A film insulting the prophet Muhammad sparked instant riots in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, but the alleged facts underpinning the story seem to be collapsing just as quickly.
Enraged by available clips from the film, which describe Islam as “a cancer” and Muhammad as a homosexual who approved sexual child abuse, demonstrators in Benghazi killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three fellow diplomats, while protestors in Cairo attacked the U.S. embassy there.
In initial news reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, which quickly went viral, the director-writer of “Innocence of Muslims” was identified as Sam Bacile, a 56-year old Israeli-American property developer in Los Angeles.
Bacile, supposedly phoning from an undisclosed hiding place, told AP that the film was made as a provocative religious statement, which he, an “Israeli Jew,” made at a cost of $5 million, raised from 100 Jewish donors.
Hardly any statement could have done more to further inflame hatred of Jews, Israel and America in the Muslim world, but at this point the story started to unravel.
First, a high-ranking Israeli official in Los Angeles said that extensive inquiries among Hollywood insiders and members of the local Israeli community failed to turn up a single person who knew a Sam Bacile.
Then the Israeli government in Jerusalem couldn’t turn up any citizenship records under that name, while California officials reported that no real estate license had ever been issued to a Sam Bacile.
Blogger Edward Blackthorn (www.publici.com) raised some basic questions as to why $5 million was needed for a film described as “unprofessional” by the Hollywood Reporter, and expressing doubt that any producer could find 100 financial backers for such a dubious enterprise.
“How did Sam Bacile manage to convince AP with so little proof, over the phone, and with such a shaky story?” Blackthorn asked, adding, “Not a single outlet has made any attempt at further vetting such a report.”
The most damning analysis came from Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, who managed to contact Steve Klein, described in earlier news reports as Bacile’s “associate” or “consultant.”
For starters, Klein has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “extremist” and self-described militant Christian activist, who led anti-Muslim protests.
Klein then told Goldberg that “Bacile” was a pseudonym, and that the real person, whatever his name, “is not Israeli…I doubt he is Jewish. I suspect this is a disinformation campaign.”
Undoubtedly there will be further revelations, but it seems safe to guess that some leading American media outlets will have to spend considerable time scraping eggs of their corporate countenances.