There's a bit of a controversy going on about a controversy.
You may have read about filmmaker Michael Moore's article on fellow documentarian, Oscar-nominated Emad Burnat (for 5 Broken Cameras) saying he'd been detained at LAX and threatened with deportation. (This is his original story.)
Then BuzzFeed came back saying in this article that it all might have been false, just a PR stunt, since TSA officials told them that they'd simply asked to see proof of his Oscar ticket, and when he did, they let him go. Except Michael Moore released a blast of tweets that this was a lie, since Oscar tickets weren't even released by the Academy until two days later, something confirmed by the Academy.
There's been a bit of back and forth, which you can read about here and BuzzFeed comments that it could have been a case of TSA describing the "ticket" incorrectly, It's worth noting, too, that the original BuzzFeed story says that they tried to contact Michael Moore and Burnat's co-director Guy Davidi, but didn't get an answer. (However, why they didn't try to contact the actual person who said he was detained, Mr. Burnat, I'm not certain, and it seems an odd and significant omission.)
Now, I of course have no way of knowing what happened. It certainly could be a publicity stunt. And it just as certainly could be TSA trying to cover its back for screwing up. I'm inclined to believe the latter, not based on politics or the holes in BuzzFeed's story leaving out important context, but Occam's Razor -- the theory that says when there are many explanations for something, chose the simplest.
In this case, we have two theories, 1) Three filmmakers conspired to make an elaborate hoax as a PR stunt involving a charge against a government agency that's involved with terrorism, and 2) a government agency goofed and is covering its back.
So, I tend to believe the latter. But, in all honesty, I obviously can't swear to it.
However, then I came across something else, completely unrelated to this story, except that it concerns BuzzFeed.
When checking out this detention story, I went to BuzzFeed's website. When there, I saw a frothy entertainment article about actress "reactions" during Seth MacFarlane's "Boob" song on the Oscarcast. I decided to take a look, just to make sure BuzzFeed wasn't suggesting that the reaction shots were actually real -- since they were obviously pre-recorded. (Jennifer Lawrence had a totally different hair style in her reaction than live -- and when I notice hairstyles, you know it has to be obvious.) Happily, the BuzzFeed article did get it right, and they made clear that the actress reactions were pre-recorded inserts. It was very oddly phrased, but at least, phew. Good. Okay.
Except...at the bottom of the article, there was this --
"Update: This post has been updated to reiterate that the actress's reactions were pre-recorded."
Say what? Now, mind you, I don't know what they mean by "reiterated," since the article itself references the pre-recording in just a single paragraph, which doesn't seem to leave a whole lot of room for reiteration. And going back to read that appropriate passage, that aforementioned odd phrasing says this -- "But three of the actresses he sang about were evidently in cahoots with MacFarlane at some level, as they agreed to pre-record footage..." When I read that, my immediate reaction was, "Errr...what? 'At some level'???" I'm sorry, they were in cahoots at every freaking level. They were pre-recorded. The actresses came in early (probably days early), sat in a fake environment (the auditorium obviously wouldn't have been empty, not full of a thousand gowned and tuxedoed extras), got coiffed in hair, makeup and wardrobe, and pretended to act horrified for a camera, in repeated takes. That's about as "in cahoots" at every level as one could imagine.
What this all says to me is that -- at some level -- BuzzFeed likely screwed up in its original story on something really obvious and went back and tried to cover their tracks.
And honestly, that's okay, stupid as this would seem to be to miss. People do screw up. I screw up. But coming on the heels of their questionable also-Oscar-related reporting about the detention, it just raises additional questions about BuzzFeed's crack investigative reporting during Oscar Week. What I get the sense of is that when you're an Internet news organization whose core being is centered around breaking fast stories and spreading articles virally, you're going to leave yourself less time than is best for checking out things as carefully as serious professional journalists might otherwise wish. A lot of the time, you'll get great scoops. But more than ideal, you might screw up.
Whether that happened in their reporting critical of the Michael Moore and the filmmakers, I don't know. (Although journalist Glenn Greenwald is a wee more outspoken in his blistering criticism of BuzzFeed.) But reading through what's available, that would seem to be what occurred. They screwed up and criticized the wrong people. The victims.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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