Saturday, February 23, 2019
'Gray Lady Down' On Immigration Is Deja Vu All Over Again (Again!)
A “NATION OF IMMIGRANTS” is a powerful American ideal, and so there’s always been a certain measure of romanticism in reporting on immigrants. But the New York Times’ willingness to recast the narrative as “a nation of victims” is so striking that it seems a calculated act of journalistic aggression. The paper has either ignored, miscovered or muted the less appealing realities of immigration—especially those involving the illegal immigration that has threatened to swamp the southwestern part of the country in recent decades.
First there are the blatant sins of omission: fully newsworthy stories that are salient to various facets of the immigration debate, but don’t get reported at all. They are airbrushed out of the record, Pravda-like.
SINS OF OMISSION:
*In Denver in2007, a Mexican illegal alien dragged a woman to death after beating her. The man had been arrested before, but was released after one night even though he had a crudely forged ID card, which was returned to him. The story got no coverage by the Times.
*In Tennessee in 2007, an illegal alien committed vehicular manslaughter, killing a husband and wife, Sean and Donna Wilson. It was found that the perpetrator had fourteen prior arrests but had done no jail time. Local commentators, such as the syndicated radio talk show host Phil Valentine, voiced the possibility that politicians, judges and prosecutors—all Democrats— were going easy on such offenders to court the Latino vote. Again, no coverage in the Times.
*In New York, as around the country, illegals are overrepresented in hit-and-run accidents—as perpetrators, not victims. But instead of exploring this trend, the Times chooses to emphasize the more multiculturally correct side of the coin: stories where illegal immigrants are victims of vehicular accidents. In 2009, Lawrence Downes wrote an editorial about immigrants leading “quiet but precarious” lives who have been killed while traveling the streets of Long Island suburbs on foot or bicycle, because they could not afford a car.
*In New Haven, Connecticut, in March 2009, an illegal Mexican busboy asked a 25-year-old waitress, with whom he had worked for a year, for a ride home. The man punched the woman in the face, knocking her out of the car. He proceeded to smash her cell phone, beat her and rape her. Then he drove to a more secluded location, where he raped and beat her again, this time trying to kill her by hitting her with tree branches and trying to gouge out her eyes. The victim played dead, and later crawled to a nearby house for help. Despite the heinousness of the crime, the Times chose not to cover it, even though it routinely covers other developments in New Haven, including the controversies over granting identity cards to illegal immigrants, and the immigrant community’s fears over federal raids on illegal immigrants with outstanding arrest warrants.
*The Times did a piece on how happy immigrant parents were with ethnically themed public charter schools, dismissing concerns about assimilation by quoting ethnic studies professors saying that these parents were being “as American as apple pie.” Meanwhile, the paper has ignored the workings of a Muslim charter school outside Minneapolis where public monies are being spent to advance an Islamist agenda. Although the ACLU was looking into the school to determine whether it violated the Constitution’s establishment clause, and anti-jihadi watchdog groups were calling for the school’s deaccreditation, the Times didn’t go near it.
*In 2009, responding to an online discussion among Muslim students at MIT about the Islamic position on death for apostasy, Harvard’s Muslim chaplain Taha Abdul-Basser told the students that “there is great wisdom (hikma) associated with the established and preserved position (capital punishment) and so, even if it makes some uncomfortable in the face of the hegemonic modern human rights discourse, one should not dismiss it out of hand.” Concerned Harvard alumni, both Muslim and non-Muslim, wrote the school to complain, some calling for Abdul-Basser’s removal. This is exactly the sort of story the Times would have jumped at if ethnic sensitivities were not involved. But the Times ignored it.
*In mid 2010, a 21-year-old Indian girl filed suit for “slavery and peonage” against an Indian government official posted to the United Nations who, ironically, was known as a champion of women’s rights. Brought into the United States illegally as a minor in 2007 by the diplomat and her husband, who had lied to immigration authorities, the girl charged that she was forced to work sixteen hours a day, seven days a week; that she slept on the floor of the Indian mission to the U.N. and was often starved; that she received little of the pittance she was promised, and was told that if she attempted to leave, “the police would beat and arrest her” and send her back to India as “cargo.” MSNBC, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Fresno Bee, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post all ran the story. But despite the obvious news angle of a supposed women’s rights crusader being sued for “slavery and peonage,” as well as a foreign diplomat lying to U.S. authorities, the Times did not do the story.
*In early November 2009, a member of the ruthless Salva- doran gang MS-13, who was a legal immigrant from El Salvador, confessed to authorities that he had been hired by a gang leader in his home country to arrange the assassination of a ranking Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent who had led a crackdown on the gang’s New York operations. The plot’s rev- elation led to a “blitz” of arrests, as the New York Daily News put it, involving hundreds of federal agents. The attempt to murder the ICE agent came as Central American criminal violence, particularly the intimidation of law enforcement and criminal justice officials, had begun seeping into the United States, which certainly made the assassination plot newsworthy, as did the cross- border nature of the attempted hit, the forceful federal response to it, and the local New York angle. Yet theTimesdid not report on it, prompting Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies to say, “What’s it gonna take for the Times to report some- thing like this? The beheading of a federal judge?”
SINS OF COMMISSION:
In addition to such conspicuous silences, the paper’s immi- gration reporting is marked by sins of commission too—by underreported and ideologically one-sided stories where significant information and salient facts have been avoided, deflected or euphemized to the point where the information lacuna causes the reader to lose the essence of what the story is really about and what has really taken place.
*In what many considered a Muslim “honor killing” in Buffalo, New York, a prominent Pakistani-born Muslim executive of a television network—which he established to fight stereotypes about Islam—stabbed and beheaded his wife in 2009 after she had served him with divorce papers and obtained a restraining order to keep him away from their house and children, following a long pattern of abuse and violence. Despite the heinous details and the culturally inflammatory nature of the crime, which cut to the issue of Muslim compatibility with American norms, it took a week for the Times to get on the story. When it did, the Web report described the decapitation euphemistically. Times reports also car- ried copious denials that the murder was an “honor killing” from Muslim advocacy groups.
*The Times gave incomplete information on a 2006 story from Maywood, California, where an American flag was stomped on by illegal aliens demanding amnesty, and a Mexican flag was hoisted in its place. In addition to minimizing the number of Mex- ican and Central American flags at the protest, the Times scrubbed some of the rhetoric at this demonstration and others, such as comments by groups like La Raza that Mexicans are involved in the Reconquista of lands stolen by gringos long ago.
*The Times has given short shrift to the way towns and cities with high densities of illegal immigrants have undermined immigration laws. Many have enacted so-called “sanctuary laws ”making it illegal for local officials, including police, to report illegal aliens to federal authorities unless they have committed major crimes. Maywood, where the U.S. flag was stomped, has gone even further. As Heather Mac Donald explained in City Journal, it “abolished its drunk-driving checkpoints, because they were nabbing too many illegal aliens. Next, this 96 percent Latino city, almost half of whose adult population lacks a ninth-grade education, dis- banded its police traffic division entirely, so that illegals wouldn’t need to worry about having their cars towed for being unlicensed. . . . At a March 2006 city council meeting in Maywood, a resident suggested that a councilmember was using English as a sign of disrespect.” The Times ignored these developments.
*The Times did report on a caste-based killing in Chicago, where in 2008 an Indian immigrant set fire to his pregnant daughter’s apartment over a “cultural slight.” The fire killed four people—the daughter, her husband, and their three-year-old child. The Times noted that the father was angry that his daughter married without permission and that the husband was of a lower caste. But it gave no sense of the presence of caste-related violence and resentment in the United States, as represented by the many high- caste wealthy Indian couples who bring over lower-caste girls as servants but wind up sexually exploiting and physically abusing them. Most of these cases have gone unreported. When the Times has reported on caste, it says—against considerable evidence to the contrary—that the tradition is “withering.”
*In January 2008, when a Mexican American U.S. Marine was shot by cops in the largely Mexican immigrant town of Ceres, California, after shooting one policeman and wounding another, the Times reported that he was under stress because of an order to return to Iraq for another tour and was not in one of the gangs that dominate the town. The account was threaded with quotes from friends saying that the Marine was “a good Mexican boy” and that he “died like a real Mexican, standing up.” Soon after- word, Michelle Malkin reported that in fact he did have gang associations, showing pictures of him with gang paraphernalia, and that he was high on coke. Malkin also reported that he was not being redeployed to Iraq and had never served there—confabulated assertions in the Times report.
*In December 2007, a woman was savagely raped in a Queens park by four Mexican illegals. Once arrested, they were found to have long rap sheets and a long record of missed court appearances, which made them deportable. The Times did not report their illegal status, referring to them merely as “homeless men.” Nor did it connect the dots back to New York City’s sanctuary policies, which protected three of the four from deportation for offenses such as assault, attempted robbery, criminal trespass, illegal gun possession and drug offenses. Around this time, how- ever, the Times hailed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s reversal of a proposal that city workers check identities of illegals, declaring that doing so would “deny privacy rights for immigrants” and that “at the end of the day mandatory status disclosure would hurt everyone’s public safety” by “chilling illegals from coming for- ward to report crime and abuse.”
*The Times has given protective coverage to intolerant acts by immigrant Muslims. A case in point was the threats by fellow Muslims against an imam in Brooklyn because of the relatively liberal views he expressed to Andrea Elliott for her three-part series “An Imam in America.” Elliott did not report these threats—which encouraged the imam to relocate to New Jersey—until nearly a year after he started receiving them. While her stories acknowledged many negative things about the imam, the series as a whole was largely positive, sparking controversy.
DIVERSITY, WISHFUL THINKING & PUNITIVE LIBERALISM
The Times’ journalistic lapses, failures and blunders on the immigration issue do not stem from deadline pressure, a lack of news- room resources and personnel, or carelessness. Rather, they stem from a slavish devotion to the ideology of diversity, along with wishful thinking, naiveté, double standards, social distance, elite guilt, intellectual dishonesty, historical shallowness and old-fashioned partisanship.
