The gunfire was still echoing in the streets of Paris
when the Los Angeles Times
tried to minimize the attacks on the satirical journal Charlie Hebdo
by implicitly comparing the slaughtered cartoonists to executed Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher
and excusing the anger of Islamic terrorists. Yet perhaps we should be grateful. In 2013, following yet another Islamic terrorist attack, the Los Angeles Times
took a more direct approach to defending Muslims in the West—simply making up the facts in order to paint Muslims as victims.
Staff reporter Nigel Duara (email him
Western society expressed universal horror this week over the extrajudicial killings [ Emphasis added—MC] of those involved in the publication and dissemination of an irreverent, left-leaning satirical weekly in Paris. The attack was denounced as barbarism, apparently perpetrated by a narrow subset of Islamist fanatics.[Restraints on speech a complex issue, January 8, 2015]
But as Duara explains: “[T]he largely forgotten execution of Streicher serves as a reminder that Western society has also set limits on what is deemed acceptable speech.”
The LA Times
reporter sought to ameliorate the outrageousness of his relativism by acknowledging “few would suggest that there is a moral equivalence between the terrorist mass killing of cartoonists for purported blasphemy and the judicially sanctioned execution
of a Nazi war criminal.” But he then proceeded to spend the rest of the article making exactly these kinds of comparisons.
had previously hinted that the Charlie Hebdo
journalists were accomplices to their own murder for “angering the Islamic faithful with [their] taunting push against the boundaries of free speech.” [French police pursue gunmen who killed 12 at Paris journal,
by Christina Boyle, Kim Willsher, and Carol Williams, January 7, 2015]. This passing connection between the “Islamic faithful” and the vengeful bloodletting in one of the capitals of the Enlightenment
was one of the precious few linkages the LAT
made between the religion
and the terror it unleashed.
That a scant 24-hours had passed before the newspaper of record for Southern California rushed an Op-Ed minimizing the killings into print is sadly no longer surprising. That the newspaper didn’t fabricate some of its reporting might be.
On April 18, 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
published an indictment of the American people by veteran staff writer Robin Abcarian (email her
) which alleged Muslims were under siege in the United States. [For Muslims, bad memories and new worries,
by Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times,
April 18, 2013] Abcarian opened her story in an unnamed town in northeast Ohio, where a woman she called “Karen” lived with her Palestinian
-born husband and their five kids.
Apparently, northeast Ohio is a forbidding landscape
filled with Amish and Mennonites and Muslims are insulted for their customs. Karen’s 10-year-old son “Yusef” was placed in detention and sent home with a “punitive strike on his record” for allegedly telling his fellow fifth-graders that he was going to blow up the elementary school
. According to Abcarian, this was prompted by another student who told his classmates that “Yusef” was going to blow up the school—apparently because he is Muslim—and “Yusef” repeated the claim in shocked disbelief. The teacher heard this and asked students what happened. Framed by his fellow fifth-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.
Abcarian reported that “Yusef’’s mother Karen, who was a teacher at an unnamed Islamic school, had decided to keep “Yusef” at home, apparently for his own safety, until she could “straighten things out” with the school. (Abcarian dutifully reported that “Karen” herself 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).
Of course, for all the details provided in this latest installment of the LA Times’s
long running serial on “Evil White Christian America,” the actual claims the story made were not substantiated. Abcarian evidently thought it was unnecessary to prove that the incident even took place.
Missing from Abcarian’s report is the name of the family victimized by America’s seemingly innate Islamophobia, the name of the school and school district where this transgression allegedly occurred, the name of the teacher who allegedly took action against “Yusef,” and the name of the principal who sanctioned the discriminatory discipline.
Also absent from Abcarian’s reporting was any effort to establish whether there was an alternate version of the story from teachers or other students.
Buried deep in Abcarian’s excitable report about the xenophobic assault on a Muslim elementary school student is the admission that she first “heard” the story from one Anum Hussain. At the time, Hussain was the Boston regional director of the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament. Abcarian noted that Hussain herself was a victim of nativist
harassment in the wake of the 9/11 attacks
, being told to “go back to your country” even though Hussain is American by birth.
However, what Abcarian didn’t mention is that Hussain had also been a reporter for The Boston Globe
. The Boston Globe
is the same publication that was forced to fire columnist Mike Barnicle after editors determined he had fabricated people and events in his columns about race relations.
Hussain allegedly heard the story of “Yusef” being accused of being a fifth grade jihadist from Hussain’s sister “Amanda,” a psychology student. So, “Yusef” (or his mother) 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 vowed to keep his identity a secret since his mother ‘Karen’ “does not want to bring greater embarrassment to her son.”
It seems odd that a mother who is herself a teacher would talk to a reporter for a major daily newspaper about Islamophobic discrimination against her 10-year-old if she wants to remain anonymous and avoid “greater embarrassment.” After all, if the story as related was true, there is nothing for “Yusef” or his family to be embarrassed about.If it were true.
On the day Abcarian’s column was published, I sent her an email at the LA Times
and asked why the story she was using to demonstrate American persecution of Muslims was so devoid of any corroborating factual details.
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. I asked them a series of questions regarding their standards of attribution, the thresholds they employed for confidentiality of sourcing, and whether they actually knew themselves the identity of “Yusef” or other specific details the newspaper did not publish, such as the name of the school. I queried editors Ashley Dunn,[Email
] Shelby Grad, [Email
] Mary Meek [Email
]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 had made media news in 2011 when his memo to LA Times
staffers was leaked. Dunn had 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 [December 24, 2014
] for failing to adequately report the allegations of a gang rape at the University of Virginia.)
On May 28, 2013, I reached out to Anum Hussain, Abcarian’s original source in Boston, and asked 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 the story as written is all but impossible to verify, 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.
The BBC indeed has a story on the same alleged incident. [Boston bombings: Muslim Americans await bomber’s ID,
by Lynsea Garrison, BBC,
April 18, 2013] But this story also begins with the same source as Abcarian’s: Anum Hussain. Unlike Abcarian, 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. He 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 its reaction to the “extrajudicial killing” in France
, the newspaper is pursuing Narrative-driven phony journalism that will always portray Muslims as victims and Western Civilization as the aggressor.
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.
That’s quite a fantastic claim about a family that told a reporter from a national newspaper their tales of woe and oppression to use as the basis for a story about American prejudice. But it makes a little more sense when one comes to the conclusion that Abcarian’s column was neither molehill or a mountain—but rather simply a dark mirage all along.Mark Cromer [Email him]is a journalist in Los Angeles, where he was a contributing writer to the Los Angeles Times throughout the 1990s. His columns on immigration have been published in newspapers around the nation.