A Detroit man reportedly lied when he claimed his mother died in Iraq as a direct result of President Trump's executive order temporarily banning immigration from seven Middle Eastern states.
But claims that Mike Hager's story was fabricated surfaced only after the press helped his allegedly bogus tale to go viral.
A Fox affiliate in Detroit is responsible for first reporting that Hager's mother was a supposed victim of Trump's immigration order.
"Detroit family caught in Iraq travel ban, says mom died waiting to come home," read the story's headline.
The original report is chock-full of juicy and notable passages, including the following:
Mike Hager fled Iraq with his family during the Gulf War, returned during the Iraq war and worked alongside United States Marines and Army forces. He now owns a business in Metro Detroit and said his mom would still be alive today if President Donald Trump had not instituted his travel ban on Muslim countries.
The article includes this tearjerker of a quote from Hager, "They destroyed us. I went with my family, I came back by myself. They destroyed our family."
He also told the Fox affiliate, "I was just shocked. I had to put my mom back on the wheelchair and take her back and call the ambulance and she was very, very upset. She knew right there if we send her back to the hospital she's going to pass away — she's not going to make it."
The report even delved into a bit of editorializing of its own, including this line near the story's conclusion, "He's a proud American citizen whose family has now been torn apart."
However, the biggest and most obvious problem with Fox2's supposed scoop is that there is nothing to corroborate Hager's claim. There are no secondary sources or any independent confirmation of any sort in the report. Nothing. The entire story hinges on the say-so of one person: Hager.
Nearly 24 hours later, and the same Fox reporter published a rather startling follow-up to her original story: Hager reportedly lied.
The man's mother allegedly died five days before the Trump White House rolled out the immigration executive order, according to Imam Husham Al-Hussainy, who leads the Karbalaa Islamic Educational Center in Dearborn, Mich.
Al-Hussainy told the Fox affiliate, "Hager's mother had kidney disease and was receiving treatment in Michigan – where she lived – before traveling to Iraq to visit family."
She reportedly died on Jan. 22, 2017, nearly a week before Trump's controversial executive order limiting immigration from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia.
Several of the media members who helped the original story go viral also shared the follow-up report showing Hager likely fabricated the tale. But you can't un-ring that bell. Once a bogus story goes mainstream, it's a hell of a thing trying to get people to focus on the inevitable corrections and clarifications.
That's not the only problem in this situation. The follow-up report alleging Hager lied is also based on the say-so of a single source. The closest that the follow-up Fox report comes to offering corroborating evidence of the imam's claim is the part where it revealed Hager is no longer returning calls.
To sum it up: Journalists first spread a thinly sourced report alleging Trump was directly responsible for a woman's death. They're now backtracking and sharing an equally thinly sourced report alleging that the first story was likely bogus.
What a mess.
Deleting previous tweets, since he lied.Always Stay Skeptical Of Stories That Perfectly Confirm Your Priors (I'm shouting this at myself)— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) February 1, 2017
There's no excuse for publishing the first report without confirming Hager's story. There's no excuse for going to print without some small piece of corroborating evidence. Journalists know better than this, and there's no excuse for those who unhesitatingly shared the story despite its obvious lack of supporting evidence.
The only reason someone would share this story, despite its immediately noticeable and obvious flaws, is because it sounded right. It scratched the confirmation-bias itch.
The Detroit news affiliate has since heavily amended its original report, which was written by Amy Lange