While viewers might have expected to see the latest on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or Tuesday's electoral primaries, CNN's Campbell Brown devoted the first two segments on her program on Monday to highlighting the apparent religious bigotry inside the U.S. Army - specifically, the upcoming lawsuit of a Muslim who alleges he was harassed and ridiculed due to his religion.
Brown played the interview of the soldier, Specialist Zachari Klawonn, during the first full segment, which began 2 minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour. Klawonn was joined by his lawyer, Randal Mathis, as well as the commanding officer of his battalion, Colonel Jimmy Jenkins. As she introduced the segment, the anchor emphasized how the specialist is "a model soldier," "exactly what the Army says it is looking for," and how he "has an exemplary service record, and has earned the praise of both his commanders and his Army buddies."
During the interview, Brown asked Klawonn about the alleged anti-Muslim harassment he has received, and questioned his commanding officer about the actions he took to solve the issue. After the specialist gave some general examples of the offending behavior, Colonel Jenkins detailed his responsibility as brigade commander: "...My sole goal is to make sure he and the other 2,200 soldiers in the brigade- their safety is paramount. I'm charged with the combat readiness of the brigade, and if my soldiers don't feel safe, then I have failed. So, I have worked personally with Specialist Klawonn on a quite a few occasions to see what I could do to make him feel safer."
The specialist also mentioned during the interview that he was "working with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation" in filing his lawsuit. The CNN anchor brought on the founder and president of the MRFF, Michael Weinstein, along with Thomas Kenniff, a former Army JAG, during the second segment.
Brown mentioned Weinstein's role with the MRFF, but omitted his connections to past lawsuits against the military. Earlier in 2010, the president demanded the military remove the "Bible codes" on rifle scopes used in Afghanistan and asked the Army to change the emblem of the Evans Army Community Hospital in Colorado, which has the motto "For God and humanity" written in Latin, as well as a cross.
More egregiously, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice newspaper interviewed Weinstein in February 2008, and the MRFF president used anti-Christian language several times in his answers. He referred to Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" as the "Jesus Chainsaw Massacre" and denounced the Officers' Christian Fellowship and the Christian Military Fellowship as "variances of this Christian Taliban and the Christian al-Qaeda." He even compared the "Christian Taliban" supposedly inside the military to the members of the Nazi Party who supported Hitler, or the Communist Party members who aided Stalin. Brown didn't bring up any of this during her interview of Weinstein.
Kenniff, the anchor's other guest, on the other hand, expressed his concerns over the specialist's lawsuit:
KENNIFF: One thing that concerns me, though, is what I see as- you know, somewhat of a lack of specificity in the allegations made by Specialist Klawonn. You know, for instance, he cites numerous cases of harassment. What I would like to know is- you know, does he have the names of the soldiers who are harassing him? Was it reported? Did he name names? Was there an investigation? Because the type of conduct that he at least alleges in some of the complaints- I mean, the destruction of his Koran, the threatening note left on his door or on his truck- I mean, that would certainly give rise, if not to full-blown criminal conduct within the military, then to non-judicial punishment....
The transcript of Brown's interview of Weinstein and Keniff, which began 12 minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour of Monday's Campbell Brown program, starting with the anchor's first question to the MRFF president:
BROWN: So, Michael, it's not exactly in the Army's interest here to have soldiers being harassed. So, I mean, what possible motivation, I guess, do they have to not act to protect their soldiers?
WEINSTEIN: Well, I think part of the problem is, is that there is such a tremendous inherent- you know, bias against Muslim-Americans in the military. We see it every day with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. For instance, at some military installations, when you walk into the military clothing store, the only books that they're selling, religious books, are the camouflage Bible and then another book called 'The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam,' which is an absolute slam on the entire faith.
BROWN: So- so-
WEINSTEIN: When you hear- wait. Let me just say one other thing.
WEINSTEIN: When you hear soldiers running in formation- you know, they're often- they will have marching chants or running chants. They'll use the word 'hajji,' which is a- as negative to a Muslim-American as the N-word is to an African-American or the K-word to a Jewish-American or an S-word to an Hispanic-American, and it's done with reckless and complete- total abandon. And- you know, fish in an aquarium never see the water.
BROWN: So, let me ask you both this question, and here's the challenge- is during a time when we are fighting two wars in Muslim countries, and when we face a threat of Islamic terrorism, how much can the Army really do to control what soldiers think of Muslims or Islam? Tom, you answer first.
KENNIFF: Yeah- you know, I think that's a great question, Campbell. It's also one of the concerns I had with- you know, Mikey's client's lawsuit, because a lot of the allegations seem to rail against a hostile culture within the military. And, look, I don't doubt for one second- in fact, I can speak firsthand to the fact that that does exist in certain instances with respect to Muslim-Americans within the military. I would hope that it's the exception and not the rule, and I know Mikey may have a different take on that. But- you know, it's very difficult in the context of a discrimination lawsuit, which is what I think this probably is.
KENNIFF: Okay. Well, you can tell us what it will be, because I- frankly, I haven't seen the complaint. I don't even know that it's filed yet.
KENNIFF: But- you know, exactly what is the remedy that your client seeking? I mean, if it's a situation where- you know, there's hostility within the enlisted ranks or the officer ranks among fellow soldiers, that's one thing. If it's a situation where it's a top-down- you know, pattern of discrimination meant to oppress- you know, Muslim-American soldiers, then I think that's quite another.
BROWN: All right, Mikey?
WEINSTEIN: Well, and, Tom, let me be specific. What we're looking at doing is filing a federal mandamus action. We believe that all of the internal regulations and instructions and laws within the Pentagon are already fine. They're just being ignored with impunity and there's no penalty for that. What we want to do-
BROWN: But, again, go back to the question of how you get the military to address this, given the world that these soldiers are living in.
WEINSTEIN: Let me make it very clear. You never get anybody to change their minds, Campbell, because they suddenly see the light. They have to feel the heat. We need leaders that will impose the laws that currently exist. This is old-school prejudice, old-school discrimination, old-school bigotry, and it cannot be allowed-
BROWN: Gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there. Tom Kenniff and Mikey Weinstein, I do appreciate both of you joining us tonight- really interesting conversation. Thanks so much.