Mountain, Molehill or Mirage?

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With ‘fake news’ now all the rage, here’s a column I wrote shortly after the Boston bombings of 2013 as the Los Angeles Times—a newspaper I once wrote for—rushed into print a story that under scrutiny seems to be a piece of utter fiction published in pursuit of its own sacred editorial narrative. And that’s a damn shame. 

In its relentless editorial narrative of Western white guilt, the Los Angeles Times scrubs some news stories while inventing others to serve its agenda

By Mark Cromer

The gunfire was still echoing in the streets of Paris when the Los Angeles Times published a story that compared the slaughter of the staff at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by radical Islamic terrorists with the execution of Nazi war criminal Julius Streicher by the Allies following World War II.

Published on January 9th as part of its news package entitled ‘Attack In Paris,’ staff writer Nigel Duara’s story cooly noted: “Western society expressed universal horror this week over the extrajudicial killings [emphsasis added] of those involved in the publication and disemination of an irreverant, left-leaning satirical weekly in Paris. The attack was denounced as barabarism, apparently perpetrated by a narrow subset of Islamist fanataics.”

Duara’s news story then deadpans: “But the largely forgotten execution of Streicher serves as a reminder that Western society has also set limits on what is deemed acceptable speech.” Then, after clearly linking the wanton murders of journalists—which Duara describes as ‘extrajudicial killings’—with the death penalty imposed on Streicher by the Nuremberg tribunal, the LA Times reporter seeks to ameliroate the outrageousness of his relativism by acknowledging that “few would suggest that there is a moral equivelence…” Yet with that limp-wristed disclaimer out of the way, Duara proceeds to unleash another 600-words of an indictment of Western civilization and the alleged hypocrisy of its recoiling horror at Islamic terror even as the body county continued to climb in the City of Light.

Coming on the second day of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Duara’s news story followed an initial group of stories the LA Times published on January 8 in the wake of the assualt on the magazine, the front-page lead story of which suggested the journalists killed were accomplice in their own murder for their “angering the Islamic faithul with [their] taunting push against the boundaries of free speech.” In fact, that connection between the ‘Islamic faithful’ and the vicious, vengeful bloodletting unfolding in one of the capitals of The Enlightenment, was one of the precious few linkages the LA Times has made between the religion and the terror since the attacks began.

That a scant 24-hours had passed before the newspaper of record for Southern California rushed a relativistic rewrite into print is sadly no longer surprising. That the newspaper fabricated some of its reporting might be.

On April 19, 2013, just four days after the Islamic terror attack on the Boston Marathon route killed three people and wounded more than 260 others, the LA Times exploded its own indictment of the American people on its news pages, publishing a column in its print edition by veteran staff writer Robin Abcarian that alleged Muslims were under seige in the United States. As Exhibit A in her case, Abcarian opened her story in an unnamed town in northeast Ohio, where a woman named ‘Karen’ lived with her Palestinian-born husband and their five kids. It is a forbidding landscape of Amish and Menonites, where few Muslims dare to tread lest they face rude Americans that insult them for their customs.

Abcarian’s column (which can be found here: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/18/local/la-me-abcarian-muslims-20130419) then debuts ‘Yusef,’ ostensibly ‘Karen’’s 10-year-old son, who readers are informed had been placed on detention and was sent home from school with a “punitive strike on his record” for allegedly telling his fellow fifth-graders that he was going to blow up the elementary school as news of the Boston bombings buzzed across campus. Abcarian details the dialogue that supposedly took place between the fifth-graders that led to this Muslim student being singled out for punishment.

According to Abcarian’s column, it was actually another student that declared to his classmates that ‘Yusef’ was going to blow up the school—apparently because he is Muslim—and when ‘Yusef’ repeated the claim in shocked disbelief, the teacher heard him say it and asked students what happened. Framed by his fellow firth-graders, ‘Yusef’ was ordered out of the class and segregated from his fellow students in the library, where he was forced to eat lunch alone.

robin-abcarian
Los Angeles Times staff writer Robin Abcarian.

Abcarian reported that ‘Yusef’’s mother Karen, who happened to be a teacher at an unnamed Islamic school, had decided to keep ‘Yusef’ at home, apparently for his own saftey, until she could “straighten things out” with the school. Abcarian dutifully reported that ‘Karen’ was so terrified of America in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, that she “locked herself in” her home for a week straight.

But the interesting element that was pervasive throughout Abcarian’s set-up was not the amount of detail she spent on the story that she chose to set the stage for the latest installment of the LA Times long-running serial that would best be entitled ‘Evil & White: Christian America,’ but rather the glaring lack of basic details Abcarian didn’t seem to have to substantiate not only the claims of the unnamed Muslim family, but actually as to whether the incident as described even took place at all.

Missing from Abcarian’s column was not only the name of the family victimized by America’s seemingly innate Islamaphobia, but the name of the school and school district where this transgression allegedly occurred, the name of the teacher who allegedled took action against ‘Yusef’ or the name of the principal who sanctioned the discriminatory discipline. Also absent from Abcarian’s reporting was any evident effort to establish whether an alternate version of the incident existed, say perhaps from the other students.

Deep in her reportage of this alleged xenophic assualt of a Muslim elementary school student came Abcarian’s admission that she had first “heard” the story from Anum Hussain, who at the time was the Boston regional director of the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament. Abcarian quickly noted that Hussain herself was a victim of nativistic harassment in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, being told to “go back to your country” even though she is American by birth.

However, what Abcarian didn’t mention about Hussain, was that she had also been a reporter for The Boston Globe, ironically the same broadsheet where columnist Mike Barnicle was fired after editors determined that he had fabricated people and events in his columns about race relations.

