Journalists are supposed to be governed by rules of ethics, but too many of them will do anything, violate any rule, break any trust, lie to any source, in order to get a career-building story. Most journalists comply with their ethical obligations, but the ones who do not cause understandable distrust among the general public.
Recently, a young man named Alex Novell emailed me saying: "I'm a graduate student at NYU working on a documentary film about the history of the Taglit-Birthright program." He asked me for "an interview with you as it would provide expert commentary for the film." I agreed first, because I like to encourage students who are doing interesting projects; second, I assumed, as he indeed led me to assume, that he was a current student New York University and that his project was part of his studies under the supervision of the school; and third, I care deeply about Birthright and its impact on American students and, having worked with the program, deeply respect it.
Novell began the interview by asking several relevant questions about Birthright. Then suddenly, as the interview was about to come to an end, he threw out the following accusatory question: How much did you pay the woman who accused you to change her story? I told him that I paid her nothing, but he persisted on the subject. I answered all of his questions, and asked him why he used Birthright as a pretext to ask me about the false accusation. We then had an exchange of emails in which he denied that he ever represented that he was a current student, claiming – falsely – that he said that he had "graduated from NYU." He admitted that if he had represented himself as a current student working on a NYU-sponsored project, that "would have been false." But that is exactly what he did write me: "I'm a graduate student at NYU working on a documentary film." Not "I'm a former graduate student with no current connection to NYU." He was deliberately deceptive and did make false statements.
I then told him that, since he obtained the interview by fraud, he no longer had permission to use my recorded answers, and did not sign any release.
To be clear: I stand by all my answers. I told the truth about the false accusation. I did nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. In fact, the woman who I have long said falsely accused me recently admitted that she may have misidentified me, confusing me with someone else. Indeed, I might well have agreed to be interviewed about the false accusation if he had been honest in asking instead of deceptive.
I later learned that he was in fact making a "documentary" in which he tries to justify the use of fraudulent pretexts by journalists to "get" people with whose views they disagree. The only thing worse than using deception to create a story, is to try to justify such reprehensible tactics.
This is not Sacha Baron Cohen, a comic actor who uses pretext for humorous purposes. This is a person who claims to be a journalist, who is employing fraud to interview people he does not like. Apparently he plans to call other people as well, presumably those like me who support Israel. He apparently believes that because I defend Israel, he is justified in defrauding me.
This, then, is a warning to other people who support Israel to be aware that this fraudulent and pretend "journalist" is out there ready to employ sleazy tactics unworthy of real journalists. No one should ever agree to be interviewed by Novell. And NYU should be aware that its good name is being misused and tarnished by Novell's unethical misrepresentations.
Novell has now tried to shift blame to me, saying that I should have checked him out on Google before agreeing to be interviewed. So I did, and I found nothing that would have alerted me to his fraudulent intentions and action. This is why I am writing this op-ed: so that anyone Novell seeks to interview in the future, will be able to learn about his sordid history.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School, and the author most recently of Get Trump: The Threat to Civil Liberties, Due Process, and Our Constitutional Rule of Law. He is the Jack Roth Charitable Foundation Fellow at Gatestone Institute, and is also the host of "The Dershow" podcast.