WPost vents on Peter King, then does its job

If you are a regular reader of the Washington Post, you have grown used to seeing carbon copies of the same column day after day on the op-ed page. This column starts like this, care of Eugene Robinson:

“There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) claimed … as he launched his McCarthyite probe of American Muslims. He could not have been more wrong. If King is looking for threats to our freedoms and values, a mirror would be the place to start.

Then, 24 hours later, Dana Milbank sang this chorus once again:

Peter King staged his investigation into the loyalty of Muslim Americans in an appropriate place: a hearing room once used by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The New York Republican was eager to avoid the Red Scare taint, and he allowed the 84-year-old dean of the House, Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, to open the session with wisdom learned during his time as a chairman. “I kept a picture of Joe McCarthy hanging on the wall so that I would know what it was I did not want to look like,” Dingell said, cautioning the committee not to “blot the good name or the loyalty” of Arabs or Muslims.

But the ghost of Tail-Gunner Joe would not be denied.

Let me stress that I recognize that there is no obligation for newspapers to honor the American model of the press in their editorial sections and, in this case, the Post has certainly flown its editorial colors in that location day after day after day, world without end. Amen.

Yes, anyone interested in any kind of meaningful debate about the emotional, complex and murky issues surrounding — let’s pick one topic — the influence of overseas groups and governments in the funding of new mosques and the salaries of many imams in the United States has had very little reason to scan the work of editorial writers employed by the management of the Post.

So be it.

What GetReligion readers need to know is that, after day one in the hearings, something important happened on A1 in the same newspaper.

That something is spelled j-o-u-r-n-a-l-i-s-m.

Supporters of King and the hearings may grumble that the Post handed the symbolic high ground in the lede to an emotional story told by Rep. Keith Ellison (about the noble death of a Muslim paramedic who was killed as he responded to the attacks on Sept. 11). The story also ends with an anecdote that will cheer those who oppose the hearings.

However, it is impossible to read to the full text without seeing that David A. Fahrenthold and religion-beat pro Michelle Boorstein made a serious attempt to include strong, gripping material from both sides in their coverage of the first day of the hearings. Here is the pivot point in this story, with another Muslim telling a story directly linked to the subject material of the hearings:

Ellison’s testimony was the emotional peak of a dramatic, long-awaited hearing, in which Congress was in the spotlight as much as Islam. During more than four hours of testimony, there were other moments of touching depth: Two men told personal stories of seeing loved ones seduced by Islamic extremism.

Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American from Minnesota, described how a nephew turned radical and left to fight with an Islamic militia in Somalia. He said religious leaders had discouraged him from going to the authorities, warning that “you will have eternal fire and hell” for betraying Islam.

The story also included a balanced presentation of King’s often fiery views on the activities and beliefs of some — repeat SOME — Muslims in the United States.

King did not repeat some of his most controversial statements about Muslims, including an allegation that the vast majority of U.S. mosques are run by radicals. But in his opening statement, he said al-Qaeda had sought to recruit Americans for terrorist attacks and cited a public opinion poll that showed support for suicide bombings among a small fraction of Muslim men.

“The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans,” King said. “But there are realities we cannot ignore.”

So it begins. I am sure there will be much that critics on both sides can complain about during these hearings. The issue is whether both sides will be represented in an accurate and fair manner in the coverage. This Post story shows that this hard work is possible, no matter what editors are saying in the editorial pages.

Once again, please use the comments page for actual discussions of this Post story and other mainstream coverage (please share URLs of the good and the bad). Some folks, of course, may need to take their rhetoric bashing either side to some other weblog. There are plenty out there in which to vent.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Bob Smietana

    Nashville was named a hotbed of terrorist recruiting by one witness at the hearings, Melvin Bledsoe. His son Carlos, converted to Islam while a college student and later killed an army recruiter in a self-proclaimed act of jihad. Mr. Bledsoe called his son a happy-go-lucky kid seduced by radicals. But he left out his son’s gang history and arrest on weapons charges before his conversion.

  • MJBubba

    If anyone wants the full back story on Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (formerly Carlos Bledsoe), the Memphis Commercial Appeal did a two-page spread on on the home town jihadist in November: http://www.commercialappeal.com/news/2010/nov/14/memphis-man-plots-jihad-against-homeland/?partner=popular

  • Suzanne

    I noticed that the WP did manage to report on an incident outside the White House where anti-Muslim protesters threw crosses at the feet of a Muslim man who was praying and chanting “Jesus! Jesus!” at him.

    The footage was from Talking Points Memo, which clearly has an agenda, but I was surprised not to find more widespread newspaper coverage of it.

  • Jay Todtman

    I support Peter King in every way. He’s doing the right thing for the right reasons which unfortunately is a rare thing in today’s political climate. When Estes Kefauver gaveled his committee to order to investigate the Mafia there wasn’t a national outcry from Italian Americans saying they were being unduly scrutinized and profiled. When the FBI started bringing their forces to bear on the KKK Christians didn’t rise up and shout “unfair”.
    There was a great speech in West Wing that Toby Ziegler delivers pointing out that “when the Allied troops invaded Sicily no one had to explain to the Italians that they were there to get Mussolini. Why do we have to take the whole Arab world out for an Ice Cream Cone?”

  • Mike

    Rep. Keith Ellison’s testimony about the Muslim paramedic was quite emotional. The only problem: It wasn’t true. The medic was praised as a hero from the outset,was never villified as a Muslim and was never considered among the attackers. See Matthew Shaffer’s excellent analysis at the National Review Online. http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/261903/rep-keith-ellison-s-bigotry-matthew-shaffer
    This is an example of good reporting.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com Steve Martin

    “Rep. Keith Ellison’s testimony about the Muslim paramedic was quite emotional. The only problem: It wasn’t true.”


    How can the mainstream media let this go!!

  • J

    Ellison was not lying. Quoting from article on Talkingpointsmemo:

    But it turns out there were multiple reports in newspapers and on television supporting the fact that there were rumors about Hamdani. In a Sept. 21, 2001 interview with CBS, Hamdani’s mother said they were “having troubles coping with it because we can’t go outside without having people give us looks and have this feeling that, ‘Hey, you’re to blame for this.’ It’s, like, we’re being targeted for something we didn’t even do.”

    As Shaffer points out, a Oct. 12, 2001 New York Post story titled “Missing — or Hiding? Mystery of NYPD Cadet from Pakistan” (which no longer exists online) reports that “investigators for the FBI and NYPD have since questioned the family about which Internet chat rooms he visited and if he was political.” (His mother called that article “slander” in an interview on Democracy Now following the hearing yesterday.)

    Then the New York Daily News reported on April 6, 2002, that the “story of a Pakistani-born Muslim man living in Queens who was unexpectedly missing after Sept. 11 quickly took on sinister implications.”


  • Harold

    you have grown used to seeing carbon copies of the same column day after day on the op-ed page.

    There’s plenty of Islamo-skeptics employed on the WP’s editorial pages. George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Anne Applebaum, Jennifer Rubin, Bill Kristol.

    In fact, many would argue the editorial pages have been heavily slanted to a pro-Israel, neocon direction since the Bush administration.

  • Bern

    Kudos to the WP writers and editors on the A1 story.
    The story opens and closes with Rep Ellison ans supports through facts that the hearing lacked substance: e.g., no national law enforcement figures testified. (It might be interest to know how come–weren’t invited/subponeaed? too busy doing real anti-terrorism work?) …