFeed learned something from all of this or at least will return to focusing more on cat pictures (LOL OMG!) the government has no shortage of websites that can post press releases.


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