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Daily Beast Finds Terroristy Name In Phone Book, Solves San Bernardino Case
Do you smell rice?
It's not like none of us in journalism has ever shit the bed on a story before; it's rather a rite of passage. I once made a "dead gay son" joke without realizing Randall Terry's gay son actually was dead. I remain, as I should be, horrified. Another time, I had to retract a threat to report from inside a congressman's butt. What is the opposite of a feather in one's cap? Oh yes, a black eye. I had a real shiner that day!
But what you'll note in the above couple of examples, if you clicked through to them (and you still can!), is that I didn't try to pretend I hadn't massively fucked up. And I certainly didn't link to either of those fellows' home addresses, while wrongly accusing them of terrorism and murder. What do you think I am, 4Chan?
Oh Dear Looks Like Someone Needs A Box Of Night-Time Depends
Around about 9 p.m. ET last night, I started to think The Daily Beast might have affirmatively identified the wrong man as the suspect in Wednesday's San Bernardino mass shooting. Wouldja believe it, there were two Syed Farooks -- two Syed R. Farooks, even! -- in the Inland Empire, and The Daily Beast seemed to have gone knocking on the wrong one's door, weaving a sensuous tale of Muslim sandals and Terror Rice. A screenshot:
One Syed -- the one Occam's Razor would suggest had been the suspect in shooting up a health department party -- worked for (dun dun dun) THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT! The other Syed is a business taxes representative for the State Board of Equalization. Luckily, since they both happened to be public employees, they both showed up in the same public salary database.
From State Board Syed's Linkedin profile (which said he was a business taxes representative, and previously a Wells Fargo teller), The Daily Beast moved on to his Facebook page. For hours, there he was, grinning in a selfie at the top of The Daily Beast's number one story with "hey look at me, ima terrorist" basically scrawled on his selfie mirror in lipstick. Damn, two Syed R. Farooks could happen to anyone. Bad luck, Daily Beast! Dealt a crap hand!
But then a few minutes later, I noticed not only had they IDed the wrong guy, they'd linked to his home address. In the same paragraph where they said he had a wife and at least one young child. Like so:
To be fair to The Daily Beast, it's probably no more dangerous to be IDed as a terrorist than to live in the Inland Empire as a Muslim this week. Oh wait just kidding, yes it is.
In Which Your Hero (Me) Becomes Less Pleasant
Once I noticed the link to State Board Syed's home address (for future reference, we'll call him "Raheel," as that is his middle name), my tweets to The Daily Beast became less bitchy sniping and more all-caps FUCKING SHRIEKING. FOR FOUR HOURS. And after about two of those hours, The Daily Beast began to make changes to its story online. We watched as they edited it over and over again, before our eyes, never including an editor's note that they'd done so, much less any kind of "correction."For hours, they kept insisting they had the right man, because he was linked (they said) by public record to his mother's home in Redlands.From that home, a black SUV had sped off, eventually yielding two fresh corpses.What kind of public record would include a homeowner's son's name (let alone his full middle name) was not disclosed.
After about three hours, The Daily Beast started to include the possibility that it was another Syed R. Farook -- based not on the angry caterwaulings of a vile nasty Twitter snark mob spearheaded by me, but on "as the Los Angeles Times notes." Viz:
The Daily Beast affirmatively denied that it could have been Health Department Syed though (or "Rizwan," as that is his middle name) because he did not have any connection to the Redlands home. (Again, even a magical public records database would not seem to have this kind of info at hand.)
This would turn out to be quite incorrect.
An Interesting Interruption Of Our Narrative Flow
There's an infuriating episode of "Murder Book" on the Repetitive Procedural Investigation Channel, in which a cold case goes unsolved for like 25 years. A teenage girl was raped and murdered walking home from a party. They investigated every party attendee inside and out, and just could not figure out whodunit. Decades later, a hot young cop opened up the cold case and saw an arrest report for a dude who had been caught mid-strangling of another teenager, in the same place, in the same manner. He had gone to prison for that crime. But even though his report was in the file, the dumb old cops hadn't looked at him for the original murder because "he wasn't at the party." Well, hot new cop tested some DNA evidence and hooray, case solved! "He wasn't at the party" became a hilarious joke for me and my husband about people who are FUCKING STUPID and blinded by some red herring that doesn't matter but on which they imprint like little ducklings following their new mama.
In this case, The Daily Beast was imprinting on the Redlands address. Raheel, they said, had a connection to it. Rizwan, they said, did not. Therefore the suspect must have been Raheel even though Rizwan, as a health department employee, was literally the one "at the party."
So Was Anyone Tweeting Things They Would Later Regret?
Meanwhile, we were going INSANE. We watched as The Daily Beast took down Raheel's grinning photo, replaced it with a cop car, put Raheel's photo back up, replaced it with a cop car again. The Terror Rice stayed, even as their explanations for why they were including the scene at Raheel's home became baroque. After we started tweeting to them NPR's story naming Rizwan as the suspect, they started adding all kinds of justifications and he-wasn't-at-the-partys. And in four hours, they never responded.
An hour later, the San Bernardino police chief said oh hey yo, it's Rizwan, and The Daily Beast went into contortions before finally -- after literally four hours -- taking down their tweets with Raheel's picture. Here is what the executive editor, Noah Shachtman, tweeted:
Here is what reporter Katie Zavadski had tweeted earlier in the day:
Here is what professor of journalism Oliver Jones, who had a co-byline, tweeted:
But They Were Super Sorry We Bet And Totally Forgiven
Jones declined to comment. Zavadski never replied to shit. Shachtman responded quickly last night once we tweeted directly at him. He was gracious; I offered to get his comment in the morning, as we'd all had a long day, and when he replied again in the morning, we commiserated. For the record, he would state, "We tried to correct as quickly as we could, and as comprehensively as we could." As the executive editor of The Daily Beast, he was ultimately responsible.
Here, for the record, is what I would have asked him, had he chosen to elucidate this mishigas for the public:
Were you hands-on with this story while it developed? At what point did you step in?
Oliver is declining to comment, and Katie never responded last night. Was that their shoeleather reporting, or was an editor directing them?
Who decided to link to Raheel's home address, and was it discussed at all?
When The Daily Beast finally discovered there were massive errors, why was the story updated continuously without transparency about previous versions?
Are you going to write an apology demanding donations for Wonkette?
Those seem fair, right? Like, Erik Wemple at WaPo would probably ask them just like that.
The Daily Beast finally appended a correction to its story at 1: 41 a.m. The article is a mess, and not just because it spelled both Syed and Farook about 15 different ways, but because for what ended up being no reason at all, it was mostly an at-home scene with what The Daily Beast finally determined was the shooter's brother. (Apparently, both Syed R. Farooks are sons of George Foreman, though you'll forgive me if I don't take The Daily Beast's word on that. Especially because law enforcement has not released any family members' names at this point.)
In conclusion, I am a goddamn hero; Wonkette is perfect; where the hell are The Daily Beast's editors; and go fuck yourselves, that is not how journalism works, you are worse than Fox News just kidding no one is.