Al Jazeera removed a story published on Thursday that said the videos of ISIS beheading American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were “unconvincing,” according to Al Arabiya.
Al Arabiya is a rival to Al Jazeera in the Arab news network market and is owned by a Saudi billionaire with marriage ties to the royal family (the Saudis and Qataris are not exactly close right now, partly over differences about intervening in Syria), so you can imagine the glee with which Al Arabiya latched on to this story on Friday:
Appearing insensitive to the feelings of the victim’s family, the report – published under the “reports and interviews” section of the pan-Arab channel’s Arabic website on Thursday – said Foley likely fabricated the video, despite confirmations from the U.S. government that the video was real.
“Perhaps the first thing that draws the attention of the viewer” in the first beheading video is that “Foley was playing the role of champion not the victim only, for he recites a lengthy statement in peerless theatrical performance, and it seems from tracking the movement of his eyes that he was reading a text from an autocue,” the Al Jazeera report said.
The report even expressed doubts over the identity of the masked killer, saying: “he does not have the features of common jihadist figures, but he was rather similar to a Hollywood actor.”
All ridiculous stuff. Al Arabiya also happily quoted a Lebanese media critic, Magda Abu Fadil, who compared the story to “bestiality and called it “truly revolting.” All true in my humble opinion, but again you can almost see the Al Arabiya folks twisting the knife in print.
Now the link to the offensive piece takes you to a “sorry, the requested page does not exist” message, and Al Arabiya was only too pleased to extend the story’s lifespan a little by reporting on that as well:
Pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera has removed a story published online last week which had ridiculed the execution of U.S. Journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff as a “Hollywood” fabrication.
The move to scrap the piece followed a report by Al Arabiya News on Friday which outlined the controversial claims made in the Al Jazeera story, deemed by many online commentators as offensive and insensitive.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera’s English site published an explanation for the retraction and an apology, of sorts:
Al Jazeera’s managing director, Yasser Abu Hilalah, said in a statement on Saturday that the article was inaccurate.
“In respect to families of the victims and as we share their grief, Al Jazeera Arabic’s website decided to retract an inaccurate article that questioned the legitimacy of Foley and Sotloff’s beheading videos after a theory surfaced on a number of American social media sites claiming they were produced as a pretext ahead of a US invasion of Syria.
“We want to take this as an opportunity to reiterate Al Jazeera previous position in condemning the kidnapping of the two journalists and condemning their killing as a heinous crime.
“We would like to also renew our call for the release of all kidnapped journalists, who are only carrying out their professional duty in seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.”
The subtext on that last bit is presumably the continued incarceration of three Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt for the heinous crime of reporting stuff that the Sisi folks didn’t appreciate. Their apology for the Sotloff/Foley article is a little “we’re sorry people were offended”-ish, but they do make it clear that the piece was inaccurate, at least. Still, this was an awful mistake for a network that wants to be considered a global news titan alongside the BBCs and CNNs of the world. I don’t know who at Al Jazeera Arabic wrote or greenlit this kind of garbage, but in a just universe they’re both looking for work today. You can’t be the BBC and InfoWars at the same time, and if you’re going to publish in multiple languages that’s great, but you can’t publish something in one language that you presumably wouldn’t be willing to publish in another.