Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ
As Breitbart.com prepares to export its brand of anti-establishment xenophobia to Germany, the website has come under fire for a false report suggesting that a “mob” of 1,000 Muslims tried to burn down a German church. Breitbart London’s editor-in-chief has now responded to critics with a 2,300-word rant that does not meet the laugh test.
Breitbart, which is planning to expand to Germany ahead of national elections this fall, has frequently attacked Muslim communities in European nations and highlighted friction between those communities and white Europeans. The site aggregates instances of crimes allegedly committed by refugees in Germany and suggests German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her refugee policy are to blame -- a strategy that mirrors the political efforts of her far-right opposition, Alternative for Germany.
Breitbart experienced a setback in this approach when a false story the website published on January 3 drew condemnation from local police and politicians as well as debunks from local, national, and international media outlets.
Yesterday, Breitbart’s Raheem Kassam responded. According to him, the critics “have railed against Breitbart London’s reporting of an 1,000-strong crowd, many of whom were chanting ‘Allahu Akbar’, and firing fireworks at one of the oldest churches in Dortmund on New Year’s Eve.”
But that's not what the outlet originally reported. According to the January 3 story, “a mob of more than 1,000 men chanted ‘Allahu Akhbar’, launched fireworks at police, and set fire to a historic church.”
I can’t believe I need to write this, but there’s a difference between those three discrete facts all occurring -- 1,000 people being present, some of them chanting “Allahu Akbar,” and one of them at some point firing a firework that hit the church -- and 1,000 people who are all chanting “Allahu Akbar” collectively setting fire to said church.
Breitbart reported the latter. That report was false.
Kassam triumphantly claimed that media outlets that disputed Breitbart’s story “confirmed almost every substantive fact about the Breitbart London report on the issue: there were 1,000, mostly male, mostly non-native German people gathered in the Leeds Square; there were repeated chants of ‘Allahu Akbar’; the ‘Free Syrian Army’ flag was flown; and there was a fire at the St. Reinold’s Church caused by the fireworks.”
Again, I can’t believe I actually need to write this, but the relationship that Breitbart claimed existed between those facts is also relevant in terms of whether its story is accurate.
The rest of Kassam’s piece is a painstaking, tiresome effort to prove that each of those individual facts is true, while ignoring that Breitbart’s report distorted and misrepresented their connection. It is also filled with whining:
Whining about a reporter who wouldn’t help Breitbart with the story in the first place:
One witness of the event — Peter Bandermann from the Breitbart-critical Ruhr Nachricthen (RN) website — refused to assist Breitbart London in the reporting of the event, despite reporting it at length himself.
Whining about German journalists acting more like Russian propaganda outlets:
The effect of journalists refusing, on ideological grounds, to ensure stories are reported across the international press is both a sign of a partisan media, but also protects criminals, police ineffectiveness, and failing state policies. This tactic, usually reserved for state-sponsored news outlets like Russia Today or TeleSUR, are becoming more commonplace in the West, especially in Germany.
Whining about the German police:
The police clearly failed in their attempts to stop this happening again, and are now lashing out against news organisations like Breitbart News for drawing attention to the matter.
Whining that critical news outlets called out the Breitbart piece for pointing the finger at Muslims (we are the real racists, apparently):
Despite this, outlets such as Mediaite, TeleSur, Sputnik, HuffPo, Media Matters, Deutsche Welle, the Washington Post and others decided to use words like “Muslim”, “migrant”, “Islam”, “Arab”, and “immigration” in their headlines or reporting on our story. Why? To stoke fears and division — and perhaps even to suggest that this behaviour would be somehow representative of all of the members of the aforementioned communities and backgrounds. That, to us, is the real “fake news” and “racism” and I am grateful that my journalists do not engage in that kind of scare-mongering.
Whining about German politicians:
Like the Rotherham rape scandal, the Hillsborough disaster, and even Cologne last year, police and politicians often collude in order to mask a true version of events that are inconvenient at best, or institutionally damning at worst.
Kassam’s posture makes clear that in Germany, Breitbart intends to use the same us-against-them assault on the media and political establishment that it deployed in the United States. Given the results of the past year, German reporters should be extremely wary of what the website has in store for their country.