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Beware of Even Numbers

The film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and the dangerous failing of the media

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The U.S. State Department at Half-Mast Following Attacks on U.S. Missions in Egypt and Libya(Getty)

“100 Jewish donors.” Google it, and 17,000 results follow; 1,490 just in Google’s “News” tab. Strung together, those words sound altruistic. But place those words in the context of the attacks taking place against the United States embassies, and the foundations are built for a grandiose conspiracy. Place them still further in the context of a $5 million hate film, and that controversy becomes more elaborate, playing on classic tropes of Jewish control over Hollywood. What I am saying is words and context matter, which is why all those media outlets—and they were many—that reported that Jews were behind the hate film, The Innocence of Muslims, should be so embarrassed.

It all began when the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press published notes from an interview with Sam Bacile, then thought to be the producer behind the film that is said to have been the catalyst for the riots at U.S. embassies in Cairo, Tunisia, Yemen, Iran, and even Israel. Bacile told both the AP and the WSJ that he was an Israeli-American and that he raised $5 million from “100 Jewish donors” for the film.

Both the WSJ and AP, in an exercise of stenographic journalism, dutifully published those two details about Bacile’s nationality and his donors’ religions, all without knowing whether Sam Bacile was the individual’s real name or whether he had actually produced the film. In fact, it took the Wall Street Journal an entire day after publishing these details to conduct a records search on whether the name Sam Bacile was even real. (That records search turned up no references to any men in the United States by that name.) By that time, there were already 17,000 Google search results. The other U.S. newspaper giants—the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today—all parroted these details, as did the large city-specific ones.

The problem is, as the WSJ’s belated records search and AP’s belated reverse-phone search revealed, Sam Bacile was not a real person; neither was he Jewish or Israeli. As for his “100 Jewish donors,” that, too, appears to have been a lie. Bacile, now identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, appears to be a Coptic-Christian. Worse, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and others have not yet issued corrections reflecting these critical changes on their initial stories.

As Jeffrey Goldberg said, though, “It is not possible to withdraw such a story.” It has already spread across the Middle East. No amount of journalistic-backpedaling removes the 17,000 Google results for “100 Jewish donors.” None of this will stop the enraged, Islamist protesters from chanting, “Death to Israel, Death to America” at the embassy riots that have already cost four American lives, including our ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. Of course, films do not turn people into murderous rioters, as Matt Welch eloquently argued on these pages, and these attacks do appear to have been preplanned. But that these widely promulgated details about Israeli and Jewish involvement in the film helped fan the flames of the protesters’ murderous rage is beyond dispute.

For the journalists who spoke to “Sam Bacile,” specifically those at the AP and the WSJ, did they bother asking any of these questions?:

1. You say you’re Israeli. [Switch language and conduct the remainder of the interview in Hebrew. This is the WSJ: Finding a Hebrew speaker is not impossible.]

2. What was your home address in Israel?

3. For a $5 million film, this looks pretty crappy. Was that your intention, as an artist? It was your intention? Great, but how did you spend that $5 million of Jewish money if your set looks like something out of a high-school play?

4. Why did you stop at the 100th Jewish donor? Couldn’t find one more?

5. Why did you dub over the voices of your actors?

6. Can you please put us in contact with some of the actors? We’d like to hear whether they agree with your statement that “Islam is a cancer” as well.

7. You’ve been uncannily straightforward that your donors are Jewish and that you have Israeli roots, why?

Even without asking any of these questions, red flags should have been raised by the filmmaker’s forthcomingness about his donors’ Jewishness. The Jews who do promote anti-Muslim causes—few in number, to be sure—tend to do so much more clandestinely. (For example, it took the Center for American Progress—no stranger to controversy over its coverage of Israeli and Jewish affairs—six months of investigative research to document what it identifies as an “Islamophobia network.”) Gloating about one’s Jewishness after being implicated in tragic events, where people die, is not a hallmark of our people.

These mindless attacks and senseless killings, which have been exacerbated by sloppy and dangerous reporting, should remind us of the responsibilities of journalists. The journalists who uncritically reported that “Sam Bacile” was an Israeli-Jew with “100 Jewish donors” should ask themselves, to quote Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, “What steps can be taken in the future to make sure they are not manipulated by individuals who are looking to smear all Jews.”

Fewer than five printed words can become the rallying cry of people killing your countrymen and -women. “100 Jewish donors” reminds us that we must all beware of even numbers.

Earlier: Truth About the Muhammad Movie [The Scroll]
Who Is Sam Bacile? [The Scroll]
Related: A Pretext to Murder [Tablet Magazine]
Behind Video, Web of Questions [WSJ]
Sam Bacile, Israeli Jew, May Actually Be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Coptic Christian [Atlantic]
Protestors Storm U.S. Embassy in Yemen in New Attack [LAT]
Why Are the Religious References in ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Dubbed? [OTM]
Sources: Libya Attack Pre-Planned [Daily Beast]
Islamophobia Network [ThinkProgress]

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jacob_arnon says:

Thanks for posting this. I have been arguing this point for days.

