The misreporting of facts can have harsh consequences for the people involved. Brooke explores some of the cases that have tarnished the reputations of individuals—and even a whole town.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Bob Garfield is away this week. I’m Brooke Gladstone. And this week our topic is reality, revised. A little more than a week ago a heavy libel was lifted from Liverpool.
MAN FROM LIVERPOOL: When I’m traveling around the country or visiting different parts of the country I don’t have to defend me city no more, because now everyone knows what the truth is. I don’t feel like I need to defend where I come from, yeah, yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The 96 Justice.
[MUSIC/UP AND UNDER]
The family of the 96 gathered outside a local Anglican cathedral. On April 15th 1989, 96 soccer fans were crushed to death when crowding into standing room terraces at Hillsborough Stadium.
[BISHOP JONES SPEAKING/UP AND UNDER]
A government investigation, long pushed by the bereaved families, found that the stunningly incompetent local authorities were responsible and that the police had altered documents -
BISHOP JAMES JONES: That those at the time in authority began the culture with cover-up and lies…
BROOKE GLADSTONE: - and fed the press stories smearing the fans. Most notoriously the Sun tabloid ran the headline, “THE TRUTH: Some fans picked the pockets of victims. Some fans urinated on the brave cops.” Last week the Sun’s current editor sincerely apologized. The editor responsible for that headline in 1989, Kelvin MacKenzie, also apologized. But he’s not much believed because of the defensive crouch he took as suspicions mounted last year.
[NEWS CONFERENCE CLIP]:
KELVIN MACKENZIE: That story came from a Liverpool news agency and a Liverpool journalist.
[REPORTERS ASKING QUESTIONS]
Why don’t you go – why don’t you go and go to speak –
Every single newspaper carried that story, as you well know, Brian. I’m not listening to that.
REPORTER: You, you – you –
KELVIN MACKENZIE: Carry on.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This weekend, the Liverpool and Manchester United soccer teams are releasing 96 red balloons before their match to commemorate the dead, twice victimized, first by the event and then by the demeaning coverage. Often, the authorities are the source of the lies that ruin lives and mock the dead, as in Katrina.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: One of the most volatile scenes in all of New Orleans today was at the Convention Center.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Police say there have been rapes and beatings, and now people are dying.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some are destroyed by smears. The so-called “Olympic bomber” in Atlanta. For nearly three months, he lived with the agony that the world assumed he was guilty, until the FBI cleared his name.
RICHARD JEWELL: After 88 days of hell, it’s hard to believe that it is really over. Anybody who knew me understood that I could never hurt another person.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The mysterious “Mr. Z,” wrongly implicated in the post-9/11 Anthrax attacks.
STEVEN HATFILL: I am not the Anthrax killer. I know nothing about the anthrax attacks. I had absolutely nothing to do with this terrible crime.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And possibly, Jeffrey MacDonald.
JEFFREY MacDONALD: They can’t take away the rest of my life and, and brand me as a murderer. I’m not!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Made famous in a book and mini-series for murdering his wife and daughters on a military base, and whose case is being reconsidered this week. We’ll talk about that. But first, let’s consider the lessons that could be learned by the coverage of last week’s big media story, this:
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The US Ambassador to Libya, our ambassador, has been killed, along with three other Americans after a series of attacks by protestors.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Early in Egypt demonstrators stormed the US Embassy in Cairo. Those attacks were triggered by a movie that denounces Islam.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The anger against the US stemming from this amateur online film produced in America that has offended millions of Muslims…
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The early coverage of those riots, ostensibly incited by a film called “Innocence of Muslims,” offered bits and pieces about its producer.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: An American-Israeli filmmaker living in California.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: According to reports published in the Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, the filmmaker is a real estate developer from California named Sam Bacile.
WOMAN: Who said he intended the film to be provocative and said Islam is a cancer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We also heard that Sam Bacile’s $5-million feature film, 14 minutes of which were uploaded onto YouTube and translated into Arabic, was funded by, quote, “More than a hundred Jewish donors.” But as the week went on and protests spread across the Muslim world, questions emerged about the filmmaker.
[SOUND OF PROTESTS]
MAN: The reaction to the film is worldwide news, but its making remains shrouded in mystery. The filmmaker claims to be Sam Bacile.
MAN: Now in hiding for fear of his life, but Sam Bacile is a dead end. No public records at all, apparently a fake name.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The film itself also appeared to have been faked when it became evident that the references to Islam and the Prophet Mohamed were sloppily overdubbed in post-production, and actors involved in the project emerged to say that they had no idea that they’d been working on an anti-Muslim film. The low production values led many to question the alleged $5-million-budget. And so far, no one can be found who has actually seen the entire movie. Eventually, the man who claimed to be Sam Bacile was exposed.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: Police and reporters surrounded the Los Angeles home today of the twice-convicted felon who authorities tell ABC News was the writer, director and financier of the controversial film.
MAN: An ex-con and ultra-conservative Coptic Christian named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was escorted from his home to voluntarily answer questions about his role in the video.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: One thing that is now clear, Sam Bacile, a name that surfaced early in the reporting, is a fake.