Hussain apparently had heard the story of ‘Yusef’ being accused of being a fifth grade jihadist from his sister, whose name apparently is ‘Amanda.’ So, ‘Yusef’ told ‘Amanda’ who told Hussain who told Abcarian who told more than a million readers of the LA Times.

Now that’s quite a game of Pass It On.

Abcarian claims in her column that she “briefly spoke” with ‘Yusef’ over the telephone, but had vowed to keep his identity a secret since his mother ‘Karen’ “does not want to bring greater embarassment to her son.”

It seems rather odd that a mother who is herself a teacher would talk to a reporter for a major metro daily newspaper about her 10-year-old son being discriminated against because he is a Muslim suddenly wants to wear the veil of annonymity to avoid “greater embarassment.” If the story as related was true, there was nothing for ‘Yusef’ or his family to be embarassed about.

If it were true.

So on the day Abcarian’s column was published, I sent her an email at the LA Times and asked her how it was that given that she used the story of ‘Yusef’ as a keystone example of Muslims in America that are shivering in fear that it would be so devoid of any corroborating factual details?

Abcarian replied: “Thanks for writing. It seems like you didn’t quite grasp the point of the column. The family did not wish to be identified for fear of further embarrassment, and because, as I wrote, they wanted to deal with the school in a non-confrontational manner. The story is about the fear of backlash that American Muslims are feeling. It’s not about mediating a dispute between two 10-year-olds. It is possible at some point the family will be comfortable letting me identify them.”

On April 22, 2013, I emailed four editors at the LA Times, informing them that I was researching a story on Abcarian’s column and asked them a series of questions regarding their standards of attribution, the thresholds they employed for confidentiality of sourcing, whether they actually knew themselves the identity of the ‘Yusef’ as well as other specific details the newspaper did not publish, such as the name of the school. I queried editors Ashley Dunn, Shelby Grad, Mary Meek and Linda Rogers, all of who would potentially have worked with Abcarian on the column.

Not one replied to multiple queries.

I also called and left multiple voicemail messages for Dunn, who himself had made media news when, in 2011, his memo to LA Times staffers was leaked in which he addressed looming newsroom layoffs with a surreal declaration of: “To those who are understandably feeling a bit down, I say: We don’t get our asses whipped, we whip asses. We don’t get ulcers, we give ulcers.”

Whether he was swigging Pepto-Bismol or nursing a sore gluteus maximus, one thing Dunn and his fellow editors were definitely not doing in April 2013 was taking any questions about the veracity of Abcarian’s story. As the crickets chirped at the LA Times, it was clear they weren’t “kicking ass” so much as trying to cover their own. (That didn’t stop the newspaper from calling out Rolling Stone this past Christmas Day, putting Jann Wenner’s magazine on its ‘naughty’ list for failing to adequately report the allegations of a gang rape at the University of Virginia.)

On May 28, 2013, I enquired with Anum Hussain, Abcarian’s original source in Boston, as to whether she had any additional information that would corroborate the story as told by Abcarian. Hussain replied: “I do not—the family did not want to unveil all information at the time of the story for the sake of their son’s privacy.”

When I noted that as such it would be difficult if not impossible to verify the story, Hussain replied: “The story came from the source in both the BBC article and LA Times article. Fortunately both those media outlets chose privacy of the 10-year-old over a need to triply verify what is obviously not a made up story.”

Yet the BBC’s story (which can be found here http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-22191030) tracks back to the same origination point as Abcarian: Anum Hussain. Unlike Abcarian, however, the BBC’s Lynsea Garrison regurgitated the narrative without ever explicitly stating whether she had even spoken with someone named ‘Yusef’ or his family members. But Garrison did add the detail that school officials had searched a locker belonging to ‘Yusef.’ Like Abcarian’s column, Garrison’s column names neither school, nor teacher, nor town, nor any other comment or perspective from any other individual who would normally be contacted while reporting a news story.

So I called the Ohio Department of Education and spoke with Associate Director of Communication John Charlton, who told me at the time the state agency was aware of Abcarian’s column but could not substantiate any of the allegations it contained. No one from the LA Times had called the department seeking to substantiate any alleged anti-Islamic incidents on Ohio school campuses in the wake of the Boston bombings, nor had the department received any alerts from campuses across the Buckeye State.

“We do a good job of keeping an eye on anything like that and we haven’t seen anything to date from the districts,” Charlton said. “The lack of confirmable detail in her column is pretty amazing.”

I also called the Islamic Society of North East Ohio and left messages seeking comment on Abcarian’s column and whether it was aware of the incident she wrote about, but those calls were not returned.

It’s worth noting that Hussain appears to be the original source of the story for both the LA Times and the BBC, and the story was not picked up or followed by any other news outlet. Even Abcarian never followed up on her column about this fearful Muslim family struggling to survive in the cold American heartland.

But as the LA Times demonstrated with Abcarian’s column in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing and again this week in its immediate recasting of the slaughter in Paris an “extrajudicial killing” that is an outlier of radical Islam best viewed as a prism through which to judge the evils of Western civilization, the newspaper has long since jettisoned reporting actual news in feverish pursuit of validating a narrative truth it believes must be woven into its editorial fabric.

Abcarian wrote in her column: “Let me hasten to add for those worried about molehills becoming mountains, the family is not looking for publicity. No one is making a federal case of this, no one is screaming civil rights violations, no one is threatening lawsuits.”

As fantastical as it is to claim a family that allegedly told a reporter from a national newspaper their tales of woe and oppression that served as the basis of a story which paints America as a land of violent nativism was—gulp—“not looking for publicity,” it makes a little more sense when one comes to the conclusion that Abcarian’s column was neither a molehill or a mountain—but rather simply a dark mirage all along.