Thursday, August 25, 2005

Fox News Wrongly Identifies an O.C. Family as Terrorists

This is absolutely unbelievable, but it really happened. Fox News allowed John Loftus, a former U.S. prosecutor, to give detailed identifying information about a home in Orange County, California, that he claimed was owned by terrorists responsible for the July 7 bombings in London. This would have been outrageously unethical and irresponsible behavior even if the people living in that house had actually been terrorists. However, they were not; and the family wrongly labeled terrorists have been living in a nightmare ever since.

For the last 2 1/2 weeks, the lives of the couple and their three children have been plunged into an unsettling routine of drivers shouting profanities, stopping to photograph their house and — most recently — spray-painting a slogan on their property.
"I'm scared to go to work and leave my kids home. I call them every 30 minutes to make sure they're OK," Randy Vorick said.

"I keep telling myself this can't be happening to me. This can't be happening to my family. But it is. I want our lives to be normal again," he said.

In what Fox News officials concede was a mistake, John Loftus, a former U.S. prosecutor, gave out the address Aug. 7, saying it was the home of a Middle Eastern man, Iyad K. Hilal, who was the leader of a terrorist group with ties to those responsible for the July 7 bombings in London.

Hilal, whom Loftus identified by name during the broadcast, moved out of the house about three years ago. But the consequences were immediate for the Voricks.

Satellite photos of the house and directions to the residence were posted online. The Voricks told police, who arranged for the content to be taken down. Someone even removed the street sign where the Voricks live to provide some protection.

At this point, you might think that Fox News and Loftus would be sufficiently clued in to their colossal lapse of judgment to try their best to make things right in whatever way they could.

But you'd be wrong.

The Voricks said they had made several unsuccessful attempts to contact Fox News and Loftus by telephone and e-mail. They want a public apology and correction.

Both have issued apologies — Fox in a one-line statement to the Los Angeles Times and Loftus in an e-mail to the family — after being contacted by the newspaper. The Voricks say they have yet to see or hear a correction.

"John Loftus has been reprimanded for his careless error, and we sincerely apologize to the family," said Fox spokeswoman Irena Brigante.

Loftus also apologized and told The Times last week that "mistakes happen."

"I'm terribly sorry about that. I had no idea. That was the best information we had at the time," he said.

Loftus said he gave out the address to help local police, and insisted that Hilal, a Garden Grove grocery store owner, was a terrorist.

"I thought it might help police in that area now that we have positively identified a terrorist living in [Orange County]," he said.

It's like a Saturday Night Live routine become real, and it's not funny anymore. Kevin Drum puts it quite aptly:

But now for the worst part. Not only has Fox not retracted this report, but here is Loftus' brain dead pseudo-excuse for broadcasting the Voricks' address to 20 million viewers in the first place:

"I thought it might help police in that area now that we have positively identified a terrorist living in [Orange County]," he said.

Note to Loftus: the next time you want to let police know about a terrorist living here in the OC, call the police.

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