When reporters have problems with their editors, they generally channel their frustrations to a sympathetic colleague. Or a former colleague. Or perhaps they bang out a passive-aggressive note to the boss.
Something went down on Feb. 17 such that Luke Jerod Kummer, a reporter for the Daily, chose a different approach. He took to Twitter, writing “@daily story on Iranian ninjas has nothing to do with my reporting. I object to it in every way. I wrote straight w/o absurd sensationalism.” That tweet came just after Kummer resigned from the Daily, an iPad publication produced by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
The episode helps answer a perpetual question about Murdoch properties: How far will they stretch to sexify their journalism?
A month after Kummer’s tweet, it’s unclear just what actuated his public dissent. The mystery stems in part from the quirks of the Daily. Its home base is an iPad app, one with no apparent search function. In a post on the Kummer episode, New York Magazine wrote, “The tablet newspaper’s lack of an archive system or standard website works to both parties’ advantage in this case.”
The electronic trail for Iranian ninjas isn’t all digital dead ends, however. Sifting back through the tweets on the Daily’s feed yields this story from the same day as Kummer’s tweet. The byline credits Daily news editor Hasani Gittens and reporter Mara Gay. But Kummer’s name was once there instead, according to a staffer at the Daily.
The story is about the aftermath of a widely reported international incident. On Feb. 14, a group of Iranians in Bangkok accidentally detonated some explosives as part of what authorities believe was a plot to target Israeli officials in Thailand’s capital city. One of the Iranians connected to the group — and this is a critical detail — was a woman. From the Daily’s story:
Meanwhile, a female Iranian assassin who disappeared from Bangkok in the wake of the failed anti-Israeli bomb plot is reportedly back in Tehran today. The new wrinkle comes as blame is cast upon Iran for a recent spate of botched terror attacks — and as Iran brags about its battalion of female “ninjas” who they say are trained to kill.
Leila Rohani, 31, boarded a plane for Tehran after an explosion destroyed the house she rented in Bangkok on Tuesday, according to officials. Investigators have uncovered C-4 explosives concealed inside of two radios there. It was unclear whether Rohani had any affiliation with a growing cadre of female ninjas practicing in Iran that The Daily reported on last week.
But the continuing revelations about a rash of assassination attempts against Israeli diplomats are shedding light on a global shadow war fit for a Hollywood thriller.
Rohani’s Iranian passport, issued just last year, shows she is from Tehran, where many of the 3,500 women training in Ninjutsu are from.
The Daily owned the whole ninja angle, and that’s not a compliment. The only story that came up in a Nexis search for “Iranian”and “ninjas” and “Bangkok” after Feb. 13 was a news summary in the Japan Weekly Monitor; one of the pieces discussed the events in Bangkok and a neighboring one carried the news that a “new ‘Ninja Hattori-kun’ animation series [is] to be made in India.”
An animated fantasy is an appropriate way of characterizing the connection between the Bangkok events and what the Daily would have us believe is a program dedicated to training female Iranian terrorists.
The Daily’s focus on the ninjas appears to have started with a Feb. 5 post that included a video of Iranian women practicing some intense martial arts. The write-up begins with this flourish: “Quick, how many women in Iran are training to be ninjas? If you said 3,500, you win one ninja star.”
The video highlighted in the post was produced by Press TV, which is state-run Iranian television. It’s a classic feature piece, pairing action shots of ninjas tumbling with short interviews with ninja sensei. The martial arts program highlighted in the piece dates to 1989.
Don Cooke, an Iran expert and retired Foreign Service officer, says that Press TV churns out pieces like the one on female martial artists as a form of PR for the Iranian state. The footage puts a “happy face” on the experience of women in Iran and “shows that women have equal rights,” says Cooke. Press TV, Cooke stresses, is not the place where Iranian leaders would showcase their most prominent terrorist recruits. “If there was a ninja class for terrorists, there’s no way they would be advertising it on Press TV,” says Cooke.
Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on the country at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, gave little credence to the link to the explosions in Bangkok: “I see the Iranian female martial artists and the terrorists plot in Bangkok as being totally unrelated.”
Just how the Daily managed to connect women rolling on mats with a bizarre plot in Bangkok may remain a mystery for some time. The PR shop that handles inquiries about the Daily issued this comment on the matter: “No comment.” Kummer, too, turned down interview requests, for what appear to be strong reasons. After his that’s-not-my-story tweet, Kummer received something of an e-mail brush-back from the Daily’s management. It said, in part:
As you should recall, when you joined The Daily, you signed a Non-Disclosure/Non-Compete Agreement. In section 5 of that Agreement (see attached) you agreed that during your employment and for two years after, you “will not criticize, ridicule, or make any statement which disparages or is derogatory of the Company or its affiliates, or any of their representative employees or business products or services.”
It goes without saying that you are currently in breach of your contractual obligations to the Company.
Were I Kummer’s lawyer, I’d argue this point: Running a story connecting female ninjas to a Bangkok terrorism attempt ridicules and makes a statement that disparages or is derogatory of the Company and its affiliates and all of their representative employees or business products or services.