If the recent spate of hate-crime hoaxes has begun to look like a cottage industry, then “YouTube celebrity” Adam Saleh might be its Bill Gates. He already has a few significant media hoaxes under his belt, but hit the social-media jackpot a couple of days ago after recording his ejection from a Delta Airlines flight from London to the US. Saleh claimed he got kicked out when passengers complained that he was speaking Arabic on a phone call to his mother. Delta Airlines says several of their passengers complained because he deliberately disrupted the cabin before the flight, and interviews with them in New York verified that.
CBS News interviewed three of the passengers, and there is some disagreement on that point:
Who to believe, who to believe, who to believe? On one hand we have a commercial airline that operates in two American hubs (Detroit and Minneapolis) with significant Arab and Muslim populations and in fact employs a significant number of both. On the other hand, we have a “YouTube celebrity” with this track record as presented by CBS News:
Saleh has a history of posting staged videos designed to look like the real thing, including an infamously faked viral video that alleged to have shown anti-Muslim bias from the NYPD.
In 2014, Saleh’s video “RACIAL PROFILING EXPERIMENT!” showed him and friend staging a fight twice in front of an alleged police officer, once in Western street clothes, and once in Muslim clothes. The Smoking Gun revealed the hoax relatively quickly, but two years later, as of Wednesday morning, Saleh still does not indicate that the video was staged in its description.
In February 2016, Saleh posted a video of a self-described “social experiment” in which he counts down from 10 in Arabic aboard a plane.
Just last week, Saleh was called out for faking a video allegedly showing him sneaking onto a flight inside a suitcase.
Last night, I commented on Twitter that I’ve flown Delta for years (and Northwest before that) as a consequence of living in the Twin Cities. I don’t particularly enjoy flying, but have been a satisfied customer of Delta and have flown enough to have some perspective on their service. I have been on several flights with Muslims who spoke other languages and never saw flight attendants or gate personnel react any differently to them. The Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport employs a significant number of Somali Muslims, as does Delta. In the fifteen years since 9/11, I can recall only one incident at MSP where accusations of bigotry arose, and that was ten years ago and involved US Airways, not Delta.
So we’re left with two track records and a question of credibility. It’s certainly a theoretical possibility that an airline that services large Muslim communities in two of its hubs has been hiding a latent bigotry for decades while employing and flying them around the world, but it seems rather remote. It’s also a theoretical possibility that a man whose business model is crying wolf for fun and profit might be telling the truth in this instance. However, it’s probably best to play the odds and assume Delta and Saleh operated within their usual paradigms this week.
Finally, this story exploded all over the media yesterday in mostly credulous reporting of Saleh’s rather incredible claims without media outlets doing much due diligence on Saleh’s track record. CBS News and others did catch up to it later, but the initial reporting created the kind of hostile reaction to Delta that a hoaxter would have had in mind in the first place, if this wasn’t on the level. So much for the mainstream media’s allergy to “fake news.”