The major mainstream media mess-ups of the San Bernardino mass shooting

Before authorities identified the San Bernardino shooting suspects as Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a couple who were killed in a hail of bullets during a face-off with 21 police officers, there was another shooter allegedly on the loose. 

His name was Tayyeep Bin Ardogan.

Supposedly a 28-year-old Qatari, Ardogan was reported to be an accomplice in the attack that killed 14 people and wounded 21 more at the Inland Regional Center, a San Bernardino facility that serves people with developmental disabilities. His name was broadcast during an evening televised Fox News report and tweeted by a Los Angeles Times reporter, who cited local police officials.

Thing is, Tayyeep Bin Ardogan, much to the chagrin of Fox News and the Times, doesn’t really exist. It’s not even a real name. As G. Willow Wilson—the voice of Marvel Comics’s first Muslim superhero with her own series—later remarked on Twitter: “If you have any knowledge whatsoever of MENA [Middle East and North Africa] languages, that name sounds like Giovanni Muhammed MacBernstein-O’Toole. It’s total gibberish.”

It didn’t take police officials emphatically denying that they’d ever said the name—although they did deny it—for people to start getting suspicious. “Tayyeep Bin Ardogan,” after all, sounds suspiciously like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the president of Turkey.

The ludicrous error naturally gave rise to jokes at the expense of U.S. media outlets, which were seemingly duped by any vaguely Arabic-sounding name. The authorities were now on the lookout for “Mustafa bin Hummus” aka “Abu Felafel,” Twitter users joked.

Though his identity had been confirmed by several major news outlets, word spread online that “Tayyeep from Qatar” was a complete fabrication. One by one, the reporters who claimed that law enforcement had provided them with a name merely hours before quickly retracted it. And then they blamed a hoax.

Whereas the media debacle surrounding “Tayyeep” offered users a respite from the heart-rending tragedy of the day, other more dire mistakes made by the reporters during the initial hours of the shooting would later surface. 

Bloomberg Business and and other outlets jumped to the conclusion that the San Bernardino onslaught was related to a nearby Planned Parenthood clinic, given that a gunman killed three people during an attack on the women’s health provider in Colorado less than a week before.

For hours, the photograph of the true suspect’s brother—who was never implicated by police in any wrongdoing—was viewed by unnumbered users after a reporter at the Daily Beast fingered him as the terrorist behind the San Bernardino attack.

“We originally incorrectly identified his brother—Syed Raheel Farook,” the reporter tweeted after midnight, more than three hours after the story, along with a photo of Raheel, had gone live. During the intervening period, the authorities had identified Syed Rizwan Farook as the culprit instead.

Raheel’s picture was deleted and the publisher apologized, but not before it was shared by dozens of social media accounts and blogs, including one that belongs to Pamela Geller, a far-right political activist who, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, presides over an “anti-Muslim hate group.”

Two dozen federal agents began a search early Thursday morning at a Redlands home, where they hope to discover what motivated Farook and Malik to commit mass murder. No note was left at the scene of their crime. 

“I have no idea why he would he do something like this,” Farook’s brother-in-law, Farhan Khan, told reporters. “I am in shock myself.”

During a 5am PT interview, San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis told CNN that he would “leave it to the authorities to unravel the case.” Stricter gun control legislation was uncalled for, he stressed.

“It’s not the gun that kills,” the mayor said. “It’s the shooter that kills.” 

Update 12:58pm CT, Dec. 3: San Bernardino police said at a press conference on Thursday that the number injured in Wednesday’s shooting rose from 17 to 21.

Photo via faungg’s photos/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.