Fake News from the NY Times? No Skepticism for YouTube Hoaxer's Dubious Plane Tale

December 23rd, 2016 8:11 AM

On Thursday morning, the paper ran a credulous story by reporter Jonah Engel Bromwich on the alleged unjustified removal of two YouTube stunt video "stars," including provocateur Adam Saleh, from a Delta Airlines plane in London, for speaking Arabic on a cellphone while waiting to take off. “YouTube Stars Say They Were Removed From a Flight for Speaking Arabic.

The Times swallowed whole the dubious story from the notorious YouTuber, whose reputation has been built on video hoaxes purporting to uncover anti-Muslim bigotry...on planes. None of those facts seemed to trigger any skepticism among the journalists at the Times, who have been primed by Donald Trump’s victory to see Islamophobia around every corner and leaped eagerly on this fishy tale of bigots on a plane. Bromwich managed to find not a single skeptical passenger on the flight, while his colleagues at other papers found plenty.

Two Muslim American YouTube stars who were returning home to New York after a world tour said they were removed from a Delta Air Lines flight in London on Wednesday after other passengers expressed discomfort with their presence on the plane.

Adam Saleh, 23, a filmmaker from Manhattan, and his friend Slim Albaher, 22, from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, said they had been asked by the captain to leave their flight at Heathrow Airport after Mr. Saleh spoke in Arabic to his mother by phone, and he and Mr. Albaher followed up by speaking to each other in Arabic, causing alarm among British passengers on the flight.

The news was met on social media with anger at the airline industry, but also skepticism, though passengers who were on the plane when it landed in New York corroborated the men’s story. Mr. Saleh, who has more than two million subscribers on YouTube, has a history of perpetuating video hoaxes and pranks, some of them aimed at exposing stereotypes about Muslims. In his latest YouTube video, posted this month, he pretended to smuggle himself onto a plane in a suitcase.


Delta said in a statement on Wednesday evening that, based on information collected so far, the two customers removed from the flight “sought to disrupt the cabin with provocative behavior, including shouting.”


Mr. Saleh said he had just spoken to his mother on the phone, in Arabic, to tell her when his flight would land. After the call, he and Mr. Albaher continued to speak briefly in Arabic until they were interrupted by a woman in front of them, who asked them to speak English because they were making her uncomfortable.

They did not respond aggressively, Mr. Saleh said, but told her that they were speaking Arabic and asked whether she had ever heard another language. Then, Mr. Saleh said, a man with a British accent who appeared to be traveling with the woman swore at them and said they should be “chucked” off the plane.


Chris Ashford, 47, who was aboard the plane after a layover in London, said he believed that the woman had “overreacted.”


The Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, 51, was also on the plane. Although she said she could not judge the airline’s actions because she had only witnessed some of the disruption, Ms. Thompson did say that both parties should have been removed.


“You guys are racist,” Mr. Saleh shouts in the video as he describes the confrontation. “Six white people against us bearded men.”

With Mr. Saleh’s large following, the story quickly took off, and many people were immediately critical of Delta.

The Times tried to tie the stunt to a larger bigoted trend with its friends at CAIR.

Reports of Muslims’ being asked to leave planes have risen in recent months, according to advocacy groups. Zainab Chaudry, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the United States’ largest Muslim civil rights group, said in a phone interview on Wednesday, “More and more reports have been made of Muslims or Arabs, or people who were perceived to be Muslim or Arabs, who were removed from planes by airline personnel.”

It was interesting how reporter Bromwich managed to find not a single skeptical passenger on the flight, while his colleagues at other papers found plenty. Saleh’s friend Albaher actually thanked the paper on Twitter for “interviewing the people who WEREN'T RACIST against us!”

Even the liberal New York Daily News wasn’t buying it in a report filed later on Thursday:

Youtubers Adam Saleh and Slim Alabher in a set of new videos insisted their getting kicked off a Delta plane wasn’t a prank, but their fellow passengers are coming forward with a different story.... Others who were on the flight took to social media to dispute Saleh’s account. “The YouTube guy was trying to get his friend to shout something in Arabic which he did a total of 4 times,” one person wrote alongside a picture of their plane ticket. “A couple of passengers after the second time said they were making themselves and their young children uncomfortable and could they shut up.”

Both the NYDN and the Los Angeles Times discussed an updated statement from Delta Airlines referencing the duo’s “provocative behavior” in justifying their removal from the plane.

The left-wing Independent (U.K.) was also highly skeptical: “Adam Saleh: YouTube star 'wasn't speaking Arabic on phone when kicked off Delta flight', passenger claims.” Jon Sharman reported:

A passenger on the Delta Airlines flight from which YouTube star Adam Saleh was ejected on Wednesday has come forward to claim the prankster was not on the phone to his mother when he was removed.

In fact, the supposed passenger said in a Reddit post, Mr Saleh had goaded a friend into shouting in Arabic across the plane and filmed fellow passengers' reactions, before being told to be quiet. The claim tallies with a statement released by the airline.

Yet as of Friday morning, the NYT has failed to update the Saleh story.

Twitchy has more of Saleh’s jerky behavior, including 9-11 Truther statements made on Twitter.