Sunday, January 15, 2006

"Farris Bueller": Journos' Day Off

The news media loves to create heroes and characters, and even the biggies will leave the truth aside if it gets in the way of a good story.

Interesting item this week about Farris Hassan, that high school rich kid from Fort Lauderdale who supposedly sold his stocks and ran off to Iraq to seek the truth through “immersion journalism.”

Farris was portrayed as a plucky teen who'd pulled off a wacky stunt without his parents' knowledge. For days, all the network reporters and producers gathered with their satellite trucks outside the gates of his doctor daddy’s mansion, filling airtime with live shots while waiting for a morsel and fighting for a “get.”

Farris promised news conferences but instead gave his story exclusively to Rita Cosby on MSNBC.

The media horde moved on. Farris fades off into the collective memory with fond chuckles about a real-life wartime version of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Cue Jeff Zucker and the TV movie writers.

Turns out there’s a lot more to the story. The Broward-Palm Beach New Times now reports that Farris’ doctor dad knew all along about plans for the trip, and in fact helped pull the strings to get his beloved son into the war zone.

There are murmurs that Farris may have planned to join al Qaeda. And there’s the small matter of dad being busted as a suspected terrorist twenty years ago.

Bob Norman has the New Times story:

… Dr. Hassan… admitted that he arranged for his son's flight into Baghdad through "political connections" even though he knew foreigners like Farris were targeted for kidnappings and, potentially, beheadings... It gets even more unbelievable when you consider that Dr. Hassan was suspected by the federal government of conspiring to commit terrorism 20 years ago. Didn't hear about that one? Probably because it hasn't been reported, at least not in all its weird glory. You see, the FBI arrested Dr. Hassan back in 1985 after he tried to manufacture thousands of false Iraqi passports and military identification cards. The doctor's capture happened in Fort Lauderdale, but the covert web of Hassan's cohorts stretched across the world. Also arrested were two of Hassan's brothers, Nouri and Ali, and a "pro-Khomeini" activist named Salah Jawad Schubber…

In his Cosby interview, Farris admitted that he’d taken time to visit the Baghdad offices of Hezbollah. Reports say he was “sheepish” about it.

But what’s the real story with this kid? What's the, ahem, truth? No one at the networks really wants to know. There are many levels and layers to the adage about not letting the facts get in the way of a good story. Dig too deep, and you might find that Farris Hassan doesn’t fit so comfortably in the Ferris Bueller mode. And you might even find out that none of us is as safe as we think.

Why does Rita Cosby have a show on MSNBC, anyway? Someone call Dave Marash!

And a tip of the hat to Bob Norman.

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