The paper’s reluctance to face the realities of illegal immigration squarely is reflected in its queasy coverage of alien criminality, as well as the different attitudes, values and customs that some immigrant groups bring as baggage, and the implications these differences carry for the American tradition of assimilation. The relativism that the Times brings to its reporting on these sub- jects, as well as the issue of dual citizenship and divided loyalty, suggests an attempt to undermine the ideal of assimilation as a “dated, even racist concept.”
Two things appear to be driving immigration reporting. The first is a failure of confidence in America and its history—a “punitive liberalism,” as James Piereson has called it, or “penitential narcissism” in Oriana Fallaci’s phrase. The second driver is an intellectual and journalistic framework that romanticizes “the Other” and shrugs off the question of a Latinization or Islamization of American culture as if it were meaningless. Like other liberal institutions, the Times puts the “human rights” of illegal immigrants ahead of the collective right of ordinary American citizens to decide who should be allowed to immigrate and who should not—thereby essentially voiding one of the most fundamental aspects of any country’s sovereignty.
TROUBLE WITH LABELS: LEGAL OR ILLEGAL?
At the Times, pressure has steadily increased to erase the distinction between “legal” and “illegal” immigration. As Randal Archibold wrote in April 2006, there is “the awkward question of who is legal and how much it should matter.” Officially, the paper’s style guide says a distinction should be made, but the newsroom reflects a calculated confusion. Sometimes headlines will use the word “migrant”; the text of reports may use “undocumented worker,” “undocumented migrant,” or “immigrants who are undocumented.” The Times rarely uses the term “illegal alien.” A 2004 story headlined “160 Migrants Seized at Upscale Arizona Home” was obviously about illegal immigrants being smuggled into the country, but the headline refused to say so.
One editorial writer, Lawrence Downes, gave an explanation for the evasive vocabulary when he wrote that “America has a big problem with illegal immigration, but a big part of it stems from the word ‘illegal.’ It pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. Used dispassionately and technically, there is nothing wrong with it. Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.” Many readers thought this was moral preening on Downes’ part—and offensive to boot. Wrote one:
I am repeatedly frustrated by the implication by Lawrence Downes and others that by default those who oppose illegal immigration are promoting (or at the very least laying the ground for) a racist agenda. The word “illegal” is not a dirty word. It is to the point and honest, as it spells out the obvious difference in this case between those who are here lawfully and those who are not. To suggest that it is a “code word for racial and ethnic hatred” is disingenuous at best and only adds fuel to the fire. It has been used over and over in an attempt to stifle honest discussion on this topic as well as on a range of others.
The Times also shows its bias in the numbers it chooses to report. In a mid-2009 panel discussion, Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Research Center estimated that nearly one million illegal immigrants enter America annually, but the Times has used the figure of 400,000 and doesn’t acknowledge the discrepancy, much less explain it.
While minimizing the numbers of illegal immigrants, the Times plays down the social costs they impose as well. According to William Bratton, former police chief of Los Angeles, gang violence is “the emerging monster of crime in America.” At least 90 percent of all the outstanding homicide warrants in Los Angeles are for illegal immigrant criminals, most of them gangbangers. Because of their social marginality, immigrant children are particularly likely to be seduced by the gang culture. But the New York Times has often reported on gangs as if they were created by the United States itself, and as if deporting alleged gang members were a human rights abuse. Pieces such as Ginger Thompson’s September 2004 report called “Tattooed Warriors: Shuttling Between Nations, Latino Gangs Confound the Law” rarely involve interviews with victims of immigrant gang crime, and seldom reveal that expelling gang members helps reduce crime in Los Angeles and other cities.
Illegal Mexican immigrants are heavily involved in the production and distribution of methamphetamine. But in a February 2002 Web report by Timothy Egan, headlined “Meth Building Its Hell’s Kitchen in Rural America,” the role of illegals is not mentioned. A report on California’s “Emerald Triangle,” consisting of Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino counties, mentioned only “Mexican nationals.”
One of the strangest treatments of the illegal immigrant gang/ drug nexus came from Tim Golden in a 2002 piece headlined “Mexican Drug Dealers Turning US Towns into Major Depots,” which focused on small towns in Georgia where thousands of “Mexican immigrants” have flocked to the mills. “The same pipe- line of immigration and trade has been exploited by Mexican drug dealers,” Golden reported, adding that they have emerged as major wholesalers throughout the country. He noted that the number of Mexicans in federal prison on drug charges doubled from 1994 to 2000, but did not say what percentage of them were illegal.
ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION & CRIME: MS 13
There are many other types of crime where the perpetrators’ status goes unreported. In 2003, for example, a Long Island commuter was stabbed in front of his house after walking home from the railroad station. When five illegal immigrants were arraigned five months later, Patrick Healy made no mention of their status in the Times, though he did report that police believed “some of the defendants were gang members.” In fact, they were MS-13. Healy quoted a sister of one of the men giving the oldest cliché in criminal justice, “He must have been with the wrong people at the wrong time,” but failed to note something that the New York Post reported: the defendants were laughing while being booked.
The Times showed its protective instincts toward illegals in its coverage of a 2005 murder case in New City, a Rockland County suburb of New York. Douglas Herrera, a 39-year-old Guatemalan who had overstayed a six-month visa issued in 2001, was left to clean up after a landscaping job. He beat, raped and strangled the woman of the house, then stole her husband’s clothes and her cell phone, using it to call her friends and relatives to taunt them and boast about the rape. The story was certainly news- worthy. The perpetrator was using a fake name with fake documents, at a time when New York’s governor, Eliot Spitzer, had proposed giving driver’s licenses to illegals, and when identity theft was very much on the media’s radar screen. The case also put a spotlight on the sanctuary policies that had prevented the police from detaining the man in previous traffic violations and had allowed him to remain free after being charged in 2002 with misdemeanor assault on his girlfriend and never showing up for court—a deportable offense given his status. The Times, however, shunted the story into the Metro section and omitted the perpetrator’s illegal status, even though it was in the AP “brief” that the paper used on one day. (When I called the Times to ask about this, I could not get a straight answer.) And instead of using the case as a peg for a wider examination of illegal alien crime in suburbs, or answering the question of how someone using a fake name can get released from jail, it produced a smarmy report focused on how other Latino landscapers feared a backlash that would make it harder for them to get work. Critics charged that if the races were reversed and some “nativist” had done this to an immigrant, the Times would have been all over the story. Their criticism gained some traction from the fact that the story of an African immigrant teenage girl who was wrongly detained on suspicion of terrorism and then released was featured on the front page at the same time the gardener’s misdeeds were buried inside.
In 2005, an actress in Greenwich Village was killed by an illegal construction worker after complaining about the noise coming from the apartment below hers. The worker strangled her, then hung her on a shower curtain rod to make it look like a suicide, which investigators saw through quickly. The status of the suspect was reported from day one by the New York tabloids, but the Times took a few days to get around to it.
So-called “sanctuary laws,” which essentially bar local law enforcement officials from inquiring into immigration status, have caused legal and judicial chaos in cities like New York, New Haven, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Yet a database search turns up only one piece by the Times that candidly discussed how these laws obstruct the fight against crime. An April 2005 report by Charlie LeDuff, “Police Say Immigrant Policy Is Hindrance,” gave a good account of frustration among Los Angeles police over not being able to pick up known illegal criminals who had snuck back into the country until they were caught for a felony. But LeDuff also gave a lot of space to those wringing their hands about ethnic profiling. He missed or ignored the substantial pen- alties that police officers face if they do inquire into a criminal suspect’s immigration status. He also did not mention the history of the sanctuary law, known in Los Angeles as Special Order 40, and how in the late 1990s there was an effort to roll it back, but the ethnic lobby put such intense pressure on politicians that it became even more sacrosanct.
Sanctuary policies were a heated issue during the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, but according to the Times columnist Gail Collins, “sanctuary city” was just “a right-wing buzzword aimed at freaking out red state voters.” With remarkable glibness, Collins joked:
By the way, doesn’t the term “sanctuary city” sound sort of nice, actually? Remember all those sci-fi movies where the heroes were stuck in a terrible world where everybody but them was a mutant or a pod person or a hologram and their only hope was to reach a legendary and possibly mythical refuge? Next time you hear a politician ranting about a “sanctuary city,” say: “Wasn’t that where Keanu Reeves was trying to get in ‘The Matrix’?”
The Times has low-balled other issues involved in illegal immigration, such as the diseases that are brought across the border, like tuberculosis. The housing that illegals live in is often overcrowded and dangerous, which is partly the fault of unscrupulous landlords, often immigrants themselves. In early 2009, overcrowding led to the deaths of four New York City firemen, trapped in a burning apartment that had been illegally subdivided. “Partitioned Apartments Are Risky but Common in New York,” read the anodyne February 2002 headline over a blasé report by Manny Fernandez. Even on the issue of illegal sidewalk sales of counterfeit goods, the paper is in denial. One 2006 piece on counterfeiting in the garment district by Nicholas Confessore, a cub reporter, said the vendors were African Americans, though almost any New Yorker could tell you that the majority of vendors selling knock-offs are African illegals.
Births to foreign-born women in the United States are at their highest rate ever, nearly one in four. As the Christian Science Monitor has written, some experts worry that the traditional rapid assimilation of immigrants may be breaking down, with potentially troublesome consequences. Muslim immigration has brought its own set of concerns for assimilation to American norms. Based on a study of immigrants from the Middle East, Steven Camarota, from the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, told the Monitor he estimates that there are some 600,000 children of Muslim immigrants in the United States. “These facts, set in the context of new twists in Islamic terrorism, are raising questions about how well the children of Muslim immigrants are being assimilated,” the Monitor declared, “feeding a growing sense of concern among Americans about immigration, and about Muslim immigrants in particular.”
