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Monday, March 10, 2008

WaPo Editor Criticizes Media’s Ignorance of Islam

Managing Editor of the Washington Post Philip Bennett gave an hour-long lecture entitled “Covering Islam: A Challenge for American Journalism” on Monday, March 3. The event was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Democracy as a part of the 2007-08 Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series.

“[The] United States news media has failed to produce sustained coverage of Islam to challenge the easy assumptions, gross generalizations or untested rhetoric that shape perceptions of Muslims,” Bennett said.

He then shared with the audience a question that the Washington Post is currently struggling with in regard to whether the publication should adopt using the word “Islamist.”

“Words matter … especially to journalists,” Bennett said.

One of the major challenges of covering Islam in the media is the use of broad, de-contextualized terms such as “Islamist,” “madrassa,” “hijab” and “jihad.”

Bennett explained that it is his job as an editor “to ensure that … stories are as close to the truth as is possible … and so much of the power of good journalism is the power of surprise.”

Bennett argues that, despite drastically increased coverage of Islam and the Middle East since 9/11, the media consistently “fails to demonstrate a critical understanding of the region’s history, culture and context.” The coverage is always criticized as “too soft, too hard or incomplete.”

Muslim Americans are moderate, assimilated and happy with their lives, according to Bennett, who cited from numerous polls; yet, he noted that an ABC-Washington Post poll in 2006 showed that 46 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of Islam and six out of 10 Americans lacked a basic understanding of the religion. [Link]

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