AP Ignored Fact-Based Criticism of Islam in College Harassment Case

May 18th, 2007 10:11 AM

Flickr photo by 'Lewishamdreamer/Jas?n' or 'Jason'

If the AP didn’t write about it, it didn’t happen, right? In an article about a topic I blogged earlier in the week here at Newsbusters, the AP also reported it, but with a different angle. The Primary Source, a conservative newspaper at Boston’s Tufts University was charged with harassment and creating a hostile environment on campus by publishing what the paper called political parody; they were found guilty of the charges by a disciplinary panel. The catch is, the AP worded it in a way that only reported half the story and ignored the paper's other harassment complaint that the panel was judging-at the same time-a fact-based satire of Islam.

The Source's article was a take-off of the ubiquitous “awareness week” flyers that litter college campuses everywhere by mocking up an “Islam Awareness Week” flyer (from FIRE’s extensive coverage) which quoted violent passages from the Koran and highlighted unflattering facts about some of the oppressive and discriminatory conditions in Islam and Islamic countries and Islam itself.  There isn’t much sympathy for people who are upset because a newspaper pointed out that “Since the 7th century, 1 million African slaves were sold to Muslims compared to 10 or 11 million sold to the entire Western hemisphere” and “The seven nations in the world that punish homosexuality with death all have fundamentalist Muslim governments.  Unlike crude cracks about skin color, it’s pretty hard to gin up outrage over writing true statements like that about harsh elements of fundamentalist Islam.

Why did the AP leave out the Islamic parody? Maybe this story just was one of those quick rewrites of an activist press release, or perhaps there was a purpose to eliminating the Islamic portion of the story. Whatever the reason, this is all that occurred, according to the AP (emphasis mine throughout):

A judicial panel at Tufts University on Thursday ruled that a conservative campus journal "harassed" blacks by publishing a Christmas carol parody called "O Come All Ye Black Folk" that many found racist.dddd

The decision by the Committee on Student Life, a board of professors and students that hears complaints against campus groups, ruled that The Primary Source was guilty of harassment and creating a hostile environment in violation of the school's nondiscrimination policy.

A black studdent brought a harassment complaint to the board after the magazine distributed its December edition, which contained the mock Christmas carol lambasting black students and the school's affirmative action policies.

Even though an apology for the  Christmas carol  (from FIRE) was issued in December after students made their displeasure known, it resulted in no charges or university disciplinary action. Interest in that carol was renewed only by the Islamic satire controversy, which occurred four months later. The AP did not explain any of this and instead of addressing the logical catalyst for the trial, the Islamic Awareness parody, it focused solely on the Christmas carol lampoon, only mentioning the Islamic Awareness parody and its "factoids" in passing after listing portions of the inflammatory carol:

The parody of "O Come All Ye Faithful" calls black people "boisterous" and proclaims, "Born into the ghetto. O Jesus! We need you now to fill our racial quotas." (…)

The school's Muslim Student Association filed a separate harassment claim in April after the magazine parodied their advertisements for Islamic Awareness Week with factoids about brutality in Muslim countries.

By framing the Islamic parody as a “separate harassment claim in April,” the AP made it seem as though the two cases were not tried together and were unrelated, which also made it seem as if there was a pattern of charges.

It might also be wise to minimize the Islamic parody when the Muslim Student Association's complaint to Tufts called the printed facts about Islam a “negative and wrongful portrayal” and stated “[The Source] printed the Danish cartoons last year and now this. We are outraged.”

The icing on the cake? Not only did the AP leave out half the story, but it couldn’t even get the punishment right, stating the committee decided that “an editor now must sign all of the magazine's work,” while in reality, it ruled that “all material published…must be attributed to named author(s) or contributor(s). Eliminating anonymous political speech on campus is very different from requiring an editor to essentially take responsibility for articles. That was an elementary mistake for an AP reporter to make.

This literally one-sided article wasn’t corrected or followed up upon. So, a hurried rewrite of an activist organization’s press release, a desire to conceal some of the more disturbing elements of fundamentalist Islam or just a poorly researched article from an otherwise good writer? There’s no way to tell.

Photo from Flickr photographer "lewishamdreamer" -otherwise known as "Jason"

Contact Lynn with complaints or tips at tvisgoodforyou2 AT yahoo DOT com