The readiness to believe evil of Jews without evidence was at play here.

Remember it was the London Times that first published the fake antisemitic “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” They did publish a retraction but damage had been done.

agree with Jacob, I expected more of WSJ. always considered them the gold stantard. sometimes you have to wait and get the facts before you publish.

Beatrix17 says:

ABC news reported that Sam Bacile, an Israeli Jew,
was behind the movie, although they said they couldn’t prove it. When
they interviewed Kline, they left out the fact that he identified
himself as Christian. They were trying so hard to be fair, they
didn’t realize that they were being unfair to Jews. CBS (which I’m
switching to) was more balanced

Nakoula now admits that the movie cost $55,000, not 5
million, and that his relatives in Egypt helped finance it

Lou Levine says:

Hasanyone pointed out that “Sam Bacile” sounds like a pun on “imbecile” or “some imbecile?” Was Mr. Nakoula holding up the WSJ reporter to yet further ridicule?

Mike Murray says:

I expected more of the WSJ – sloppy journalism. AP – which seldom practices journalism anymore, should be ashamed.
Now the media is repeating the storyline that the producer is a Coptic Christian from Egypt. That also should be investigated. Something really smell fishy. Genuine christians I know would not lie about their religion, their source of funds, and have a meth lab conviction. There is one major relgion where it is honorable to lie to achieve its aims and its not Judaism or Christianity. I’m sure the Coptic Christians in Egypt consider this a serious blow to their survival. The Utube clip deflects attention away from Syria, Iran’s nuclear programs and puts Coptic Christians in the crosshairs. Its hard to believe a Coptic Christian would do this. I can think of more likely culprits. Where has all the vetting gone?
After 9-11 back in 2012 I began looking at Islamic schools in America on the web – especially America styled madrasses. I knew little about Islam at that time. At one Islamic school students were encouraged to enter journalism so they could help promote a favorable view of Islam in the America media. Later, when I went back to document that career advice to young Muslims the public access to that website was removed. Jihad has many forms. You can be sure the major networks, under their desire for deversity, are now being influenced to a certain degree by motivations other than to report the facts.

Uh, “enraged, Islamist protesters” and “individuals who are looking to smear all Jews” are gonna do what they’re gonna do no matter what news reports or Google say about who made this film.

Mike Murray says:

Good catch – I think you are right.. This was a deliberate yelling fire in the theater which resulted in thousands of Jokers showing up at the side door.

Guest1890 says:

funny … you can always turn everything around to make the jews seem like the victims. nice.

Ed Miller says:

More information needs to be obtained here but the potential benefits of this turmoil to the interests of Israel are obvious: The moderates in the U.S. will be swept aside if Muslims continue to kill and attack Americans abroad. The born-agains Christians, allied with the Zionists, will demand retribution and Israel will get the U.S. support they’ve long sought for a new war against Iran.

AriShavit says:

let’s hope ’100 jewish doctors’ doesn’t equal ‘al dura’ in ten years.

Truthiocity says:

Ya know what, I’m beginning to think he isn’t coptic either. Copts are another hated people in Egypt. So what does that leave us with?

Truthiocity says:

It’s not even circumstantial but
The DOJ employee told AP that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula had served time for Check kiting.
There was a story the other day about an shiit imam who had fled the US to mexico and was picked up there with some Hizbollah.
What crime was he convicted of? Check kiting and using false names to obtain credit cards, then selling the purchases from thost cards to raise money for Hizbollah.
Quite a coincedence two middle eastern men engaging in the exact same crime in the same time period.
Again that is not even circumstantial evidence – but I think it might inspire an intelligence analyst to look even closer at Nakoula Basseley Nakoula than has been yet done.
Nakoula Basseley Nakoula may be found to be yet another alias, or his faith not quite what he says it is.
He should be quizzed by a coptic priest.

stannadel says:

Another question is, was Nakoula deliberately trying to incite Muslim attacks against Jews when he claimed to be an Israeli. After all, we know that Antisemitism isn’t exactly unknown among Middle Eastern Christians.

Possible, though as a Coptic Christian, he might have wanted to protect his own people from retribution, and picked a more familiar alias. The Copts aren’t doing too well in Egypt lately.

He’s a crook (multiple convictions) who’s living in the USA. I suspect he’s probably less concerned with the welfare of his people than getting a few digs in at a bunch of people who were harassing his family for a while.

