BuzzFeed And The NYDN – Click-Bait Headlines, False Stories, And Virtually Nonexistent Retractions

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On Thursday, December 1st,  Yasmin Seweid was allegedly assaulted by Trump supporters in NYC.  According to BuzzFeed and the NY Daily News, the attack took place at the uptown 6 train stop at 23rd Street in midtown Manhattan.  The assaliants allegedly called Seweid a terrorist, broke her bag strap, followed her when she tried to get away from them, and tried but were unable to pull her hijab off of her head.

Both Tamerra Griffin and Ben Kochman, the authors for BuzzFeed and the NYDN stories, did not include any additional sources for their story, other than Seweid’s personal account and a statement from police that the “investigation was ongoing” with no further comment.  It seems both read her Facebook post recounting her story (which has since been removed), and after speaking with her, they took it and her account of the incident as fact, without verifying her story anywhere else.  Even though Seweid was their sole source for the story, they didn’t even bother to include the word “allegedly” as I did in italics above.  The NY Daily News said Seweid stated the following:

They kept screaming Trump’s name at her, and then said, “Oh look, a (expletive) terrorist,” she said.“ Get the hell out of the country!” they yelled during the train ride. “You don’t belong here!”

When Seweid ignored them, they pulled on her bag to get her attention and the strap broke.“That’s when I turned around and said ‘can you please leave me alone,’ and they started laughing,” she said. She walked to the other end of the train, and they followed her and tried to pull off her hijab, a head covering worn by Muslim women.“ Take that thing off!” they hollered.

“I put my hand on top of my head to hold it,” Seweid said. “Then I turned around and screamed ‘what the (expletive).’ ” Seweid got off the train at Grand Central Terminal on E. 42nd St. and reported the terrifying incident to police.

Her father, Sayeed Seweid, 55, of New Hyde Park, L.I., said he was also angry that no one else stepped in to defend his daughter.“ Nobody even offered to help an 18-year-old girl,” he said. “That means something. Her phone was dying. You offer help — it doesn’t matter the race, religion, or the country.”

Yes, in overwhelmingly “accepting” and liberal NYC, which voted 87% for Hillary Clinton and 10% for Donald Trump, a Muslim woman was attacked by Trump supporters on a subway platform directly under the Credit Suisse building in a very safe part of Manhattan.  Not only that, no one stepped in to help, and even more surprisingly, no one recorded the incident and splashed it all over social media.  And no police officer was able to readily verify her account to reporters with confirmation from the vast network of surveillance cameras that are omnipresent in NYC.

The only time I would ever expect to hear this story is if it were prefaced with the words, “I’ll take stuff that never happened for $400, Alex.” 

In fact, the story would have been much more believable if it was a Trump supporter who was being harassed and attacked.  Back in August, some guy who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat tried to walk through the public park surrounding City Hall.  Unfortunately for him, he just so happened to be walking through a police protest, but the protesters turned on him, shouting and shoving him out of the park to the chants of “racist out” and “fascist out”, while police stood by without intervening.  Of course, video of the whole incident was captured and posted on social media:

As the NY Post reported, protesters took to the streets in force after Trump won the election, chanting “not my president” and “Trump Is Hitler” all over Manhattan, even using a noose to hang a Trump effigy in Columbus Circle.

If you heard a story about a Trump supporter and an attack on an NYC subway, and just after this election, wouldn’t you expect it to be a Trump supporter getting attacked by a group of anti-Trump assailants, and not a group of Trump supporters doing the attacking?  And no matter what happened, wouldn’t you expect to see a video of the incident?

You certainly should.  As an example, in the days after the election, GotNews founder Charles C. Johnson was on an NYC subway wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, minding his own business, when he was repeatedly harassed by someone who was angry with Trump’s election.  Once again, the whole incident was captured on video and splashed all over the internet, like so many other confrontations, altercations and assaults that take place on public transit that have been made quite popular on websites like World Star Hip Hop and LiveLeak.

And yet, BuzzFeed and the NYDN ran the Seweid story on her word alone, without any video, police or witness commentary to support her claim.  Notably, they presented her story as fact, never once stating that it could be fiction.  Given the attack’s alleged location and assaliants, if you were a journalist, wouldn’t you expect fiction to be the case, and not even bother running the story?