But the Times tends to see assimilation as something that steals cultural identity and leaves immigrants floating randomly in the melting pot. An editorial about the surging Latino population says, with apparent satisfaction, that changes in communications and business “guarantee that assimilation won’t replace heritage.” A review by Michiko Kakutani of a book about assimilation, among other topics, by the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington was condescendingly headlined “An Identity Crisis for Norman Rockwell America.”
The rejection of assimilation comes down to earth in reporting on the customs and values, attitudes and practices of various immigrant communities. While celebrating cultural difference, the Times does not scrutinize the implications of those differences for immigrants or for Americans generally. David Brooks, one of the paper’s two house conservatives, has written about “cultural geography,” a term used by sociologists to explain “why some groups’ values make them embrace technology and prosper and others don’t,” which, Brooks adds, is “a line of inquiry” that P.C. piety makes it “impolite to pursue.” It is certainly a line of inquiry that has been rigorously ignored by his own paper. If immigrants leave home with problematic cultural baggage, the Times believes it is dropped on the tarmac when they land on U.S. soil or left behind when they scoot across the Mexican border. Ironically, the paper tacitly endorses problematic customs and attitudes that Third World progressives are trying to fight in their countries.
INDIAN IMMIGRANTS & CASTE:
Many Indian immigrants to America see no problem with bringing their discriminatory and un-American caste system along with them. Indians may be a model minority for their above- average incomes and levels of education, but their impaired sense of social equality and their ethnocentric exclusivity are problems that they should not import into their new country. You won’t hear any concerns about it in the Times, however. In a 2004 piece about caste, Joseph Berger wrote that the practice may have “stowed away” to America, but quickly concluded that it survived here mainly as a form of “tribal bonding,” with Indians finding kindred spirits among people who grew up with the same foods and cultural signals. “Just as descendants of the Pilgrims use the Mayflower Society as a social outlet to mingle with people of con- genial backgrounds, a few castes have formed societies like the Brahmin Samaj of North America.”
Yet the article contradicts itself. While Berger contends that caste is “withering,” he found plenty of examples where it has a “stubborn resilience”: bias in business dealings, discrimination in hiring, obstruction of “love marriages,” and disownments. One business owner from the untouchable caste said, “Our friends who came here from India from the upper classes, they’re sup- posed to leave this kind of thing behind, but unfortunately they brought it with them.” Yet this man told Berger that he was active in his Dalit (untouchable) group and would prefer that his son marry a Dalit.
While ethnic intermarriage has been the most dynamic engine of social integration that America has known, arranged or assisted marriages lead Indians to have the lowest rate of intermarriage of any group in the United States, perpetuating ethnocentrism and a separatist outlook. The Times has reported this phenomenon non- judgmentally, even positively. The “Vows” column in the Sunday Times regularly honors various South Asian or Middle Eastern immigrants or ethnics for finding their soul mate within their same group—Muslim, Sikh, Christian Arab.
Even voodoo gets good ink now. “Americans are hungry for spiritual fulfillment and voodoo offers a direct experience of the sacred that appeals to more and more people,” Steven Kinzer wrote in a 2003 piece. Timeswoman Neela Banderjee wrote positively in 2009 about a Christian African congregation, part of the Pentecostal “Spiritual Warfare” movement, that comes together at mid- night to fight the devil, literally punching, kicking and slashing at him. “Some situations you need to address at night, because in the ministry of spiritual warfare, demons, the spirits bewitching people, choose this time to work,” said Nicole Sangamay, who came from Congo in 1998 to study and is a co-pastor of the ministry. “And we pick this time to pray to nullify what they are doing.” It’s hard to imagine Banderjee giving a group of white American Pentecostals the same slack if they held similarly wacky beliefs.
Another dimension of the assimilation issue that the Times has handled badly is a set of indicators that portend the creation of a permanent Latino underclass. Latinos have the highest dropout rate in America, the lowest rate of college-going and the lowest rate of GED attainment. They have high unemployment, high levels of crime and incarceration, and high levels of obesity. Latinos also have a high reliance on social services, which actually increases over the years, contrary to other immigrants’ historical experience. Illegitimacy has soared as well: half of all new babies in the United States are Hispanic, and half of these have unmarried mothers.
In his 1998 book, Strangers Among Us, the former Times reporter Roberto Suro said it was possible that the “great wave” of Latino immigrants would achieve upward mobility and fully integrate into American society. “It seems equally likely,” he continued, “that Latino immigration could become a powerful demographic engine of social fragmentation, discord, and even violence.” Yet the Times is timid about getting its hands around this story. Jason DeParle only scratched the surface of the problem with his April 2009 report headlined “Struggling to Rise in Suburbs Where Failing Means Fitting In,” which examined the culture of Latino low achievement and self-sabotage.
The paper’s indifference if not hostility to assimilation shows also in the near-total neglect of the issues raised by dual citizenship. At least ninety-three countries now allow their émigrés to keep their citizenship even as they become American citizens, and the list keeps growing. Dual citizenship has implications for cultural cohesion and for “the basic cultural, psychological, institutional and political organizations that have been the foundation of the country’s republican democracy for the last 200 years,” argues Stanley Renshon of the City University of New York. Might too much diversity lead to “a fragmented, and thus dysfunctional, national identity?” he asks.
This is a question that the Times has never seriously examined. Reporting on the Dominican immigrants in America who are now allowed to vote in their native country’s elections, it describes them as being “closer to home than ever,” whatever that means. The Times has reported on how African immigrants might say they will stay two years but “Africa will always be home,” and how Mexicans living in the United States want to be buried in their “homeland.” A story in June 2010 by Kirk Semple described a Mexican immigrant as “Running for Mayor, Back Home in Mexico” after almost two decades of living in the United States without naturalizing; he had slipped over the border illegally in 1992. And the Times has featured statements like this one from a former official of the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund: “California is going to be a Mexican state. Anyone who doesn’t like it should leave.”
Furthering the deconstruction of American citizenship, the Times has reported favorably on noncitizen suffrage. In August 2004, Rachel Swarns wrote a piece called “Immigrants Raise Call for Right to Be Voters,” examining efforts nationwide to expand the franchise to people who are residents but not citizens. Although Swarns did quote one critic, Congressman Tom Tancredo, the story was mostly a platform for supporters of noncitizen voting. One New York academic was quoted as saying, “A lot of communities are not represented by [political] representatives who reflect the diversity in their communities and are responsive to their needs.”
Compared with other immigrant groups, Muslims in America have a disproportionately high rate of advanced education and high per capita income, along with lower-than-average rates of divorce and illegitimacy. One thing they do share with less-well- off Mexican immigrants is the solicitude with which the Times reports and comments on their struggles to find their place within American society. Particularly after 9/11, the paper has treated American Muslims, both immigrants and converts, as a protected class and as potential victims of “Islamophobia.” Through writers like Mark Lilla, the Times encourages its readers to have high sympathies but low expectations for Muslim immigrants: “So long as a sizable population believes in the truth of a comprehensive polit- ical theology, its full reconciliation with modern liberal democracy cannot be expected,” wrote Lilla in the Sunday magazine.
On the issue of divided loyalties among Muslim immigrants, the Times has been particularly dishonest. As John Leo has noted, in place of a serious discussion about how well immigrants are assimilating to modern America, the Times has dispensed a “massive cloud of hands-off nonjudgmentalism.” There have also been calculated omissions, along with the mistake of reading the subject through rose-colored glasses. A picture and a caption for a November 2003 story capture some of the dishonesty. Beneath a large picture of a Muslim man with a boy perched on his shoulders holding an American flag was a caption that read: “Arab Ameri- cans Pray for Victims Soon after the Attacks.” The two were from Patterson, New Jersey, a place where it has been reported that a number of Arab Americans cheered in the streets upon hearing news of the World Trade Center catastrophe. The latter image may not be as reassuring as the lone act of patriotic witness, but it is certainly part of the larger picture that we have a right to see.
In May 2007, the Pew Research Center released a study on Muslim immigrant attitudes and experiences that was cause for alarm. According to the survey, which had 60,000 respondents, nearly half of Muslims in the United States (47 percent) say they think of themselves as Muslim first, rather than American. Additionally, Muslim Americans under age thirty are both much more religiously observant and more accepting of Islamic extremism than are older Muslim Americans. Those under age thirty are more than twice as likely to believe that suicide bombings can often or sometimes be justified in the defense of Islam (15 per- cent vs. 6 percent). As the Muslim writer Tawfik Hamid put it, if the Pew study’s estimate that there are 2.35 million American Muslims is right, “that means there are a substantial number of people in the U.S. who think suicide bombing is sometimes justified. Similarly, if 5% of American Muslims support al Qaeda, that’s more than 100,000 people.”
Among other disturbing findings, relatively few Muslim Americans believe the U.S.-led war on terror is a sincere effort to reduce terrorism, and there is widespread doubt that Arabs were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. By roughly six to one (75 percent to 12 percent), Muslim Americans say the United States did the wrong thing in going to war in Iraq, while the general public is more evenly divided. Only 35 percent of Muslim Americans have a positive view of the decision to go to war in Afghanistan, com- pared with 61 percent among the public at large.
These findings were covered extensively in almost every media outlet in America—except the Times, which did not report on the Pew study at all.
The Times has also rigorously ignored evidence of Muslim disloyalty in government service. Right after 9/11, the FBI hired dozens of translators with knowledge of Middle Eastern languages to process tape recordings from jihadists. One of those translators was a Turkish immigrant named Sibel Edmonds, who worked with a fellow Turkish immigrant, Jan Dickerson, whom Edmonds came to suspect of spying for Turkey. Dickerson would often preview a certain tape and tell Edmonds that it was not important and she would translate it herself. Curious about what was going on, Edmonds went through the tapes that Dickerson processed and found she had omitted crucial information from the final transcript.
