AP issues correction for misidentifying director of ‘Innocence of Muslims’ film

The Associated Press tonight issued a lengthy correction to its reporting about the person behind the controversial “Innocence of Muslims” film that has contributed to protests in Cairo, Yemen and Libya, including one that led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The correction offers detail on how the AP came to identify the writer/director as “Sam Bacile,” and how it was subsequently unable to confirm “the existence of a person with that name.”

AP Director of Media Relations Paul Colford explains to Poynter by email, “After the initial story ran out of L.A., AP staffers worked diligently, here and abroad to detail the background of the individuals involved and the circumstances.”

The correction:

In a Sept. 12 story about a film that sparked deadly protests in Libya and Egypt, The Associated Press quoted a man who identified himself in several phone conversations as Sam Bacile, and who said he wrote and directed the film. The AP story quoted him saying he was an Israeli Jew.

In later reporting, the AP was unable to find any public records confirming the existence of a person with that name.

The AP subsequently reported that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula was the key figure behind the film. Federal authorities confirmed that finding. A federal law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Thursday that authorities had connected Nakoula to the man using the pseudonym of Sam Bacile. Federal court papers filed against Nakoula in a 2010 criminal prosecution noted that Nakoula had used numerous aliases, including Nicola Bacily and Robert Bacily. Nakoula told the AP on Wednesday that he is a Coptic Christian.

The person claiming to be Bacile said in his conversation with the AP that the film was financed with the help of more than 100 Jewish donors. According to Film L.A. Inc., which grants filming permits in Los Angeles County, the production company for the film was a Duarte, Calif.-based Christian group, Media for Christ. The president of that organization is a Christian from Egypt.

The Wall Street Journal also quoted Bacile in its reporting. Yesterday it issued this correction:

An article published on Wednesday quoted a person who identified himself as Sam Bacile and who claimed to be the director and producer of the film “Innocence of Muslims.” Subsequent reporting indicates that name is a pseudonym. In addition, claims by the person that he is an Israeli-American and that he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors to fund the film weren’t confirmed and should have been omitted.

Adrian Chen of Gawker reports that the director of the film is in fact “a 65-year-old schlock director named Alan Roberts.” The report says Roberts also directed “softcore porn classics like The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/rghanania Ray Hanania

    Here’s a good question. Since when have reporters been asked to confirm what the interviewees say to them about themselves? The key “fact” is when someone identifies themselves, I have never heard of a reporter challenging that claim and then confirming their identity. I know if my mother says she loves me I should get another source, but when a man describes himself as being something, when do we decide he might be lying? It sounds to me like the concern is driven by politics and it should be a practice implemented in every instance. It’s a very nunanced journalism debate that is required without all the BS politics and prejudice that surrounds this controversy, a debate we won’t get because it opens up a hornets nest of similar errors involving people and events no one cares about. As for the a hate speech in the video, it seems we do prosecute certain instances of hate speech when it is politically correct and offer the “it’s free speech even if it is disgusting” defense for others, or no comment at all. It’s the inconsistency in how we address hate speech that is the real issue for journalism.

  • Anonymous

    How about just not posting the story anywhere until the facts were properly checked?

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Mark, thanks for sharing this. I’ve added it to our other story about the video as well. –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 Anonymous

    Update: Vice has records showing that Alan Roberts’ real name is Robert Brownell.
    If you know anything more about Alan Roberts please send me an email: Adrian@Gawker.com
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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 Anonymous

    JP, —
    The Associated Press’s initial report on the trailer – an amateurish, practically unwatchable production called The Innocence of Muslims – identified a mysterious character, “Sam Bacile”, as its producer. Bacile told the Associated Press that he was a Jewish Israeli real estate developer living in California. He said that he raised $5m for the production of the film from “100 Jewish donors”, an unusual claim echoing Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style fantasies. Unfortunately, the extensive history of Israeli and ultra-Zionist funding and promotion of Islamophobic propaganda in the United States provided Bacile’s remarkable statement with the ring of truth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 Anonymous

    A more sensitive and culturally-aware AP reporter or anyone breaking the story would have written “So and So, who claims to be an Isreali Jew but whose claims he could not persuasively back up in a phone interview, says he etc etc….. with an editor’s note above the story saying that “So and So’s ethnic and religious identity have not been verified, and therefore we must call him a white Christian Protestant for now.” How’s that?

  • ghhshirley

    Thanks for sharing that article. Its a keeper.

  • ghhshirley

    What I accept is that extremist Muslims have no tolerance for anyone who insults their prophet, and this kind of film just fuels the flames and can be used as a tool by terrorists to stir up trouble. See my earlier post, below.

  • http://pop-pr.blogspot.com Jeremy Pepper

    Nice reporting, something that has been badly missing. And finally someone addressing the claims of Israeli and Jewish funding is no better than an Elders of Zion pogrom against Jews in the US and in Israel.

    Why this hasn’t been noted by the press just seems to condone the acts.

  • Anonymous

    PBS MediaShift has an in-depth story about how the AP and WSJ messed up this story, possibly with fatal consequences:


    While it’s great they issued a correction, I’m not sure how they can get corrections on all the AP stories that have been posted all over the web, not to mention all the erroneous tweets and Facebook updates later.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/XOWDOUU3OAANX3JS3X54M56IWE broc7

    What’s so responsible about it?

    On a purely technical level, journalists have gotten this wrong time after time: it’s Sam Bacile, an Israeli real estate developer living in CA, no that person doesn’t exist, wait here are some guesses who it might be, maybe it’s a Tea Partier.

    I made that last one up, but it wouldn’t surprise.

    Worse than any of that though is journalists’ basic acceptance of the argument that that person is responsible for all this violence. You accept that, you accept Islam’s dominance over your life.

  • ghhshirley

    Its called responsible journalism. I am sorry (for you) if the truth hurts.

  • ghhshirley

    I don’t agree with anything Nakoula Basseley Nakoula did in the making of his movie, but as an American who believes in free speech, I will defend his right to make it.

    Unfortunately, just because one has the RIGHT to do something, doesn’t mean it is RIGHT to do it.

    All this anger is the result of a conservative right wing Christian who, besides representing a crazed faction of the Republican base these days, made a “film” to deliberately provoke Muslim extremists. Yes, it was his right to do so under free speech, but that didn’t make it right. Such actions have consequences, sadly. Then later, other so-called

    Christians blogged about it on mid-eastern websites, of the Terry Jones of Westboro Baptist variety. All of them know very well this is akin to inciting a riot and a very irresponsible thing to do.

    Obviously, that does not make the reaction and mayhem in the mid-east acceptable by any means, but it should make people stop and THINK. Hatred begets hatred, and with a war-
    mongering, talk-first, think-later-Romney in the White House, we can be assured of more of the same.

    Calmness and strength must prevail. I trust President Obama to do oversee just that.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/XOWDOUU3OAANX3JS3X54M56IWE broc7

    All of this (vaguely lefty) obsession with the promulgators of the video is unseemly.

    It doesn’t actually matter who they were, what they wanted to say, who they wanted to offend, or if the vid was actually any good. Doesn’t matter if they portray Mohammed with respect or with none, or if they attempt to pile on as much disrespect as they can muster. Doesn’t matter if they like Muslims or if they don’t.

    The speech is protected. It’s a human right.

    Poynter, and the AP, and the American media in general would better spend their time examining people who react with violence and murder to a movie -allegedly- and less on unimportant details on the movie.

    And in this naming of names you’re so taken with, I’m catching a whiff of “hey, Islamists, here’s the people you should kill instead”. Hope I’m wrong about that.