JERUSALEM – Last week, WND ran an article in which I carefully and accurately reported Palestinian terror groups and security organizations in the Gaza Strip claimed they received $2 million from what they say they were told was a U.S. source in exchange for the release of Fox News employees Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig, who were kidnapped here last summer.
I talked over the course of one month to the terror cell of the alleged kidnappers; to leaders of the overall terror group suspected of the abductions; to various other terror gangs and security organizations in the Palestinian territories; and to multiple other sources, many of whom were quoted in my article.
I was surprised to discover it was common knowledge in the Palestinian “terror community” that money was allegedly paid for the freedom of Centanni and Wiig. Even rival terror gangs essentially at war with each other said they “knew” of the ransom.
All sources quoted in my report verified that in exchange for the release of Centanni and Wiig cash was distributed to various parties, including the alleged kidnappers, by the Preventative Security Services – a security force associated with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. My report made very clear the sources did not know where the money originated. No source stated or implied the money came from Fox News.
Prior to the release of the article, I asked Fox News repeatedly over the course of two weeks for comment. The network was told exactly what would be in my report. But Fox’s public-relations department refused to issue a statement. Off the record, Fox News sources admitted it was possible the terror gangs were paid off by an entity involved in the negotiations and that the news channel did not know about it.
Unfortunately, many used my article to claim Fox News paid the ransom – a contention I never made or implied. As the researcher of this piece, I can state categorically I don’t believe Fox News paid any money or knew any money was paid. As outlined in my article, the indications are the exchange was brokered by a government or political party since certain quid pro quos were reportedly made, such as assurances against further kidnappings of Americans.
I am horrified people have falsified and misrepresented my article to attack Fox News.
Meanwhile, since my article was released, several more sources have confirmed money was paid to secure the freedom of Centanni and Wiig. Also, a reporter here who works for a major Israeli newspaper with excellent Palestinian sources says he has verified the information in my article and may soon release his own report.
After my factual article was released last week, Fox News President Roger Ailes sent a memo to his staff, stating, “I just saw an article on the internet from WorldNetDaily.com by Aaron Klein which claims we paid $2 million in hostage money during the Centanni & Wiig kidnapping crisis. The article is 100% false.”
The memo was leaked to the Drudge Report and quickly was blasted around the world.
For all those who read my article – and I urge everyone to read it again – it is clear Ailes’ memo is inaccurate. My article never claimed Fox News paid money, just that the alleged kidnappers and others in Gaza say money was paid to them by an unknown source.
I have enormous respect for Ailes and assume he was given mistaken information and did not intend for his memo to be aired in public. Thankfully, the Fox News memo was quickly removed from the Drudge Report. A top Fox source was apologetic for Ailes’ mistaken claims. But the memo still received exposure.
Ironically, it is Ailes’ memo that in part fueled attacks against Fox News. The memo first introduced the false claim that my article accused Fox News of paying ransom. Journalists who clearly did not read my article in full used Ailes denial to wrongly report that WND cited sources stating Fox News paid off the terror groups – again something my article never reported or implied.
Fox’s political enemies in the blogosphere and at Air America had a field day quoting these now falsified reports. (Good thing no one listens to Air America!) The reports took on a life of their own.
Several news articles were released in the U.S. and abroad misrepresenting the WND article to state my piece quoted sources claiming Fox News paid the terror gangs for the freedom of their employees. I personally oversaw the correction of scores of these falsified reports.
In one case that perhaps speaks volumes of the state of journalism today, a reporter from Wiig’s home country of New Zealand who used my article to attack Fox News actually admitted to me he did not read my article but that he got his information from a secondary source. After I demanded this reporter read my article he altered the online version of his piece to reflect what I actually reported – that the terror groups say they received money from an unknown source.
So let me state one more time for all those still misrepresenting the WND article. My piece does not claim Fox News paid ransom for the release of Centanni and Wiig. It reports terror groups and security organizations in Gaza say money was paid by an unknown source which they were told was American. This was confirmed and reconfirmed to me and now to others by multiple sources “in the know.” I don’t believe Fox News made or knew about any payment.
I was not asked by WND nor Fox News Channel to print this clarification. In fact, both news organizations seem to have largely moved on. But as a reporter, I cannot stand idly by while others misrepresent and falsify my words to wrongly smear America’s best cable news network.
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