It turned out that Dickerson had worked for a Turkish organization being investigated by the FBI—something that had not been caught in the rush to complete background checks after 9/11. Dickerson also had a relationship with a Turkish intelligence officer stationed in Washington D.C. who was a target of that government investigation. Dickerson had tried to recruit Edmonds into her conspiracy, promising an early and well-paid retirement back in Turkey if she cooperated and warning of trouble for her family back home if she didn’t. Edmonds went to FBI officials about her well- founded suspicions of espionage; but like many whistleblowers, she was the one eventually terminated.
The Washington Post gave a full account of the case, emphasizing the espionage. So did 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair, of all places. But the Times not only got into the story late, it also arrived with considerable ambivalence, focusing on malfeasance in the FBI rather than the spying itself.
There was also the story of Gamal Abdel Hafiz, an immigrant Muslim FBI agent who twice refused on principle to secretly tape-record his coreligionists, thus hampering ongoing investigations. One of the cases to which he was assigned involved a bank that may have played a role in financing the bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. He would not tape-record the bank president because he claimed it was against his religion to record a fellow Muslim. Hafiz also refused to record Sami al-Arian, the notorious University of Florida professor who was eventually convicted and ordered deported for helping to finance Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Other media outlets hopped on this story, but not the Times.
ISLAMIC RADICALIZATION & TERRORISM
Stories involving Muslim disloyalty in the armed forces are another Times taboo. In early 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq, Sergeant Hasan Akbar of the 101st Airborne Division “fragged” members of his unit, killing two officers and injuring fourteen noncoms. Other news organizations such as Reuters and NBC News reported that Akbar objected to the war on religious grounds, saying that the Army was going to kill “my people.” But the Times didn’t mention this until months later, after it had done many stories. One front-page story casually referred to Akbar as a “Muslim convert.” The only link I could find in the Times to the religious motivation for Akbar’s crime was in a story of late June 2003, which described an Army major testifying by video hookup that “They asked why he had done it and Akbar said he had deliberately targeted the leadership of the brigade because they were going after Muslims.”
In 2009 and 2010 there were news pegs galore to justify exam- ining the issue of dual loyalty on the part of Muslim immigrants and even the native-born. One was the September 2009 attempt by Najibullah Zazi, a naturalized Afghani immigrant, to blow up the New York subway system. In 2010, a New Jersey man named Sharif Mobley was arrested among jihadists in Yemen, joining a long list of Americans, many of them ex-convicts, who have traveled there to fight. Shortly before this, an American convert from the Philadelphia suburbs, Colleen LaRose, who called her- self “Jihad Jane,” was arrested for plotting to kill the Swedish cartoonist who had parodied the Prophet Muhammad. There was the Fort Hood attacker, Major Nidal Hasan, who openly proclaimed that his loyalties lay with the Koran over the U.S. Constitution. Hasan had been inspired by the charismatic Internet preacher Anwar al- Awlaki, an American-born cleric of Yemeni descent who was put on a government hit list in 2010, and who asserts that “jihad is becoming as American as apple pie.” In May 2010, Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized Pakistani immigrant who was married to a U.S. citizen, tried unsuccessfully to set off a car bomb in Times Square, and was apprehended while trying to board a plane at JFK International Airport two days later. At a court hearing where he pleaded guilty, Shahzad called himself a “Muslim soldier” and said, “I don’t care for the laws of the United States.” He declared that he would plead guilty “100 times over” until the United States stopped killing Muslims abroad and reporting Muslims here to the government.
It’s not that the Times has avoided the issue of radicalization, but in some cases it has tended to give jihadists the benefit of the doubt. In the case of the five American citizens of Pakistani descent who were captured in Pakistan trying to volunteer for jihad, the Times downplayed the “farewell video” that one of them made, and did not carry the statements quoted by the Press Trust of India that they were intent on killing “American imperialists” and wanted to be hanged as martyrs. What is almost never brought out in the discussion of radicalization is the elephant in the living room: the failure of the assimilative process and the lack of loyalty to America. It’s as if the idea were so archaic that people might not understand it, or might think it chauvinistic. What’s usually cited instead is the putative discrimination against Muslims in America, the length of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the view among many American Muslims that the U.S. government is waging a “war against Islam.”
Right after the 9/11 attacks, some news organizations went into Islamic schools and found disturbing evidence of a separatist mentality, with virtually no emotional connections to the American commonweal. The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher, for example, visited an Islamic school just outside the District of Columbia and reported that one South Asian eighth grader said, “Being an American means nothing to me. I’m not even proud of telling my cousins in Pakistan that I’m American.”
The New York Times, however, treads carefully on the subject of Islamic education, avoiding the issue of divided loyalties. When Susan Sachs did a piece on attitudes of Muslim teenagers in a private Islamic academy in Brooklyn, some of the Pakistani, Egyptian, Yemeni and Palestinian immigrants she interviewed exhibited the same ill will toward their new nation. They made no separation between religion and state, and thought the ideal society would follow Islamic law. One 17-year-old boy said he would support any observant Muslim leader who is fighting for an Islamic cause, even if that meant abandoning the United States or going to jail to avoid U.S. military service. Other students expressed “empathy for the young Muslims around the world who profess hatred for America and Americans.” Instead of seeing such sentiments as worrying examples of dual (or no) loyalty, Sachs tepidly described them as a sign of “the strain” that immigrants can feel “between their adopted and native culture.”
In a similar vein, Michael Luo wrote in August 2006 about a madrassa-like school in Queens where students, all boys, spend their entire educational day memorizing the Koran. “The carpeted room is full of children in skullcaps crouched on prayer mats, reciting verses from a holy text. Some mumble the words under their breath; others sing them out. They rock back and forth as they chant, their disparate voices blending into an ethereal melody,” Luo wrote, obviously transported. “But they are not studying math, science or English. Instead, they are memorizing all 6,200 verses in the Koran, a task that usually takes two to three years.”
Luo did acknowledge that “By not offering instruction in other subjects, the school may be inadvertently running afoul of state law, according to city and state education officials.” Private religious schools are required to provide instruction “substantially equivalent” to what is offered in public schools. “But tracking every school-age child who leaves the public school system can be difficult,” Luo pointed out. Nevertheless, the parents he talked to felt confident that their boys were “smart enough to make up the academic work” like math and science so they could become lawyers, doctors and other kinds of professionals. The parents liked the school because their children were “free to have it both ways,” to be Islamic and American. Luo never explained how memorizing the Koran would serve that end.
A Times Watch editor asked dubiously whether Christian homeschoolers who taught the Bible and nothing else would be allowed to make the thin excuse that their kids (all boys, no girls) are “smart enough to make up the academic work”? In such a case, the Times would probably have called for an investigation, amid lamentations about violations of church-state separation.
The Times’ worst reporting on Islamic education involved the establishment of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in 2007 and 2008. The academy was to be a public charter school built around the theme of Arabic language and culture, using a “full immersion” method of teaching. Its students would become “ambassadors of peace,” according to the proposed principal, Debbie Almontaser. The announcement of the school, however, set off a huge culture battle.
Having immigrated from Yemen at the age of three, Almontaser was depicted as a moderate Muslim by the Times reporters Andrea Elliott and Dan Wakin. In fact, she was a radical activist whose record of anti-American remarks was widely distributed by a coalition of New Yorkers that formed to protest the school. In one interview she said, “I have realized that our foreign policy is racist; in the ‘war against terror’ people of color are the target. . . . [T]he terrorist attacks have been triggered by the way the USA breaks its promises with countries across the world, especially in the Middle East.” Almontaser also refused to reply when asked whether she considered Hamas and Hezbollah to be terrorist organizations and who she thought was behind the 9/11 attacks.
The campaign for Almontaser’s principalship was not helped by the fact that all the members of her board were clerics, three of them radical Islamists. Also working against Almontaser were her unwillingness to indicate what books would be used in the curriculum, and her links to the often-militant Council on Amer- ican-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which had given her an award. What finally did her in, though, was her seeming support for an organization for young women in the arts and media who had printed up T-shirts with the words “Intifada NY.” Almontaser tried to shrug the matter off by saying that it merely meant “throwing off oppression” and had nothing to do with support for terrorism. In short order she was forced to resign, as announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg on his radio show.
Through all this, the Times defended Almontaser. It ignored her anti-American statements, made the opposition to her candidacy seem like an exercise in McCarthyism, and implied that Islamophobia was at the root of her travail. In his education column, Sam Freedman angrily accused Almontaser’s critics of having run a “smear campaign” and asserted that her resignation represented “the triumph of a concerted exercise in character assassination.”
In reporting the story, the Times did not touch on the question of whether separatist schools like the Khalil Gibran Academy should exist at all. On the contrary, six months after Almontaser’s resignation, Andrea Elliott wrote about the “Dream School” brought down by “the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. . . . As the authorities have stepped up the war on terror, those critics have shifted their gaze to a new frontier, what they describe as law-abiding Muslim-Americans who are imposing their religious values in the public domain.”
ISLAMIC CULUTRAL PRACTICES: VEILING, HONOR KILLINGS &POLYGAMY
The double standard that the Times displays on Islamic education is echoed in its deferential attitude toward Muslim sexual apartheid and the oppression of women. Consider Neil MacFarquhar’s ode to arranged marriage, American style, facilitated by Muslim-only “speed dating” with parents in attendance to arrange meetings. Many participants at these events prefer “not to be assimilated,” MacFarquhar reported, adding that parents still equate “anything related to dating with hellfire” and many don’t even let their kids meet in public at all. Buying into the premise, MacFarquhar noted that one imam says having families involved in picking mates reduces the divorce rate. (The fact that Muslim culture stigmatizes divorce to such an extent that it can lead to ostracism and even “honor killing” goes unmentioned.)