My sentiments exactly.  Though the NYDN was careful to post a follow-up story detailing discrepancies and doubts in her story, it wasn’t until almost two weeks later when she was arrested and formally charged by police for filing a false report that the NYDN acknowledged that their original story was totally bogus.  According to police, Seweid finally told them, “she didn’t want to get in trouble for breaking her curfew after being out late drinking with friends”, even though “she had numerous opportunities to admit nothing happened and she kept sticking by her story.”  And somehow, the original story remains up on the NYDN website, unedited and readily accessible to NYDN readers, and no retraction was ever published.  

As I have pointed out in the past, were any of the “fake news” websites listed by the MSM to do this, they would not only be called out by the MSM, they would instantly lose all of their viewers.  But somehow, people keep going back to the true purveyors of “fake news”, when they time and again demonstrate that they are not willing to hold themselves accountable for their mistakes.  Which is something that is readily apparent in the case of BuzzFeed, who has left their original story and click-bait headline up, and only posted the following addition below the title:

UPDATE: The woman was arrested on Dec. 14 for filing a false police report and obstructing government administration, police said.

TRUNEWS, who did an excellent job of covering a real, videotaped assault of a Trump supporter in Chicago, also did a superb job of summarizing the entire saga of the Seweid story.  I spoke with Edward Szall, the TRUNEWS correspondent who covered both stories, and he explained to me the specifics about how the Seweid story was run without question by the local news and the aforementioned outlets, noting the initial reaction to the story and the ensuing vilification of Trump supporters.  I’ve provided screenshots to the BuzzFeed comments section, which also remains up, so you have an idea of how exactly people reacted.

Note that you can see the doubt in the minds of some of the commenters.  Shocking, but hardly surprising; even BuzzFeed’s own comment section sees holes in the story that author Tamerra Griffin didn’t even bother to acknowledge at all.

And somehow, Seweid’s sister Sara is blaming the police for investigating the incident.  Yes, she really expects police to not be skeptical of a dubious allegation and not investigate her story.  WND reported what she stated in a Facebook post below:

…she said she was concerned about the “mental state of young Muslim women who feel that they have to lie so intensively to survive.”

She also wrote, “The NYPD should have never been involved in the first place even if the incident did happen. It became super clear to me these past two week [sic] that the police’s first instinct is to doubt your story and try to disprove it.”

Sara Seweid also blasted the police: “The NYPD doesn’t care about us or our safety. Never did.”

Then she went on to attack the media: “Things snowballed out of our control because of the media because by the next morning the news had started publishing stories. Reporters made things so much worse for my family.”

As ridiculous as she sounds, Sara Seweid makes a good point – we never would have heard about this story if it wasn’t for irresponsible reporting from outlets like BuzzFeed and the NYDN.  But in her post, she of course omitted the obvious fact that Seweid retold her lie to the media on her own. 

If journalists and publications plan to stay in business and retain readers, they will need to do a better job of providing tangible content that isn’t later proven to be completely fabricated.  If they don’t, they’ll soon find their names in the constantly growing list of defunct newspapers and websites.  BuzzFeed and the NYDN will need to learn that not only do they need to publish truthful stories that are credible and honest, they need to do a better job of owning up to their mistakes and retracting them.  It wouldn’t have taken more than a couple seconds to verify that Seweid’s story was dubious – they shouldn’t have posted it almost as much as Seweid shouldn’t have told it.

Look, we’ve all been teenagers and made teenage mistakes.  I’ve certainly made much bigger mistakes than coming home “after curfew” and dating someone my parents didn’t approve of, and you probably have too.  But, I’ve always faced up to the consequences of my decisions.  With Seweid’s indiscretions now being front page news, its fair to say that she is certainly facing up to the multitude of mistakes she made, and it almost feels unnecessary to write this article as a result.

But, Seweid needs to be held accountable for what she did.  Not only did she foolishly get the police and media involved in her ridiculous attempt to cover her tracks, she made a false accusation.  If someone ended up being accused of a crime against her, it could have been even more damaging personally and professionally as whatever Seweid is facing, from either the authorities or her parents.  What if it was you on that subway platform who was accused of assaulting her, and you got dragged before the police and falsely charged with a crime? 

What should her punishment be?  You’ll have to trust the courts to sort that one out properly.  Should her parents have punished her over this incident and being “upset she was dating a Christian” by shaving her head and eyebrows prior to her arrest, and having her display it by not wearing her hijab?  You’ll have to decide that one for yourself.