Update: Following TheBlaze’s reporting on this story Tuesday morning, CNN removed the iReport piece from its site. Matt Dornic, CNN's senior director of public relations, sent the following statement:
CNN iReport is a social network for news. Anyone who adheres to the guidelines of the community can be an iReporter. In fact, there are more than 1 million worldwide.
The iReport in question was posted on an individual user's profile page. It clearly stated that it had not been vetted by CNN and it was not referenced in any CNN journalism. It has since been flagged by the community and removed.
Original story below:
CNN’s iReport platform posted photos alleging to show a Syrian girl who – according to unconfirmed reports – was stoned to death by Islamist rebels after opening a Facebook account.
The two photos which were labeled “Not Vetted by CNN” are in fact screen shots from the 2008 Persian-language feature film The Stoning of Soraya M.
Below are images from CNN’s iReport page compared with a screenshot from another moment in the scene included in the film’s trailer. Notice the girl’s identical brown curly hair, white garment and rope holding down her arms. In the background of both photos, one can see the film’s extras stoning the girl – the man on the right with the white turban and black cloak and towards the middle another man with a rust-colored shirt.
Khaled Abulruz, identified in the post as an iReport editor (author), wrote in his post dated February 15:
Group members of the extremist "Islamic state" "(Da’ash) stoned to death last week, a young Syrian girl identified as "Fatoom Jassim," in her twenties because she has an account on Facebook.
Fatoom from Al Raqqa, a city in the North of Syria .
According to anti- Syrian regime activists Fatoom has been arrested red-handed while she was using her account on Facebook at her family home in Al Raqqa.
The "Da’ash" group members referred Fatoom to the Sharia’a Court in Al Raqqa.
Fatoom has been accused of adultery by the court for using the Facebook and was sentenced to death by stoning in accordance to Islamic Sharia’a.
Fatoom was executed by stoning on the hand of the members of the group soon after her sentence early this week.
A user identified as “Dreamstyr” posted this comment: “SHAME ON YOU CNN!!! VERIFY YOUR SOURCES before you post them. THIS VIDEO IS A SCENE FROM AN IRANIAN MOVIE!!! The movie title is called ‘The Stoning of Soraya M.’, circa 2008. You are doing nothing but falling victim to the Syrian Electronic Army and the Iranian propoganda machine.”
Abulraz responded three days after his original post was published, “For (Dreamstyr): it is an illustrative image,and the real photos for the girl are more terrifying and very impressive.”
In response to a request from TheBlaze for comment, Matt Dornic, senior director of public relations for CNN Worldwide e-mailed this statement: “CNN iReport is a social network for news. Anyone who adheres to the guidelines of the community can be an iReporter. In fact, there are more than 1 million worldwide.”
“The iReport in question was posted on an individual user's profile page. It clearly stated that it had not been vetted by CNN and it was not referenced in any CNN journalism. It has since been flagged by the community and removed,” Dornic added.
Reporters covering the Middle East also noticed and posted their thoughts on Twitter:
TheBlaze saw several stories last week alleging that the Syrian girl had been punished by stoning for using Facebook, but did not post a write-up because we did not feel comfortable with the sourcing.
The story appears to have originally been reported in English by Iran’s Fars News Agency, which doesn’t always have the best track record for reliability. For example, it reported last month on the “alien/extraterrestrial intelligence agenda” driving U.S. policy, which bizarrely linked President Barack Obama, Adolf Hitler and space aliens.
Fars attributed its report on the alleged Syrian stoning incident to the Arabic-language Al-Rai Al-Youm.
To be fair, CNN's iReport platform is a way for the audience to bring stories to the outlet's attention. And stories are admittedly not "fact-checked."
"Everything you see on iReport starts with someone in the CNN audience," the site explains. "The stories here are not edited fact-checked or screened before they post. CNN's producers will check out some of the most compelling, important and urgent iReports and, once they're cleared for CNN, make them a part of CNN's news coverage. (Look for the red "CNN iReport" stamp to see which stories have been vetted for CNN.)"
Stories that are approved and have been vetted receive the "CNN iReport" stamp, while those that are not continue to have the "not vetted for CNN" designation. The stoning story contains the latter.
Still, it is an example of the difficulty in reporting on the Syrian civil war, soon entering its fourth year. Videos posted by Al Qaeda-linked rebels are almost never independently verifiable, and every player has an interest in disseminating his version of events.
It should be noted, though, that CNN’s iReport did post a story on "The Stoning of Soraya M" last year.
This post has been updated with a new statement from CNN's media representative.
Full disclosure: This writer previously worked at CNN.