Why let journalistic integrity get in the way of a cheap shot against Michael Moore? Buzzfeed accepts official fed statement for why filmmaker Emad Burnat was detained at LAX.
February 27, 2013

I've mentioned before that I have a Persian uncle. He immigrated here more than forty years ago, went through the process of getting his citizenship and has been a testament of the benefits of a strong immigration program can be for the nation. He has multiple degrees, owns his own business, has never even gotten so much as a traffic ticket and is loved in his community.

He also cannot fly anywhere without being harassed simply because he is a Muslim with an identifiably Middle Eastern name. A 24 hour turnaround to Las Vegas during the Christmas holidays turned into being detained, strip searched on both ends of the trip and hours of humiliation, because my uncle didn't think to bring luggage for such a quick trip. This is the reality for many Muslims in the US.

So when stories came forward that Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat was detained at LAX when he arrived for the Academy Awards, I wasn't particularly surprised. This is what we do in a post-9/11 world:

My wife and I had seen that look before -- on the faces of our kids, mostly. After all, like all Palestinian children living in the West Bank, ours have grown accustomed to the humiliation of ID checks and interrogations.

But we had never seen our youngest son, Gibreel, as disappointed as he was on Tuesday, when American immigration officials threatened to deny us entry to the United States and to the 85th Academy Awards for which we had traveled two days to attend.

As my friend and fellow filmmaker Michael Moore, who intervened to help secure my entry, tweeted after the episode: "Apparently the Immigration & Customs officers couldn't understand how a Palestinian could be an Oscar nominee."

Well, I am an Oscar nominee. But more to the point, my film, 5 Broken Cameras -- which chronicles my village Bil'in's nonviolent struggle to resist Israeli occupation -- is about precisely the kind of humiliation my family and I experienced at Los Angeles International Airport. The only difference is that the victims where I come from number in the millions, and our stories have become so routine that what happened to my family and me yesterday pales by comparison.

This is a sad statement on our own ridiculous notions of Homeland Security, a worthy subject for any journalistic enterprise. But that's not the lede that Buzzfeed's Ben Smith wanted to take. Rather than look at racial profiling and how we're devolving as a country for a faux sense of security, Smith decided the better headline was to make fun of fellow filmmaker Michael Moore, who Burnat contacted for assistance. And even then, his reporter Tessa Stuart couldn't get the story right:

In statements made exclusively to The Atlantic Wire, Michael Moore and Emad Burnat say the Palestinian filmmaker's detainment by LAX customs officials on his way to the Oscars was anything but a "publicity stunt," as a deeply flawed BuzzFeed report based on a single anonymous source characterized the incident. "BuzzFeed is trying to spin their way out of this," Moore said in an interview on Tuesday evening, "and they're just running the talking points from the customs officials there at LAX." [..]

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 (in a tweet), no such tickets exist.

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.

The fallout from this article, which essentially accuses Moore and Burnat of lying, has not been pretty for BuzzFeed. The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald has called their story a "debacle," while MSNBC's Chris Hayes called it "really really embarrassingly shoddy journalism." After updating her article with Moore's ticket-related Tweets and backtracking on the word "sources" (BuzzFeed appended a correction this afternoon clarifying that only one source had provided information), Stuart attempted to back up her original reporting with the contents of a hand-written log she obtained from LAX federal agents (again, anonymously), which "indicates that agents detained a Palestinian filmmaker for 23 minutes on his way to the Academy Awards." Stuart writes, "But while there is nothing in the log to contradict Burnat's account or his gratitude to Moore for leaping to his aid, the document does suggest that Moore overstated, at least, the length of the incident," based on Moore's estimate of "1.5 hrs" in a tweet.

Catch that? Stuart has to backtrack on her unnamed source at LAX, who gave her factually incorrect information, but it's still Michael Moore who is wrong because he tweeted the detaining lasted "1.5 hours" rather than the 23 minutes claimed in the log provided by the LAX source (who has already been discredited).

Why? Because it's so much easier to dog on liberal filmmaker Michael Moore, characterizing his tweets and assistance to Burnat as "publicity stunts" and "exaggerated" than to admit that you failed on basic journalistic skills. I'll give Michael Moore the last word:

Beyond that, consider how many times over the past ten years that journalists have handed out anonymity to government officials who have then used that anonymity to lie with impunity. (We're exactly ten years from the start of the Iraq war.) I don't think Tessa Stuart and Buzzfeed want to become the Judy Miller/New York Times of 2013. So I wish they had been able to take a step back and be skeptical of the "official story."

What's hilarious is that the Feds and Buzzfeed seem to find it unthinkable that a Palestinian and his hijab-wearing wife would be held and harassed by Homeland Security! It's so unlikely that Michael Moore and his Arab buddy would have to make the whole thing up! Haha! Good luck, Mike, trying to convince the America public that our Border Patrol would detain a brown man!

Again, I know it takes Buzzfeed time to write all the articles about 17 Celebrity Puppies You Didn't Know Are Bisexual. (I'm not judging, I just clicked on that myself.) But it would be great if they could find some time in the day for journalism too.

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