Media relations: ‘They were set up, and the media knows it!’

Media relations: ‘They were set up, and the media knows it!’ June 12, 2005

The arrests of five Muslims in the heretofore unknown small town of Lodi, California as part of an ongoing terrorism probe was a most distressing piece of news. Now, we must remember that Hamid Hayat has not been formally charged with terrorism or terrorist activity, and there is no evidence Hamid Hayat had an actual plan to harm his fellow Americans. We also must remember God’s advice in cases like this:

“If a wicked person comes to you with news, ascertain the truth, lest you harm people unwittingly and afterwards become full of regret for what you did” (49:6). This is because news such as this is liable to harm countless innocent Muslims – in Lodi or elsewhere – who may face a possible backlash by “patriotic Americans” who irrationally conclude that all Muslims must be terrorists because of Hamid Hayat’s alleged activities.

Yet, still, if it is true that Hayat trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Pakistan, I can’t help but wonder about what his motive would have been. To get in shape? To get some fresh air? Isn’t one of the motives of Al Qaeda to attack American targets and kill Americans, be they in the military or civilians? So, why else would he go there? We’ll just have to wait and see. Yet, at the risk of sounding naive, I still can’t believe – and am outraged that – an American Muslim would allegedly train at an Al Qaeda camp. I am sure that many other Muslims – discussing this latest string of bad news at picnics and around dinner tables – had this same reaction of disbelief.

Yet, my disbelief stems from the pain of learning that a fellow American Muslim may have received training to kill his fellow Americans. Yet, I don’t doubt that possibility, however painful that possibility may be to swallow. I wish I could say that about some Muslims I have come across. I remember discussing the violence that occurred in Egypt on the day that voters approved a referendum allowing multi-candidate elections. A Muslim I know said to me, “Who said that?” I replied, “A Washington Post reporter wrote about he saw first-hand.” He refused to believe it, citing the age-old excuse of “media bias against Islam.”

No doubt, there are some media that are totally and completely biased against Islam, but to say all of the media is biased against Islam is irresponsible. It is just as irresponsible, in fact, as saying all Muslims are violent fanatics. Now, I do agree that the media has a problem with selective reporting, which can give rise to very inaccurate perceptions about Islam and Muslims. For example, CAIR analyzed the news coverage of the millennium terror plots that were foiled in 2000. The arrest of the Algerian man who allegedly tried to smuggle bomb-making materials into the United States was covered in 129 stories (113 print, 16 broadcast) on the day of, and the day following, the announcement of his arrest. Twenty-one newspapers ran it on Page 1.

Yet, that same month in December 1999, the arrest of two suspected militia members accused of plotting to blow up a California propane plant just outside Sacramento, Calif., which could have killed as many as half the people within a five-mile radius, received 51 stories (51 print, 0 broadcast) on the day of the arrest and the following day. Only one of the stories ran on Page 1. Many papers ran it as a news brief. And the December 1999 arrest of an American Airlines mechanic who was charged with possessing bomb-making materials after potential explosives and assault rifles were found in his home was covered in only 10 articles. The New York Times ran the story on Page 20. The Washington Post ran it on Page 8.

Unfortunately, whenever Muslims and terrorism mix, it is much more newsworthy. Yet, Muslims are not the only “victims” of selective reporting. A few years ago, almost every day brought another news report of alleged sexual misconduct by a Catholic priest. The coverage was so intense that it gave the impression that the Catholic Church was teeming with pedophile priests. We all know that this is patently false. Yet, all the good that the thousands of Catholic priests do each and every day is not newsworthy, and so the media does not report it.

It is all about getting more eyeballs to your newspaper or cable channel. Stories about the kind deeds of ordinary American Muslims or Catholic priests don’t generate the same ratings as Muslims rioting over the Qur’an or a priest abusing a child. It is a sad commentary on modern society, really, but it is reality. True, it may not be entirely fair, but life is not entirely fair. We simply have to get used to it and should stop whining about the media’s “bias.”

Yet, more annoying to me than hearing about the “media’s bias” is hearing some Muslims explain away incidents such as the Lodi arrests, or the arrest of a Muslim trying to sell shoulder-fired missiles, as “entrapment” by the FBI. This is incredulous and a complete “cop out.” Let’s say, for instance, “Muhammad” is finishing his Isha prayers and “Ahmad” comes up to him and says, “Psst! I have a plan to kill these horrible kuffar for their invading of the innocent Muslims of Iraq. You will become a martyr, my friend. Do you want to help me?” If “Muhammad” says, “Absolutely!” and then goes on to help “Ahmad” in his evil plot, didn’t “Muhammad” just violate the laws of God and America? Isn’t “Muhammad” doing something haram?

Now let’s say “Ahmad” is an FBI agent provocateur. Has anything changed? Does that take away from “Muhammad’s” guilt? Isn’t the real problem “Muhammad’s” initial response? Shouldn’t “Muhammad’s” response have been this: “Astaghfirullah!!! That is murder! How could you ask me to do such a thing! Get out of my face!”? Now, being framed and falsely accused by the authorities is a different matter. Nevertheless, no Muslim should ever aid and abet a terrorist plot, even if that plot is an “FBI trap.” It is un-Islamic and immoral, never mind illegal. The fact that one of the plotters is an “agent” is not an excuse and really never should be. How could murder – even if only in the planning stage – ever be excused?

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at

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