MacFarquhar and others at the Times have expressed enthusiasm for another manifestation of gender apartheid: the practice of veiling. In September 2006, MacFarquhar wrote a profile of Dena al-Atassi, a 21-year-old Syrian American girl, for “Echoes of 9-11 Define Life Five Years Later,” an anniversary collection of reported reflections on the terrorist attack. Al-Atassi claimed to have lost a job opportunity at the Jenny Craig weight loss chain because she chose to wear a Muslim head scarf, or hijab. She had begun wearing it, along with a floor-length trench coat, during a three-year stay in Syria as a teenager, MacFarquhar reported.
About a year later, in July 2002, al-Atassi was passing through the airport in Amsterdam on her first trip outside the Arab world after the September 11 attack, she said, when the security screeners singled her out, questioned her and made her remove her coat. Feeling violated, she went into a bathroom, where she tore off her scarf and wept. “I had gained such a strong relationship with God that I didn’t want to do anything to distance myself from him, and I felt like I was doing just that,” she told MacFarquhar, who closed the piece with his subject heroically declaring: “I made the decision when I put it back on that I will never take it off again.”
The Style section weighed in on the subject of veiling in June 2010 with “Behind the Veil,” by Lorraine Ali. It featured two Muslim sisters in Albuquerque who since 2001 had worn Islamic attire that entirely covered their heads and faces—which many Muslims say has no Koranic justification and isolates the wearer from society. One of the women told Ali that she wanted to offer a positive example of her faith after the 9/11 attack. Ali quoted her as saying that the garb was “liberating,” since men “have to deal with my brain because I don’t give them any other choice.” The other sister said, “The more clothes you wear, the closer you are to God.” When the strain of wearing the conspicuous attire in American society gets to them, she said, “We think of paradise at that point. Heaven is where we’re supposed to rest. That’s what gets us through.”
Veiling is the least of the Muslim customs that seem to oppress women. On other misogynistic practices embedded in Islamic culture—such as forced domestic servitude, female circumcision and honor killings—the Times has shown an obtrusive nonjudgmentalism or inattention. For example, it did not report on a 2005 case that ended in the conviction of a married, 37-year-old graduate stu- dent from Saudi Arabia. According to prosecutors, Homaidan Ali al- Turki brought an Indonesian nanny to Colorado, paying her two dollars a day and making her sleep in the kitchen or the basement. Soon al-Turki made the woman his sex slave. During the trial, al- Turki’s attorney said the charges arose from the state’s failure to understand “cultural differences” and from “cynical Islamophobia.”
After his conviction on twelve felony counts, al-Turki received a sentence of twenty years to life. At the sentencing he shouted, “The state has criminalized these basic Muslim behaviors.”
Because al-Turki was connected to the Saudi royal family, his conviction caused the U.S. Department of State to urge Colorado’s attorney general to fly to Saudi Arabia and brief King Abdullah on the case. Meanwhile, al-Turki’s supporters began a campaign on his behalf, calling on Saudi students in America to arrange peaceful demonstrations, to leave the country as soon as possible, and to publicize the case any way they could.
That the Times didn’t report on a domestic servitude case in Colorado is not the issue. What is the issue, and the news peg, is that the perpetrator invoked Islam as justification, and that Saudi students in the United States saw injustice in the prosecution and conviction.
The subject of female genital mutilation (FGM) among Muslim immigrants is another that has caused theTimesvisible discomfort. The least invasive form of the procedure—mostly practiced by natives of African countries—involves cutting of the clitoral hood or clitoris; the most radical involves total excision of the genitalia, followed by the sewing up of the vagina with thread or twine. There is no Koranic justification for the practice, but it does mesh well with Islam’s notion of female submission to men. In the United States, the incidence of FGM has been rising along with Muslim immigration. Estimates are that 150,000 to 225,000 girls in the United States are at risk for the practice, and perhaps hundreds of daughters of African parents are circumcised in the United States every year. The Times has commendably reported on FGM in the developing world, and denounced it in editorials and op-ed columns (particularly Abe Rosenthal’s column), but has been timid and nonjudgmental when it comes to FGM among
Strangely enough, one relativist voice on this issue has been that of John Tierney, who used to represent a conservative-libertarian view on the Times op-ed page. In November 2007, Tierney used his online column for a “New Debate on Female Circumcision,” as it was headlined. “Should African women be allowed to engage in the practice sometimes called female circumcision?” he asked. “Are critics of this practice, who call it female genital mutilation, justified in trying to outlaw it, or are they guilty of ignorance and cultural imperialism?”
Tierney allotted space to two “circumcised African women scholars,” Wairimu Njambi, a Kenyan, and Fuambai Ahmadu, from Sierra Leone. Dr. Ahmadu, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was raised in America and went back to Sierra Leone as an adult to undergo the procedure along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group. She claimed that critics exaggerate the medical dangers, misunderstand the effect on sexual pleasure, and mistakenly view the removal of parts of the clitoris as being oppressive. She lamented that her Westernized “feminist sisters insist on denying us this critical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage.” She also argued that most of the Kono women she has met uphold the rituals because they relish the supernatural powers of their ritual leaders over men in society, and they embrace the legitimacy of female authority, particularly that of their mothers and grandmothers.
Tierney also gave space to Richard Shweder, a University of Chicago anthropologist who said that many Westerners trying to impose a “zero tolerance” policy don’t realize that these initiation rites are generally controlled by women, who regard it as a cosmetic procedure with aesthetic benefits. He criticized Americans and Europeans for outlawing it at the same time they endorse their own forms of genital modification, like the circumcision of boys or the cosmetic surgery for women called “vaginal rejuvenation.” In Dr. Shweder’s view, “feminist issues and political correct- ness and activism have triumphed over the critical assessment of evidence.” Although Tierney himself admitted that he wouldn’t choose circumcision for his own daughter, he cited the work of anthropologists in asking, “Should outsiders be telling African women what initiation practices are acceptable?”
The Times has brought a light-handed approach to the topic of polygamy in America, too. In March 2007, the immigration correspondent Nina Bernstein reported on the custom as practiced in New York, one of the American cities where immigration “has soared from places where polygamy is lawful and widespread, especially from West African countries like Mali.” Bernstein found evidence of “a clandestine practice that probably involves thou- sands of New Yorkers.” She had been on the immigration beat for years before writing about this, and did so only in response to a tragic fire in the Bronx, when it was revealed that “the Mali-born American citizen who owned the house and was the father of five children who perished, had two wives in the home, on different floors.”
Bernstein emphasized that the custom was usually kept secret because it was grounds for exclusion from the United States, and could be punished with up to four years in prison. “No agency is known to collect data on polygamous unions, which typically take shape over time and under the radar, often with religious ceremonies overseas and a visitor’s visa for the wife, arranged by other relatives,” Bernstein wrote. She explained that “Don’t-ask-don’t- know policies prevail in many agencies that deal with immigrant families in New York, perhaps because there is no framework for addressing polygamy in a city that prides itself on tolerance of religious, cultural and sexual differences—and on support for human rights and equality.”
These claims were all probably true. Still, one wonders how such an experienced reporter as Bernstein could not know about the prevalence of such a practice, especially when one woman likened it to being “in effect the slave of the man.” It was as if Bern- stein had gone out of her way not to be curious about the practice. But she became a quick enough study to assure readers that while “Islam is often cited as the authority that allows polygamy” in Africa, “the practice is a cultural tradition that crosses religious lines, while some Muslim lands elsewhere sharply restrict it.”
By any measure, however, the Times’ reporting has been worst on the subject of Islamic honor killings. True, the Times has done a commendable job reporting on the practice in countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian Territories, and explaining the anthropological and cultural subtleties behind it. But when it comes to honor killings among immigrant Muslims on American soil, the Times has turned its head. Most American Muslim honor killings are not reported at all in the Times, or else they are reported as “domestic abuse.” The more specific cultural attributes—especially the psychotically violent overkill of beheadings, strangulations, immolations and electrocutions—are purged from the reports, as are other common “signatures” (in police terminology), such as participation by a number of family members, including mothers, fathers, brothers, cousins and uncles, and the lengths they often go to hunt the victim down. And reports on honor killings are accompanied by outraged, defensive statements from Muslim advocacy organizations denying that Islam has any role—although such killings are popularly defended in Koranic terms in the Middle East.
In July 2008, a Pakistani immigrant allegedly strangled his 25- year-old daughter with a bungee cord in the Atlanta suburb of Jonesboro because she was determined to end her arranged marriage and had gotten involved with a new man. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sandeela Kanwal’s father, Chaudhry Rashid, “told police he is Muslim and that extramarital affairs and divorce are against his religion [and] that’s why he killed her.” In one court session, the paper reported, a detective testified that Rashid had said: “God will protect me. God is watching me. I strangled my daughter.” The New York Times was missing in action.
A few weeks before that, Waheed Allah Mohammad, an immigrant from Afghanistan who lived in upstate New York, was charged with attempted murder after repeatedly stabbing his 19- year-old sister. The Rochester Democrat reported that Mohammad was “infuriated because his younger sister was going to clubs, wearing immodest clothing, and planning to leave her family for a new life in New York City.” His sister was a “bad Muslim girl,” he told sheriff’s investigators. The Times ignored this story too.
On New Year’s Day 2008 in Irving, Texas, the bullet-riddled bodies of the Said sisters—Sarah, 17, and Amina, 18—were found in an abandoned taxi in an empty parking lot. Police issued an arrest warrant for their father, an Egyptian immigrant named Yaser Abdel Said, who had reportedly threatened to kill them upon learning that they had boyfriends. According to authorities, one of the girls died instantly, but the other one lived long enough to make a cell phone call to police, pleading for help and saying that she was dying. Yaser Said fled and was put on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. The girls’ brother, who authorities believe knew of the father’s plans, took flight too. He eventually wound up in Egypt, from where he wrote taunting notes to reporters covering the case, as well as to extended family members in America who spoke out critically about the murders. Despite the horrific details of the case, and the extensive coverage it got from other news organizations, the Times remained silent.
