If you’re going to make a wild claim about a conservative commentator, it would help to know a few fundamental things about him first.
That advice should go for anyone, but is especially true for media outlets that want to be taken seriously. It’s safe to say that BuzzFeed wants to be taken seriously, but its latest attempt at hard-hitting journalism just showed, once again, why it should stick to vapid click-bait.
On Monday, BuzzFeed News published a tweet and an accompanying article about a 21-year-old Indiana man who pleaded guilty to vandalizing a Jewish synagogue.
That part was factual enough: Nolan Brewer will face time in prison after he painted swastikas and other Nazi imagery onto Congregation Shaarey Tefilla, a place of worship in Carmel, Indiana.
But then things went a bit off the rails. With seemingly no consideration of what they were writing, BuzzFeed pushed a claim that the anti-Semitic vandalism had been partially inspired by a very odd source: Ben Shapiro.
“A man who vandalized a synagogue with Nazi symbols told federal agents his road to radicalization included meeting with the far-right group Identity Evropa and reading Ben Shapiro,” BuzzFeed News tweeted.
Here’s the problem: Conservative author and commentator Shapiro is an Orthodox Jew. He proudly wears a kippah — a traditional head covering — even on national television, and his Jewish faith is a big part of his political views. Suffice it to say, he’s the opposite of an anti-Semite.
Twitter users unloaded on BuzzFeed for their irresponsibility in pushing the claim that Shapiro was some sort of Nazi propaganda source, a ridiculous notion by any standard.
“Yes that sounds right, Jewish [Ben Shapiro] influenced a random person to become a neo-Nazi and vandalize a Synagogue. We totally believe you. Totally,” mocked Imam Mohamad Tawhidi, a moderate and pro-peace Muslim leader.
— Imam Mohamad Tawhidi (@Imamofpeace) May 27, 2019
“[I]f reading [Ben Shapiro] turns you into a Nazi, I think you’re reading Ben Shapiro wrong,” National Review’s Jonah Goldberg added.
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) May 26, 2019
They weren’t alone in mocking BuzzFeed for pushing that angle. On Tuesday, a rabbi from the very same Indiana synagogue that was vandalized defended Shapiro and called out the frequently left-leaning news source for their article.
“Linking Ben Shapiro to an act of anti-Semitism is laughable,” Rabbi Ben Sendrow of Congregation Shaarey Tefilla told talk radio host Tony Katz.
“The only way that you can connect Ben Shapiro to anti-Semitism is if you decide you hate Ben Shapiro, and Ben Shapiro is a Jew, and then you extrapolate ‘therefore I hate Jews.'”
The rabbi didn’t stop there. Clearly calling out BuzzFeed for reckless journalism, the rabbi pointed out that Shapiro had nothing to do with the case and seemed to be purposely dragged into the issue for political reasons.
“We sat through a five hour sentencing hearing here. Ben Shapiro’s name was never mentioned,” Rabbi Sendrow said. “In fact, the attempt was, by the defense attorney … to paint [the anti-Semitic vandal] as a totally decent person who had been radicalized by his wife.”
BuzzFeed did issue a retraction of sorts on Monday, but even their “correction” still tied Shapiro to the anti-Semitic vandal, apparently based on nothing but the word of the neo-Nazi suspect or his lawyer.
We have deleted this tweet because it was inaccurate: the man told prosecutors his road to radicalization included his wife reading Ben Shapiro, Breitbart News, and the Nazi propaganda site Stormfront. pic.twitter.com/MOQdVMHffn
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) May 27, 2019
The possibility that a defendant might want to try to shift blame away from himself or seek attention never seemed to cross the minds of the BuzzFeed editors.
“A reminder that a white supremacist neo-Nazi trying to get a lesser sentence might lie about how he was radicalized, as white supremacist neo-Nazis are prone to do,” Jane Coaston of Vox pointed out.
A reminder that a white supremacist neo-Nazi trying to get a lesser sentence might lie about how he was radicalized, as white supremacist neo-Nazis are prone to do. https://t.co/HHsd9ovIzc
— Jane Coaston (@cjane87) May 26, 2019
When even Vox is calling out BuzzFeed, there’s a good chance they’ve gone too far. It would be nice if the popular site issued a real correction and apologized to Shapiro, but we won’t hold our breath.
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