Michael Moore and Palestinian director Emad Burnat are hitting back at a recent BuzzFeed story that questioned their accounts of an incident with U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week at Los Angeles International Airport.
Last week, Burnat, the Oscar-nominated director of "5 Broken Cameras," said he was detained by officials and threatened with deportation when he could not produce proof that he had been invited to the Academy Awards. Moore said he intervened on Burnat's behalf and enlisted lawyers from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to help clear up the misunderstanding.
Moore later told TheWrap that Burnat would not have been subjected to that kind of questioning had be been white.
"If he'd been a white guy he wouldn't have to go through that in our 'post-racial' America," Moore said.
But BuzzFeed's Tessa Stuart writes that a source at LAX called Burnat's claims "baloney" and accused the two men of using the incident to drum up publicity.
Burnat and Moore claimed that the incident lasted roughly an hour, but Stuart's source questioned their timeline, telling her that it took no longer than 25 minutes. The source claims that after Burnat could not produce an invitation to the ceremony, he was taken to another inspection area where he found his ticket and was allowed to proceed with his visit.
The article irked Moore, who quickly took to Twitter to question Stuart's reporting and accused her of lying.
"One lousy unnamed source at Homeland Security (apparently unnamed because, um, the Oscars are a national security threat?) fed BF some BS," Moore tweeted.
He went on to say that Stuart's story was factually inaccurate because Burnat could not have produced a ticket as her source claimed. Moore said the Academy had not issued invitations yet.
Moore told TheWrap he thinks "…Buzzfeed probably regrets all this."
He also shared a statement from Burnat on his website that questioned BuzzFeed's claims that the incident was shorter than the director originally asserted.
"I was so shocked that I didn't keep track of time but I can tell you this — the 'secondary' inspection that people seem to be focusing on was definitely just that — secondary," Burnat said. "What the whole experience added up to seemed like forever to me and my family, and I don't understand why I'm being asked whether it was 23 minutes (it definitely was not) or more."
He went on to add that Stuart's piece misses the point of his ordeal by focusing on the length of his detention.
"That is the wrong question. And I think Americans should be proud that there are people like Michael Moore and so many others I met in LA who are willing to ask the right question: why was I held in the first place?," Burnat said.
In an exchange with TheWrap, Moore echoed Burnat's comments and said he hoped to change the way foreign Oscar nominees were greeted next year.
"How many other Oscar nominees last week who came from foreign countries were detained like this?" Moore asked. "When I and other filmmakers go to festivals or awards ceremonies in other countries, we are often met and welcomed — sometimes with presents or bouquets of flowers! — at the airport by a government official, someone from their culture ministry. It's the red carpet treatment all the way."
Stuart referred questions to a BuzzFeed spokeswoman, who said the site stands by its reporting.
Stuart did update her article on Tuesday to clarify that she was citing a single source, not multiple sources as the story originally stated.
She followed up with a separate piece that referenced a handwritten log she had obtained from LAX officials that confirmed that Burnat's secondary inspection lasted for 23 minutes.
"While there is nothing in the log to contradict Burnat's account or his gratitude to Moore for leaping to his aid, the document does suggest that Moore overstated, at least, the length of the incident," Stuart writes.
Stuart went on to write that the ticket in question was not a physical copy, but a digital one that Burnat accessed on his phone.
In a blog post on his personal site, Moore criticized Stuart for not pressing her sources for more information.
"I don't think Tessa Stuart and BuzzFeed want to become the Judy Miller/New York Times of 2013," Moore wrote. "So I wish they had been able to take a step back and be skeptical of the 'official story.' What's hilarious is that the Feds and BuzzFeed seem to find it unthinkable that a Palestinian and his hijab-wearing wife would be held and harassed by Homeland Security! It's so unlikely that Michael Moore and his Arab buddy would have to make the whole thing up!"
In an interview with the Atlantic, Moore backed away from his initial claims that Burnat's LAX ordeal lasted for an hour and a half. Moore said his text and email history indicated that 40 minutes elapsed from the time that Burnat first contacted him to the moment he let him know he was out of customs.
In an update, BuzzFeed writes that Moore admitted to the Atlantic that he "exaggerated" the timeline, but the director disputed that characterization.
He said that the the 40 minutes that passed between his initial contact with Burnat to the moment he was told the questioning was over, does not include the time the director spent in the first interrogation area or at the customs desk where he was first stopped. He said when those factors are taken into account Burnat's claims that he was held for roughly an hour stand up to scrutiny.
"No one exaggerated the length of time Emad was held," Moore said. "He was trying to avoid being put on a plane and sent back. That must've felt like hours. I'm sure he didn't set his timer on it."
"5 Broken Cameras" centers on a Palestinian farmer who lives on the border of an Israeli settlement, and the abuses and oppression his West Bank community suffers. It lost the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature on Sunday to "Searching for Sugar Man."