One Muslim wife-killing that the Times did report involved the television network executive who killed his wife after she had filed for divorce and received an order of protection against him in February 2009. Muzzammil Hassan attacked his wife in the network studios, stabbed her with hunting knives, then decapitated her. Afterward he went to the local police station, announced that his wife was dead, and then led the police to the scene and gave them the weapons he had used. He was charged with second-degree murder.
The Times took a week to report the story, and then refused to use the words “beheading” or “decapitation,” instead delicately noting that police found the woman’s head “separated” from her body. Although the case, in tandem with the honor killings of the previous year, cried out for a follow-up or a trend story, there was none. Instead, the Times showed its ideological aversion to saying what really occurred by echoing Islamic advocacy groups who insisted that such violence had no place in their religion and that the murder had to be understood merely as a form of “domestic abuse,” as Liz Robbins’ account put it.
Readers commenting on theTimesWeb edition didn’t buy it. One noted that what seemed particularly Islamic (and therefore germane) was the beheading: “Why would you kill someone in that particular way?” Another wrote: “Many Muslim-American organizations insist that honor killing is ‘Un-Islamic.’ Yet, many scholars of Islam equally assert that the Qur’an as well as custom permits grave punishment for disobedient women. The argument that Islam is a ‘religion of peace’ has grown so tiresome in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.”
The killing triggered a major denunciation from Marcia Pappas, president of the New York State chapter of the National Organization of Women. “This is apparently a terroristic version of an honor killing, a murder rooted in cultural notions about women’s subordination to men,” Pappas said. “Why is this horrendous story not all over the news? Is a Muslim woman’s life not worth a five- minute report?” Pappas’ statement itself was news- worthy in that it represented a major breach with the national organization, which refused comment on the matter. The Times gave it no coverage.
BIAS & HATE CRIMES vs MUSLIMS:
Since the days right after 9/11, when it predicted an open season on American Muslims, the Times has doggedly followed a script built around the claim of Muslim victimization and Islamophobia. This wave of oppression never crested, yet the Times has continued to treat Muslims as an endangered species, always on the brink of being caught up in an American pogrom. Every year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) puts out a report claiming increases in bias crimes, and every year, the Times laps it up. Not surprisingly, the paper has refused to admit that many “hate crimes” have been hoaxes.
On May 12, 2005, Andrea Elliott filed a story headlined “Muslims Report 50% Increase in Bias Crimes.” She wrote: “The report outlined more than 1,500 cases of harassment and anti-Muslim violence around the country in 2004, including 141 hate crimes, compared with 1,019 harassment cases and 93 hate crimes in 2003.” But a random sampling of these “hate crimes” by Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum discovered “a pattern of sloppiness, exaggeration and distortion.” For instance, CAIR had cited the July 9, 2004, case of apparent arson at a Muslim-owned gro- cery store in Everett, Washington. But according to Pipes, investigators quickly determined that the store’s operator, Mirza Akram, staged the fire to avoid meeting his scheduled payments and to
collect on an insurance policy. CAIR also stated that “a Muslim- owned market was burned down in Texas” on August 6, 2004. But by the time CAIR released its report, the owner had already been arrested for having set fire to his own business. These were small- fry “cry wolf” cases, but they should have been reported in some kind of omnibus package by the Times, especially since the paper has acted as a mouthpiece for so many of CAIR’s charges in the first place.
On the flip side of the coin, the Times also refuses to acknowledge the jihadi subtext to hate crimes committed by Muslims. A case in point is the Muslim who ran his SUV into a crowd of students in March 2006. According to Times Watch, “The man charged with nine counts of attempted murder for driving a Jeep through a crowd at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last Friday told the police that he deliberately rented a four- wheel- drive vehicle so he could ‘run over things and keep going,’ according to court papers released yesterday by investigators.” Times Watch further quoted statements made to the police in which Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, an Iranian-born graduate of the university, said he felt the United States government had been “‘killing his people across the sea’ and that his actions reflected ‘an eye for an eye.’” According to Chapel Hill news organizations, the suspect told the police that the attack was to “avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world.” Nevertheless, the Times did not even use the word “Muslim” at any point in its story, which was buried on page 18.
The features of domestic Islamic extremism are further soft- ened with favorable profiles that accent philosophical and social moderation. While an analysis of the relationship between free speech and hate speech by Adam Liptak in January 2004 mentions that “militant Wahhabism and other religious doctrines advocating violence are freely preached in the United States,” the Times rarely goes into the mosques and tells us what these radical imams are actually preaching. Nor has the paper looked at the phenomenon of “mosque coups,” where militants take over the executive committees, sometimes by intimidation or threats, and change the tone of the mosque. In May 2004, a Muslim feminist, Asra Nomani, wrote in the Wall Street Journalabout the transformation of her hometown mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia, from mild to militant.
The Times highlights the gentler face of Islam through positive profiles of clerics who, it says, stand for moderation. An October 2001 piece by Laurie Goodstein mentioned the fact that before 9/11, “incendiary anti-American messages” were long a “staple” at some Muslim events, but said the attack had prompted influential American Muslim clerics to “temper their tone.” One cleric quoted in the piece is Anwar al-Awlaki, thirty years old, the spiritual leader of a mega-mosque in northern Virginia. According to Goodstein, al-Awlaki was being “held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West: born in New Mexico to parents from Yemen, who studied Islam in Yemen and civil engineering at Colorado State University.” Al-Awlaki told Goodstein that in the past, there had been “some statements that were inflammatory, and were considered just talk, but now we realize that talk can be taken seriously and acted upon in a violent radical way.” He assured her, “What we might have tolerated in the past, we won’t tolerate any more.”
Goodstein does not mention that two of the 9/11 hijackers worshipped at al-Awlaki’s mosque or that law enforcement officials strongly suspected he was involved in the 9/11 plot, though they could not prove it. And by the end of the decade, al-Awlaki had established himself as an Internet jihadist superstar from a base in Yemen, and played a central role in radicalizing Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood killer, and recruiting Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, a.k.a. the “Christmas Bomber” of 2009.
Another radical Islamic cleric given a moderate face by the Times was Ali al-Timimi, leader of a mosque in northern Virginia. In 2005 he was convicted of inciting his followers to go to Afghanistan to wage war against the United States right after the 9/11 attacks, and was sentenced to life. At the sentencing, according to Timesman Eric Lichtblau, “Mr. Timimi delivered to the court an impassioned and often eloquent speech that lasted nearly 10 minutes touching on Greek and Roman philosophy, religious history and the United States Constitution. Quoting Aaron Burr, Mr. Timimi said the idea that a cancer researcher like himself would incite his followers to violence was the stuff of ‘crudities and absurdities.’” Absent from Lichtblau’s account, but included in the Washington Post story, was al-Timimi’s assertion that his religious beliefs do not recognize “secular law.”
Fawaz Damra is another imam who got kid-glove treatment in the Times, at least for a while. On September 22, 2001, the religion columnist Gustav Niebuhr described how the Cleveland mosque where Damra preached was the target of a hate crime when a man rammed his car into the building, shattering the front doors and damaging a marble fountain inside. Instead of displaying anger, the congregation prayed for the man, Damra told Niebuhr, who obviously was struck by the imam’s compassion. What he was angry about, Damra said, were the 9/11 terror attacks, “because I’m an American.”
A month later, Damra was forced to apologize to the city of Cleveland after local television stations broadcast a ten-year-old tape in which he called for the death of Jews as the enemies of the Islamic nation. The tape had been released by federal immigration authorities who used it in a Florida deportation case, and Damra said it no longer reflected his views. Then in 2004, Damra was charged with lying about his ties to terrorist organizations, tax evasion, money laundering, mail and wire fraud, and with providing false information in applying for U.S. citizenship. He was finally convicted of concealing his ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad and deported to his native West Bank in 2007. Even in the news brief in which it relayed this information, the Times found space to say that “His lawyer, Michael Birach, called him a healer who made a real contribution to religious understanding in the Cleveland area and said Damra was a victim of federal officials who wanted to look tough after the Sept. 11 attacks.”
Then there was a three-part series in April 2007 by Andrea Elliott, exploring the world of Reda Shata, an Egyptian-born imam in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, as he negotiated the moral contours of a post- 9/11 world for his flock. Headlined “An Imam in America,” the series was clearly an effort on Elliott’s part to overcome the prejudices instilled in American readers by “a vilifying media”:
Sheik Reda, as he is called, arrived in Brooklyn one year after Sept. 11. Virtually overnight, he became an Islamic judge and nursery school principal, a matchmaker and marriage counselor, a 24-hour hot line on all things Islamic.
Day after day, he must find ways to reconcile Muslim tradition with American life. Little in his rural Egyptian upbringing or years of Islamic scholarship prepared him for the challenge of leading a mosque in America.
The job has worn him down and opened his mind. It has landed him, exhausted, in the hospital and earned him a following far beyond Brooklyn.
“America transformed me from a person of rigidity to flexibility,” said Mr. Shata, speaking through an Arabic translator. “I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back.”
As well written and incisive as it was, the series raised a storm in some quarters. While many read the piece as a calculated bid to make Sheik Reda out to be a moderate, there were many discordant notes belying this impression. “Like Arabs around the world,” Elliott reported, “Mr. Shata disagrees profoundly with the United States’ steadfast support of Israel, and views the militant group Hamas as a powerful symbol of resistance.” Elliott noted that “When Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of the terror group Hamas, was killed by Israelis in March 2004, Mr. Shata told hundreds who gathered at a memorial service in Brooklyn that the ‘lion of Palestine has been martyred.’”
