Pyromaniac Journalism: When The Aim Of News Is To Make The News

Freedom? Responsibility? Fueling fire? The latest "double issue" from Charlie Hebdo
Freedom? Responsibility? Fueling fire? The latest "double issue" from Charlie Hebdo
Christopher Ayad


Since the beginning of the crisis provoked by the Islamophobic film The Innocence of Muslims, the media have written about it from almost every angle: Coptic extremism, the danger of Salafism, the "arrogance" of the West, the "backwardness" of the Arab world, the shock of civilizations between the Sacred and Freedom of Speech, the difference between Shiites and Sunnis, and so on.

In fact, they have written about everything except how this whole affair was treated by the media itself, given a boost in France by cartoons in the Charlie Hebdo weekly mocking the Muslim prophet. (On Wednesday, the magazine printed "responsible" and "irresponsible" editions - pictured above - to mock their critics)

When Egyptian television shows a video around-the-clock that was concocted by a handful of extremist Copts and fundamentalist Christians in California, when no one has ever heard of it on the banks of the Nile -- can this still be called journalism? The nonstop broadcast, followed by debates and talk shows, ended in the "desired" result: a violent demonstration in front of the American embassy by 2,000 people, not a great many in Cairo, a city of 16 million.

This pyromaniac journalism is the mirror image of the preventive journalism practiced on this side of the Mediterranean, which, during the evening of September 18, consisted of panicky alarms and a great hubbub of special editions and scary headlines announcing that trouble was coming because of cartoons in a satiric weekly that had not yet even appeared on the newsstands.

Predicting future events

In theory at least, consistent journalism consists of reporting facts as correctly as possible. In reality, it has largely gone off on a tangent, making predictions of future events, as expected or even unconsciously desired.

In Paris and Cairo alike, journalists announced the scandal more than they covered it, confusing a demonstration with a planned attack by al-Qaeda against the American consulate in Benghazi; demanding politicians react before trouble even started; forgetting to mention the very weak response to the appeals for protests.

The media, always looking for quantifiable facts, love to cite numbers, but it was as if the numbers suddenly made no sense. For once, the Arab world and the Western world spoke in unison. Unfortunately, there is no reason to be pleased about this.

Without handing out good or bad marks, we can point to a slippery slope, which consists of announcing events ahead of time for fear of missing them when they occur; and, in the end, by provoking these same events, for fear that they will not occur: for like Nature, the media abhor a vacuum.

Does no one remember the quasi-disappointment of commentators when the “Millennium Bug” turned out to be a flop? All that uproar over nothing, all those special reporters wasted, all those expert-predicted apocalypses harmless, all those politicians called upon to act, to announce measures and plans...

When information becomes a show, the show is at best disappointing -- but always bad.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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