Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote the Atlantic story, said falsely citing Jewish backing for the film could have “serious ramifications” in the Middle East and elsewhere. “If Jews made it, so be it,” he said. “But hiding behind allegedly Jewish [filmmakers and donors] is doubly pernicious. The movie is an attack on Islam, but claiming that Jews made it is a direct attack on Jews.”
The apparent mis-reporting of Bacile’s identity triggered a series of “updates’’ from media sources, but no direct admissions that earlier reports were incorrect.
In a subsequent dispatch, the Journal described Bacile as “the purported filmmaker” and said he had gone “into hiding.” The paper said it could no longer reach “the man calling himself Mr. Bacile,” nor could it find any record of him in the United States or Israel. It did not explain how a man who apparently doesn’t exist could go “into hiding.” A spokeswoman for the newspaper, Ashley Huston, declined to comment: “We don’t publicly discuss our newsgathering,” she said.
AP also cast doubt on its own reporting later on Wednesday with a story that said “some key facts” about Bacile had “crumbled,” such as his name, religious background and national origin.
An AP spokesman, Paul Colford, declined to say whether the wire service’s earlier story had been wrong. “We continue to report this story and gather new information to explain the origins of the movie and the individuals behind it,” said Colford.
AP added yet another mystery to the mysteries piling up about the movie: That there may not have been a movie at all.
The wire service said it was unclear whether a two-hour movie about Muhammad exists beyond the trailer that was posted on YouTube, apparently in early July, but only recently translated into Arabic. The only evidence, it said, was the comments of an unidentified employee at the Vine Theater in Los Angeles who said a version of the movie ran briefly several months ago at the theater and that a man who said his first name was Sam had brought the film to the theater.
This isn’t the first time the media has reacted too quickly to a series of rapidly unfolding events, said Yahya Kamalipour, a professor of mass and international communication at Purdue University-Calumet and editor of the book “The U.S. Media and the Middle East: Image and Perception.”
“It points to a problem in journalism and reporting,” he said. “Generally speaking, this is another problem with media reports: They do tend to assume to jump to conclusions without sufficient information, basing their reporting on prevailing stereotypical images of Muslims and the Middle East.”
The primary stereotype, he said, is that “Islam is somehow synonymous with terrorism.”
Nia-Malika Henderson and Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.