The moderate image was also belied by recorded remarks of the imam that appeared as a multimedia sidebar on the Times’ own website. Asserting that recent U.S. history has been marked by injustice, the imam says, “Anything about the conduct of Muslims can be used as an excuse to make threats or give punishment. . . . They find us inferior so they target us. They find us so inferior they are unjust to us. . . . Injustice, injustice, injustice. If it strikes a nation and misfortune and disaster starts spreading, then beware, beware people of the Lord of Heavens.”
In an interview, Elliott maintained that Sheik Reda “didn’t fit into facile categories like ‘moderate’ or ‘conservative.’ He’s a com- plex person whose views about Islam in America were still being formed and whose ministry was a work in progress.”
The series on Sheik Reda won the Pulitzer Prize. Elliott’s editor, Joe Sexton, echoing the imam, said it helped to subtract a few bricks from “the wall of hatred.”
But “An Imam in America” had a disturbing coda. Almost a year later, Andrea Elliott wrote a piece headlined “A Cleric’s Journey Leads to a Suburban Frontier.” It described how Reda Shata had been forced to relocate to New Jersey after receiving threats from more rigid Muslims who objected to his “liberal” teachings that married couples could have oral sex and that a Muslim could sell pork and alcohol if no other work could be found. “In Bay Ridge, the Pulitzer-winning articles prompted a fistfight outside a Dunkin’ Donuts,” Elliott reported. “Fliers warned in Arabic that the imam was ‘a devil.’ . . . After weeks of defending himself, Mr. Shata felt worn down.” He had already been courted by a mosque in Middletown, New Jersey, and the controversy and implied threats influenced his decision to move.
The fact that it took months for this bit of the story to get into the newspaper suggests a reluctance to admit that much of the Islamic community is filled with intolerance and violence. Instead of the innocuous headline it was given, this report could just as easily have been called “Violent Muslims Play Role in Driving Iman out of Bay Ridge,” and it could have examined the distance between the American ideal of tolerance and Islamic norms. When I asked Elliott about this at a panel discussion in New York in March 2010, she said the news value of the attacks on the cleric was “debatable,” and in an interview I did with her, she said that other factors aside from intimidation were behind his relocation.
With its hypersensitivity toward Islamic immigrants, the Times offers consistently soft-edged reporting about the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which presents itself as “an Islamic NAACP.” The communications director of CAIR, Ibrahim Hooper, says its official mission is “to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” CAIR’s real aim, however, is Islamic hegemony. In 1998, its cofounder and former board chairman Omar Ahmad told a Muslim audience that “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. . . . The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.” A Washington representative of CAIR has said that Muslims “can never be full citizens” of the United States “because there is no way we can be fully committed to the institutions and ideologies of this country.”
Yet the New York Times has consistently produced articles on CAIR that are little more than repurposed CAIR press releases. As criticism of CAIR mounted on Capitol Hill in the spring of 2007, Neil MacFarquhar came to its defense in a piece headlined “Scrutiny Increases for a Group Advocating for Muslims in the US.” He criticized “a small band of people who hate Muslims and deal in half-truths,” and maintained that “more than one” government official in Washington “described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association.”
MacFarquhar went to bat for CAIR again when it was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the terrorism trial against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Dallas, Texas, beginning in 2007. Under the headline “Muslim Groups Oppose List of ‘Co-Conspirators,’” MacFarquhar quoted Muslim activists who claimed that naming the organization as a co-conspirator could “ratchet up the discrimination faced by American Muslims since the Sept. 11 attacks.” The legal brief he cited says that the list of co-conspirators “furthers a pattern of the ‘demonization of all
things Muslim’ that has unrolled in the United States since 2001.” MacFarquhar did not mention that an FBI agent testified during the trial that CAIR was “a front for Hamas,” or that conclusive FBI evidence has its executive director, Nihad Awad, participating in a planning meeting with Hamas fundraisers in 1993.
Following a mistrial, a second trial against the Holy Land Foundation ended in November 2008 when five of its officials were convicted on charges of funneling $12.4 million to Hamas. Another outcome was that the FBI, after years of including CAIR in its Islamic outreach efforts, severed its ties to the organization in late January 2009—which was news by any definition of the word. But the Times did not report this, nor did it take notice when a federal grand jury subpoenaed CAIR’s records in December of that year.
Coverage of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States carries an even softer journalistic edge. The group operates in secret through such organizations as the Islamic Society of North America and the Muslim American Society. Its intent is to spread Islam throughout various American institutions with the goal of establishing Sharia. An “explanatory memorandum” captured by the FBI in 1991 read: “The Ikhwan [brotherhood] must under- stand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging their miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.” In September 2004, the Chicago Tribune published an exposé on the origins and operations of the Muslim Brotherhood’s American branch. But in the forty years it has existed in the United States, the New York Times has never once taken on the subject.
The two dominant themes of Times reporting on Islam in America—that Islam has a moderate face and that America is deeply Islamophobic—fused together in coverage of the controversy in 2010 over the plan to build a Muslim cultural center and mosque near the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. The Times responded to the debate surrounding the “Ground Zero Mosque,” as it is popularly called, with one of the most demagogic pile-ons in its history, with glaring examples of reportage echoing opinion, and with the condescending elitism that has alienated so many Americans.
According to Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the project, the Islamic center would promote cross-cultural bridge building and represent the “common impulse of our great faith traditions.” Supporters said it would symbolize American tolerance toward Islam as well as the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
Opponents of the plan, including family members of 9/11 victims, said it was a sacrilege to put a mosque two short blocks away from “hallowed ground.” In fact, the roof of the building to be torn down on the site was pierced by wreckage from the airplanes that hit the World Trade Center, and according to some New York fire- fighters who worked at Ground Zero after the attack, body parts of victims were found as close as a block away. Victims’ families were joined by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and some Republican political figures, including Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Some prominent Democrats, such as Harry Reid and Howard Dean, also objected to having a mosque on that site, as did some journalistic free-speechers such as Nat Hentoff and Christopher Hitchens.
Some opponents of the mosque said it would feed Islamist triumphalism, since militant Muslim forces have a history of building mosques on the holy sites of their conquests. Opponents also took exception to some of Imam Rauf’s past statements, including his claim that America bore complicity for the 9/11 attacks, and to evidence that his tone was less moderate when he addressed audiences outside the United States. There was also the project’s murky finances. Rauf had little money to develop the site, and what he did have came from a Muslim who had given money to Hamas and had been dunned by the government for fraud. Some critics thought the project might attract Saudi money and Wahhabi extremists.
The Times could have stepped back from the fray and parsed the competing claims of supporters and opponents in a neutral way. It might have examined why, according to some polls, between 65 and 70 percent of Americans objected to the mosque, and why elite opinion was so divergent from popular opinion. It might have examined how its own soft reporting on Islam may have contributed to popular distrust.
Instead, the Times produced shrill, scolding editorials, as well as reporting skewed in favor of the project. Additionally, almost every Times op-ed and Web columnist wrote favorably about the mosque, throwing shallow and unfair charges of bigotry against dissenters. Supporters of the mosque, such as New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, were hailed as heroes of conscience, while opponents, such as the New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, were smeared as craven opportunists. Imam Rauf was the subject of puff pieces that airbrushed the more dubious facets of his ideology and finances. “For Imam in Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act” was the headline of a piece by Anne Bar- nard, who breezily dismissed the opponents’ claims about Rauf. “Some charges, the available record suggests, are unsupported. Some are simplifications of his ideas,” she wrote. “In any case, calling him a jihadist appears even less credible than calling him a United States agent.”
There were numerous reports on the resistance that other mosque plans were encountering around the country, which painted Americans who objected to these mosques as small- minded Archie Bunkers. When Judea Pearl, father of the slain Wall Street Journalreporter Daniel Pearl, announced his opposition to the mosque in an interview with an Israeli news service, it was ignored; he had previously thanked Rauf for his words of solidarity at his son’s memorial service in 2002. The Times’ coverage had its share of victimology, too. A report by Laurie Goodstein was headlined “American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?”
In a column headlined “Mosque Madness,” Maureen Dowd slammed the “moral timidity that would ban a mosque from that neighborhood.” Wrote Dowd: “Our enemies struck at our heart, but did they also warp our identity? . . . By now you have to be willfully blind not to know that the imam in charge of the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the moderate Muslim we have allegedly been yearning for.”
The most overwrought opinion columns were those by Nicholas Kristof, who wrote four times about the nativism and bigotry he perceived behind the opposition to the mosque. “We’re seeing extremists, but not the Muslim kind,” read the pull quote of one column, headlined “Is This America?” In another, “America’s History of Fear,” Kristof maintained that the screeds against Catholics in the nineteenth century “sounded just like the invective today against the Not-at-Ground-Zero Mosque,” and that historically, “suspicion of outsiders” had led Americans to “burn witches, intern Japanese and turn away Jewish refugees from the Holocaust.” In still another column, he apologized to Muslims around the world for American behavior.
In early September, the Times op-ed page featured a piece by Imam Rauf in which he made veiled threats of violence and expressed a repugnant moral equivalence. America’s national security and “the personal security of Americans worldwide” were at risk if the project was scuttled, Rauf claimed. “This is why Americans must not back away from completion of this project. If we do, we cede the discourse, and essentially our future, to radicals on both sides.” At that point, the Times’ own polling showed that 60 percent of New Yorkers were against the mosque. The size and the diversity of the opposition made Rauf’s assertion about “radicals on both sides” particularly tendentious.
In late August, former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean told interviewers from ABC radio and MSNBC that the mosque was “a real affront to people who lost their lives on 9/11” and said it should be moved. Political and media elites, he said, should recognize that “sixty-five percent of the people were not right-wing bigots.” Dean’s remarks were eminently newsworthy, as was the furor they set off in the left-wing blogosphere. Other news organizations did stand-alone news stories on the comments; the Times did not.
ENFORCEMENT vs ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION:
A New York Times editorial from 1982, “Immigration and Purity,” articulated a realist view of the subject, saying: “Unlimited immigration was a need, and a glory, of the undeveloped American past. Yet no one believes America can still support it. We must choose how many people to admit, and which ones. That can be done only if we can control the borders.” By 2004, when a new push began for tough, enforcement-driven immigration reform, the Times had changed its perspective markedly.
