Spin Cycle

09.14.12

Anti-Muslim Film's Bogus Jewish Roots

Jeffrey Goldberg on how the media spun a false narrative after the anti-American riots
Video screenshot

Jeffrey Goldberg, one of America’s most influential writers on the Middle East, reduced the initial reporting on the anti-Islam film that has angered many of that faith to a Twitter-length headline:

“A group of Christians, smearing Muslims, libels Jews.”

And he blames the media.

The Atlantic’s national correspondent tells me that initial accounts by the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press helped spread the word that the man behind the film was Sam Bacile, described as an Israeli Jew living in California—and one who had financed the online movie with $5 million from Jewish donors.

“They interviewed a guy who said he was Sam Bacile,” Goldberg says in a video interview. “He said some really inflammatory stuff about Islam, called Islam a cancer, obviously provocative and terrible things.”

The two stories “were a little bit credulous about who this guy they had on the phone was.” In fact, he tracked down a source who said those behind the film were Coptic Christians mainly from Egypt and Pakistan. After our conversation, I saw that the Journal had run a correction.

Does that ameliorate the damage? “It’s too late,” says Goldberg. “In Egypt now everybody thinks this is an Israeli-Jewish-American conspiracy.”

He takes issue with another media narrative, that the film is responsible for the attacks in Libya and Egypt that caused the deaths of four American diplomats. “I don’t believe that you can blame a movie…Movies don’t kill people, people kill people. It’s the choice of rioters to riot,” Goldberg says..

He also weighed in on the public spat between President Obama and Bibi Netanyahu over the U.S. refusing to draw “red lines” against Iran’s attempts to build a nuclear weapon. It “feels like a disastrous marriage,” says Goldberg, who has interviewed both men. “You don’t want to create a situation where a dysfunctional relationship between two leaders leads to precipitous military action.”