The Media and Islam by Diana West. This article doesn’t cover the field of the media and Islam, as its title suggests. It focuses on only one reporter’s gross omissions in her three part article about imam Reda Shata of Brooklyn, New York, which was published in the New York Times.
But by looking at the reporter’s omissions, Diana West reminds us of what journalism is all about – in case we’ve forgotten. It’s easy to forget since we see so little of it.
Did the reporter miss so many crucial points in her 3 part series because of journalistic incompetence? Or was she afraid she’d make dangerous Islamist enemies if she pointed out too much? Did she avoid asking a lot of uncomfortable questions out of courtesy (not very reporterly), or out of concern that Imam Reda Shata would quit the interview altogether? Or did she put him on the spot, but was afraid if she reported his rejection of the big questions, she wouldn’t get any more interviews with imams?
Or maybe the piece was simply intended to be good PR for the Muslim community. But in that case, it wouldn’t be journalism, it would be advertising.
None of these possible reasons is worthy of a journalist. If you don’t ask the crucial questions, you’re not reporting the news, you’re feeding your readers pap.
If you do ask the crucial questions and you get evasive answers, you should report those, as well as any outright refusals to answer.
You should do your homework so that you know what the crucial questions are, and you give pertinent background to your readers so that they can make sense out of the questions and out of the replies from your interviewee. You tell it like it is, to the best of your ability.
If one wants to avoid smearing all Muslims with the unsavory example of certain leaders, you seek out a wide variety of Muslims and report on the various viewpoints in the community. But you ask the hard questions and report the answers. You go for the truth, whatever it may be. That’s journalism – or at least journalism as it should be.
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