My Final Word on Buzzfeed and Emad Burnat’s Detention at LAX

Thanks to everyone for bearing with me as I spend so much time on what happened to Emad Burnat. It’s important to me because he’s my friend, and he’s being bullied. In the U.S., being Palestinian = Easy Target. It’s not right.

If you haven’t been following this since the beginning, you can read my first post here about how Emad was detained at LAX with his wife and son while on his way to the Oscars. Then there’s Buzzfeed’s first storymy response, and Buzzfeed’s follow up.

What’s truly important here is Emad and Guy Davidi’s beautiful film, '5 Broken Cameras.' If you haven’t watched it yet (you can stream it on Netflix or Hulu Plus) please do before reading any of this.



I like Buzzfeed, and I understand the pressure that online reporters are under. But I think everyone agrees that, despite all the awesome kitten gifs, they’re still obligated to be skeptical of government officials and ask the right questions.

So I hope Buzzfeed’s readers (and reporters and editors) will take these points seriously:

1. Why on earth would Emad stage a “publicity stunt” last Tuesday? Emad was already nominated for an Oscar. The theatrical release of ‘5 Broken Cameras’ was over. The voting for Best Documentary had closed. Just to sell more DVDs? I wish the world were different, but let’s face it, Palestinian documentaries don’t post amazing DVD sales even with the best publicity stunts on earth.

So the claims of Buzzfeed’s single anonymous government official made no sense from the start. On the other hand, the TSA is notorious for detaining Arabs and Arab Americans. And Indians with Muslim names. And American students carrying English-Arabic flashcards. And filmmakers from the Middle East

2. There are multiple interrogation areas at LAX where people like Emad and his family can be held by the Customs and Border Patrol during the process of being detained. If the government officials are telling the truth – that Emad was held at the “secondary” area for exactly 23 minutes, does that mean they were held for 23 minutes total? No. He was first detained while in line at the Customs desk. Then he was moved to an initial interrogation area. When that was done, he was moved to the “secondary” interrogation room. Did the unnamed government officials give Buzzfeed documentation for the total time Emad and his family were held in these three areas? Nope. Just the final area, where they kept him for those 23 minutes.

3. In the original article, Buzzfeed quoted its source as saying Emad “was not racially profiled.” Did Buzzfeed ask its source whether any of the dozens of non-Palestinian foreigners coming to the Oscars were pulled out of line and held with their families? Did Buzzfeed reach out directly to any of the foreign Oscar nominees? There were a lot of accents on stage Sunday.

4. Buzzfeed’s anonymous sources seem to have changed their story between article #1 and article #2. But Buzzfeed apparently didn’t notice or care.

In article #1, Emad couldn’t produce what the Homeland Security officers wanted to see “on the spot,” so he was sent to the “secondary inspection area.” In version #2, he could produce it on the spot, because it was on his smart phone. So…why was he sent to the secondary inspection area at all?

Maybe there’s some way these two versions of events can fit together. But Buzzfeed should have asked these questions itself, not left it to readers to guess. 
 
5. Finally, in the first article, Buzzfeed quoted the Customs and Border Patrol as saying “Due to privacy laws, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is prohibited from discussing specific cases.” So the source in the original article clearly broke these laws. In the second article, five CBP officials happily broke the law.

Does their willingness to violate their own policies (about privacy) say something about their credibility – especially when they’re claiming they didn’t violate their own policies (about holding foreigners coming to the U.S.)? Shouldn’t Buzzfeed ask whether CBP is going to launch an investigation into this rampant lawbreaking? And if they’re not going to launch an investigation, isn’t that the most important story here? Call me crazy, but I’d like it if the people in charge of keeping terrorists out of the U.S. would, you know, follow the law themselves, rather than spending all their time covering their own ass.

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.
  1. mmflint posted this