We are now into week two of the media's obsession with Donald Trump's claim to have seen thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, a claim that is at once patently false and worthy of endless debate. Enter former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to make the whole thing even more absurd.
This should have been an easy, one-day story, because what Trump said is fairly easy to debunk:
"I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."
There is no ambiguity in Trump's claim, he says he watched thousands of New Jersey Muslims celebrate, which flatly did not happen. Yet when he presents, as evidence, a completely unsourced report of a handful of rooftop celebrations, one single report, the media acts like this is now a conversation. The Washington Post reporter who wrote that story has become a sympathetic figure because Trump mocked his disability (he absolutely did), but Serge Kovaleski did an absolutely terrible job on that report. He published an unattributed, explosive rumor that turned out to be false, and did not correct or retract it. Remember, his report didn't just say there were celebrations, it said cops detained and questioned people for celebrating. That's checkable, and it did not happen.
Even if it did, Trump's still a liar, yet somehow, the possibility that any Muslim ever celebrated 9/11 in America has come to constitute wiggle room for Donald Trump. Enter Mark Halperin, who tweeted this odd but of nonsense Tuesday morning:
"Not proof but contemporaneous citation?" In what alternate Spock's-got-a-beard universe does that mean anything to a journalist? All it really means is that the columnist Halperin cites, Fred Siegal, listened to the same rumors that Kovaleski apparently felt worthy of print, but unworthy of attribution. Delete your journalism account, Mark Halperin.
Here's where Giuliani comes in, because if Halperin's "contemporaneous citation" gets your juices flowing, you'll love Giuliani's rap. In an interview with CNN's New Day Tuesday morning, Giuliani weakly tried to semi-bunk Trump's claim by saying that he knew of "pockets of celebration" in New York City, "some in Queens, some in Brooklyn," constituting up to 40 people. What's telling, though, is the one specific example Giuliani gives, which appears to rely on the word of people who literally bashed Muslims:
"We had one situation in which a candy store owned by a Muslim family was celebrating that day, right near a housing development, and the kids in the housing development came in and beat them up. And I think both facts were corroborated to be true. They were celebrating that the towers had come down, some of the kids in the housing development got upset about it, and they came in and did a pretty good job of beating them up."
Giuliani doesn't say how these "facts" were corroborated, but it's a safe bet that the candy store owners didn't tell cops "Well, we were kinda celebrating, so I guess we had it coming." If those are the kinds of reports Giuliani was relying on, I wouldn't give them any more credence than the thousands of FBI raids my neighbors and coworkers swore they saw in the days following the attacks.
None of this is to say that it's not possible that some Muslims somewhere in America might have celebrated the attacks. We saw footage of the Palestinians on the West Bank whooping it up, and with all the smoke to go along with that fire, it feels true. But that's not what journalism is about, it's about what is true, what you can prove is true. So far, there is zero proof, only rumor, and now, the media is uncritically accepting the word of people who beat up Muslims as proof that those Muslims were celebrating the attacks. This conversation should be over.
Cross-posted from Mediaite