When the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 was introduced in Congress, the Times showed its bias by failing to report the bill’s various “hidden bombs,” as one critic called them. For example, it would have replaced the entire immigration bench with activists, since it required that lawyers proposed for immigration judgeships have at least five years practicing immigration law and that existing judges give up lifetime spots on the bench after seven years. The bill had an amendment called the “Dream Act,” which would have allowed illegals to attend college at in-state tuition rates, while U.S. citizens from out of state have to pay full freight. The bill also called for a massive granting of citizenship, but did not give the Citizenship and Immigration Service the budget or infrastructure to handle its new responsibilities—which many saw as simply implementing “amnesty” for up to twelve million illegal immigrants.
The bill was premised on the idea that the documents that illegals would be filing to prove residency would be authentic, an unrealistic expectation given the easy availability of counterfeit Social Security cards, counterfeit visas, bank statements, tax returns and other fraudulent forms of documentation. Supporters of the bill said that no illegal would be allowed to cut in line ahead of someone patiently waiting in another country for approval to immigrate. Yet they did not specify if illegals who applied for what was nebulously called a “path to citizenship” would have to go home first or could remain here while they were being processed, which was virtually the same thing as cutting the line.
While hesitant to discuss these issues, the Times charged into the fray against those calling for felony penalties for facilitating illegal immigration. One editorial claimed, falsely and sensation- ally, that such penalties could lead to jail for church groups running soup kitchens, or neighbors taking an illegal to a hospital or a pharmacy.
Opponents of the bill flooded Capitol Hill with so many tele- phone calls, faxes and emails that the Senate switchboard had to be shut down. On this, at least, the Times headline writers were honest. “The Grassroots Roared and an Immigration Plan Fell,” read one headline. But some of the columnists almost choked on sour grapes. Timothy Egan, a former reporter turned website columnist, blamed conservative radio and television talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly. “Pragmatism is being drowned out by bullies with electronic bullhorns, who’ve got their [Republican] party leaders running scared,” Egan said.
RETURN OF NATIVISM:
The bitterness continued in Times analyses where opposition to the liberal view was equated with rank nativism. David Leonhardt, a business columnist, wrote that the backlash “had a familiar feel to it.” He went on to associate the tidal wave of illegals entering the United States over the previous two decades with other great eras of immigration into the country—in the 1850s, 1880s and early 1900s. He noted that they too caused a hysterical reaction, the most famous being the rise of the Know- Nothing movement. History looked as if it would repeat itself, suggested Leonhardt—ignoring the fact that this latest group of immigrants, unlike the previous generations, did not come legally through Ellis Island.
The editorial rhetoric from the Times got increasingly nasty. Although the editorial page called for civil discourse, it hardly practiced what it preached, instead issuing juvenile insults far more frequently than dependable insights. Even as it denounced the “demagoguery” of the opposition, it practiced its own form. Conservatives who were concerned about enforcement first were said to hold a view of immigration reform that was equivalent to “pest control.” Editorialists illogically likened opposing amnesty to favoring segregation. Other editorials indulged in victimology that sounded like self-parody: Hispanics are the new gays; Hispanics are the new Willy Horton; sending them home is immoral and a human rights violation. One editorial, “Ain’t That America,” said:
Think of America’s greatest historical shames. Most have involved the singling out of groups of people for abuse. Name a distinguishing feature—skin color, religion, nationality, language—and it’s likely that people here have suffered unjustly for it, either through the freelance hatred of citizens or as a matter of official government policy.
An especially rich target was the Minutemen, a group of armed volunteers patrolling the southern border with the aim of providing information to the Border Patrol on the movements of illegals trying to sneak into the country. The reporter James McKinley called them “self-proclaimed patriots” whose planned “vigilante watch” along the border was “alarming.” Sarah Vowell called them “a nutty experiment” that sprang from America’s “violent nativity,” further maligning them as “grown men playing army on the Mexican border” because they had nothing better to do. One Times story characterized the Minutemen as “anti-immigration,” which the paper later had to retract, admitting that they are only against illegal immigration.
The Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist was trying to speak at Columbia University in October 2006 when campus radicals stormed the stage. A melee ensued, as security had to whisk Gilchrist off-stage, ending the event. The Times reported some of what happened but omitted some incriminating details, such as students shaking their fists and chanting “Si se pudo, si se pudo,” Spanish for “Yes we could!” Others unrolled a banner that read “No one is ever illegal,” in Arabic as well as English. But these bits of color were left to other news organizations to report.
Triumphalist hurrahs infused the Times’ coverage of the large- scale protests by illegal immigrants demanding amnesty in the spring of 2006. Few photographs showed the seas of Mexican flags, and the demonstrators’ claims that borders are unnecessary because we’re all “one big American landmass” didn’t find their way into print.
Meanwhile, the Times condemned almost any effort at border enforcement or interior immigration control. Raids on overcrowded immigrant housing on Long Island—such as the modest-sized residence where sixty-four men lived—were denounced, and the targets were quoted as declaring that they were being treated worse than dogs. These raids were painted in totally racial terms and likened to the segregation formerly practiced against blacks. “It’s like we’re going backwards,” one activist told the Times.
Unsurprisingly, the paper was apoplectic over Arizona’s plans to arrest and deport illegal immigrants in April 2010. The new law was passed in response to drug violence spreading across the border from Mexico, compounding the criminality already associated with rampant immigrant smuggling. The most con- tested provision entailed permitting local police to arrest and hold people for federal immigration authorities if there was “a reason- able suspicion” they were illegal, after encountering them in the course of traffic stops, domestic violence calls and other routine law enforcement actions.
When the Arizona law was signed, Randal Archibold gave plenty of room in his report for opponents to condemn it as “a recipe for racial and ethnic profiling,” and as “an open invitation for harassment and discrimination against Hispanics regardless of their citizenship status.” Archibold quoted Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles saying that demanding residency documents was equivalent to “Nazism.” He said the bill’s author, state senator Russell Pearce, was regarded as a “politically incorrect embarrassment by more moderate members of his party.”
It was in editorial and op-ed commentary that the Times really foamed at the mouth, however. An editorial headlined “Arizona Goes Over the Edge” called the bill “harsh and mean-spirited,” and predicted, “If you are brown-skinned and leave home without your wallet, you are in trouble.” Timothy Egan referred to Arizona as “a lunatic magnet” and said the “crackpot” law was the work of “crackpots who dominate Republican politics, who in turn cannot get elected without the backing of crackpot media.” The former Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, now a Web columnist and a resident scholar at Yale, went over the edge in a post headlined “Breathing While Undocumented.”
Greenhouse said she was glad she had already seen the Grand Canyon because “I’m not going back to Arizona as long as it remains a police state,” and added: “Wasn’t the system of internal passports one of the most distasteful features of life in the Soviet Union and apartheid-era South Africa?”
The very idea of border enforcement and requiring a legal process for immigration has been met by journalistic contempt. Many reports in a myopic and maudlin vein have been the work of Nina Bernstein, whom one former Times employee called “nothing more than an advocate” for illegal immigrants. A search of her stories on the Times website over the last few years reveals an anthology of charges that immigrants are being abused or victimized in some way.
Bernstein’s specialty is stories where immigrant families are split apart because one of the parents got caught up in a raid or a fraud, or where immigrants had spent a substantial length of time in the United States and become integrated into their com- munities, but were deported for various unfair technicalities. One piece tells of a woman separated from her child, whom she can only visit through the border fence. The teary money quote: “It’s like visiting in prison. It’s heartbreaking. It’s sad because there’s a fence when we know we are all supposed to be together.” A story in February 2010, “A Fatal Ending for a Family Forced Apart by Immigration Law,” told of a 32-year-old father of three and husband of an American citizen who was sent back to his native Ecuador, which he had left when he was seventeen. The man was picked up in an immigration raid and took “voluntary departure” instead of being deported, which boosted his chances of getting back in. But the couple’s application for a marriage visa was rejected, and the man committed suicide in Ecuador.
Bernstein also filed a story decrying a perfectly legal program that Immigration and Customs Enforcement had set up at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York to identify undocumented foreign criminals. In a city with a “don’t ask, don’t tell approach to immigration,” the program “may come as a surprise to many,” she wrote. Using immigration advocates as her predominant sources, Bernstein allowed them to depict the program as a “warning” of what the rest of the country could expect. The process of deporting criminal aliens once their sentences were up, according to immigrant rights groups, was “leaving the deportees’ families abandoned in New York and dependent on our city’s strained social service system.” True, the process of dealing with twelve million people who broke the law to get here is going to involve some pain. But constantly harping on that does not encourage compassion.
COSMOPOLITANISM vs AMERICA:
One reason why the Times’ immigration reporting sounds so off is the success of lobbying groups such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. There’s also anxiety about “feeding a backlash” against poor Third Worlders. But scorn for patriotism—not nationalism or jingoism, but patriotism—is certainly a factor too, along with an agenda to deconstruct the idea of citizenship. At the Times, cosmopolitan postnationalism trumps the traditional notion of American community, and “the cult of ethnicity” that Arthur Schlesinger warned about in The Disuniting of America has overshadowed the commonweal. The diversity to which the Times is so committed has had mixed blessings for the United States, which the paper has not bothered to investigate. As the Harvard social scientist Robert Putnam found, places with the most ethnic and racial diversity are also places with low civic engagement and social trust. Community life withers and people tend to “hunker down” in order to escape the friction that develops in excessively diverse places. Yet the Times promotes “diversity” as an aggressive creed, one whose spirit was captured by the colum- nist Charles Blow in a taunt at the Tea Partiers: “You may want your country back, but you can’t have it. . . . Welcome to America: The Remix.”