In the first chaotic hours after the Quebec City mosque massacre, police detained two men: a French Canadian and one born in Morocco.
Plenty of outlets reported both arrests. But no one did it quite like Fox News.
The Canadian, Alexandre Bissonnette, was mentioned nowhere in Fox’s tweet Monday, which announced: “Suspect in Quebec mosque terrorist attack was of Moroccan origin.”
Mohamed Belkhadir was quickly released and cleared of involvement, but Fox’s tweet stayed up for nearly two days — until the Canadian prime minister’s office wrote the outlet to demand a retraction.
Belkhadir later explained that he’d been trying to help people killed and wounded in the attack when police picked him up.
“He said he had been clearing snow off the steps outside the mosque when he heard gunshots,” the Guardian reported. “When the noise stopped, he called 911 and entered the mosque.” He fled when an armed man arrived — not realizing it was a police officer.
Bisonnette, meanwhile, surrendered and is now charged with carrying out the attack by himself.
Anyone who clicked the link on Fox’s tweet would have read a story in which Belkhadir’s ethnicity led the news.
“One of two gunmen who shouted ‘Allahu akbar!’ as they opened fire at a mosque in Quebec City was of Moroccan origin,” Fox wrote, quoting a witness and local reports, according to a Google cache of the original story.
Along with the erroneous tweet, those details spread online into anti-Islamic circles and helped create a false narrative that the attacker was Muslim.
RanchoFarmahh- 'TERROR' HITS CANADA At least 6 killed, 8 wounded in mosque shooting https://t.co/cPp6b9L3YP
— ηєωѕ! (@RanchoFarmahh) January 30, 2017
“As I predicted last night, the shooters in the Quebec mosque attack are Muslim, as is generally the case in these circumstances,” blogger Pamela Geller wrote, linking to the Fox Story.
It’s hardly the first time an innocent person was caught up in the media scramble that follows major violence. It happened to Rollie Chance — misidentified as the Navy Yard shooter in 2013. And to a man who got death threats after police falsely labeled him a suspect in the massacre of officers in downtown Dallas.
Fox said it put out a new tweet and corrected the report within hours. (Its original story, which is now accurate, contains no indication that it was modified.)
But Fox didn’t seem in any hurry to take down its old tweet about the Moroccan mosque suspect, which kept being shared for another day — until the leadership of Canada took offense.
“These tweets by Fox News dishonor the memory of the six victims and their families by spreading misinformation, playing identity politics, and perpetuating fear and division within our communities,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s communications director wrote to Fox.
“To paint terrorists with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims is not just ignorant — it is irresponsible,” wrote spokesperson Kate Purchase, who shared the letter in a tweet.
“We ask that Fox News either retract or update the tweet to reflect the suspect’s actual identity.”
Sure enough, Fox then took down the offending tweet and released a statement of its own.
Thank you @FoxNews for deleting the tweet. We appreciate it.
— Kate Purchase (@katepurchase) February 1, 2017
“The earlier tweets have now been deleted,” wrote Refet Kaplan, managing director of Fox News’s website. “We regret the error.”
The Canadians seemed appeased.