You have to understand the way nasty people think. Normal people often have problems with this. (Look at all the ink that gets spilled trying to explain Hitler.) After the Daniel Pearl situation, I used to fantasize about holding a gun to a Pakistani’s face on camera, saying ‘I am a Jew, my mother is a Jew, and now *I* am holding the gun!’ I’m not in the army (USA or IDF), and they’d never let me do that anyway, least of all (in the case of the IDF) because of all the Jews who would be killed in the ensuing antisemitic riots. But if he’s just a jerk who wants to get his kicks in…

brynababy says:

You are sick to suggest this tragedy would benefit Israel or that Israel would try to take advantage of such a traagic situation. Rather, Israel will be falsely maligned, yet again, and those who hate her will use this lie as an excuse to further hurt her.

So it turns out finally when the dust has settled that there is no film; the video clips are it. It also turns out that a Coptic Christian criminal, out on parole, made the thing for a few thousand dollars at the very most, probably less.

If Jews were involved they have yet to turn up.

What we also know is that some very stupid people, among them Romney and Obama, both of who lack the most elementary skills in intelligence and foreign policy decisions as witnessed by their enormous gaffes in such areas, took the bait and went with a fabricated story.

Neither of these clowns are fit to run a dry cleaning establishment much less a nation.

American foreign policy under Obama has now been revealed as a sad joke. The only thing that has prevented him from facing a media and governmental investigation over his incompetence in managing what happened in Libya as well as the so-called Arab Spring is that he was attacked by an even dumber opponent.

He needs to call Romney and personally thank him for deflecting the bullet.

Another underreported fact in this mess was the unequivocal condemnation by spokesperson for American Coptic Christians

Natan79 says:

Maybe you were the one who made the movie, Guest1890, if you’re so unhappy that Jews aren’t made guilty until the end. Come from the shadow, you jerk. Get off the donkey and stop writing bad checks.

Dick Stanley says:

Beware of even numbers is exactly right. When you hear that you know (or should know) the speaker is (at the least) exaggerating. Meanwhile, whoever this guy is he’s been rousted out of his home at midnight by L.A. deputies at the behest of the White House and is being investigated for possible parole violations. All voluntarily, of course. Bye, bye First Amendment.

Saint_Etienne says:

A possible theory but not very likely, imho. The guy seems to be more of a small-time crook than anything else. I’d not be surprised if he actually *did* raise some money from wealthy individuals for some project and then proceeded to pocket the differential (since his travesty of a movie was certainly made on a peanuts budget).

Saint_Etienne says:

So you think parole violations are not worthy of investigation?

melanie radley says:

But this was aimed to inflame Muslin sentiment against Jews. If you watch all 13min 58 seconds without laughing hysterically or being incredulous at the sheer stupidity of it, the anti-semitism is blatant

Saint_Etienne says:

Do you mean anti-semitism in the sense of “hate of Middle Eastern people in general”?

Saint_Etienne says:

That was your “5 minutes of wacky conspiracy theory” segment for today. Thanks.

Beatrix17 says:

Parole violations are exactly what authorities are investigating. Anything else could be a violation of freedom of speech.

Great article. I had already thought of some of this. Seeing it this way reinforced that.
The media seemed quick to mention Jews behind this. Not so quick to correct themselves.

Who knows. But Middle East Christians have a long and still current history of anti-semitism. Re the West Bank priests caught running arms for the terrorists.

Guest1890 says:

why do you sound mind-raped? calm your shit. just pointing out the jews astounding ability to make themselves look victimized no matter what the situation … EVEN if as they’re not involved. If you’re a jew you should be flattered. I wont get off you even though you yanking :) haha

madams12 says:

perhaps about 1000 times in the last week…

madams12 says:

the claim was backed up with the explanation is that “if gave him credibility”…

madams12 says:

After 11 years of bombing and invasion of numbers of countries, it would ‘nt take much to outrage people in the region who have lived between detestable dictators that the US and Israel have supported or absolute chaos and desperation. Of course the Coptic Church hierarchy should distance itself from this vile puerile offensive film..it doesn’t represent them, but rather is an insipid awkward and pornographically offensive ‘movie’ that degrades and dehumanizes people including the Prophet Mohammed. It was endorsed and supported by extremist “Christian crusaders” Steve Klein & Terry Jones who have more in common with Andres Breivik than anyone else. It was stupid and led to unforseen consequences like having the “rebels (AQ types) that the US and Israel supported in the Libyan “humanitarian bombing” where tens of thousands of innocents were bombed and killed. It is called blowback. just as we should expect if there is more manipulation of governments and populations in the region, though not much is left to destroy. it will take generations to get past the damage already done, let alone what would be unleashed should Netanyahu’s chomping at the bit to ‘have another war’. He’s been pushing for attacking Iran for DECADES. This is not about “nuclear programs’ but about eliminating competition. The voices of moderation are there if one but seeks them out. Mainstream media does not ..that is our responsiblity as the ‘aggressors’ in the region, imo.

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Beware of Even Numbers

The film ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and the dangerous failing of the media

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