CNN's Cuomo Plays Softball With 'Global Phenomenon' Olympian in Hijab

CNN's Chris Cuomo heralded American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad as a "global phenomenon" on Tuesday's New Day. Cuomo gave Muhammad the kid glove treatment by failing to ask her about her anti-Israel posts on Twitter and her controversial criticism of the "climate of anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States." Instead, the anchor prompted her to respond to unnamed "critics" who attacked her hijab as "a symbol of extremism." He also wondered, "What do you want people to know about what it is to be American?" [video below]

Cuomo teased his six-minute interview of the bronze-medal winner by touting, "So let's get to the good news again. She's an Olympic athlete who just made history. And that was before Ibtihaj Muhammad won a bronze medal for Team USA. She has an inspiring story." He continued gushing over his guest during his lead into the segment: "'Faithful' and 'fearless' — these are words used to describe Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American athlete to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics. Now, Muhammad is a global phenomenon because she's a winner. She won the bronze in the women's team saber."

After congratulating the "medal-winning champ," the CNN journalist first asked, "Did you know that you had a shot at winning a medal when you came into it; and when did you know that you were actually going to win one?" Muhammad answered, in part, that "it was just a phenomenal experience for us to band together as teammates."

Cuomo followed up by again congratulating the Olympian and added, "Thank you for representing the country well." He continued with a question about her hijab: "Why was wearing the hijab...something that was not going to be a condition for you one way or the other — you were not going to do it if you didn't get to wear your hijab — and what did you want this statement to be?" The athlete replied by underlining that "one of the amazing things about...living in the United States and being American is that...regardless of your faith; your ethnicity, we can...achieve our dreams."

Tell the Truth 2016

The anchor then asked his "critics" question: "For many critics, when they talk about the hijab, they say — well, that's a symbol of extremism; and you're an American, and you should dress like an American and be an American first. You dealt with race; you dealt with religion getting into a sport that was largely white — especially, where you were in New Jersey. How do you deal with these added elements? What do you say to those critics?" Muhammad played up that minority Olympians like her "provide a different image than what people are used to seeing, and we challenge the norm. We're showing minority youth out there; we're showing Americans, that this is one of the beautiful things about our country."

Cuomo did ask a question about one of her Twitter posts later in the interview, but not one of the anti-Israel one: "You Tweeted, 'Muslim black girl — these are not limitations.' You're presenting a whole package there for people." The CNN anchor trumpeted Muhammad one last time after his guest gave her answer to this final question: "You're going to have to add that to your description of self: Olympian and medal winner."

The full transcript of Chris Cuomo's interview of Ibtihaj Muhammad from the August 16, 2016 edition of CNN's New Day:

CHRIS CUOMO: 'Faithful' and 'fearless' — these are words used to describe Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American athlete to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics. Now, Muhammad is a global phenomenon because she's a winner. She won the bronze in the women's team saber. She joins us now live in Rio. Congratulations, medal-winning champ.

Let's talk about the Olympic moment first; then, we'll talk about why it may matter even more to you. Did you know that you had a shot at winning a medal when you came into it; and when did you know that you were actually going to win one?

[CNN Graphic: "Aiming For Gold: Fencer Becomes First U.S. Olympian To Compete In A Hijab"]

IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD, OLYMPIC BRONZE MEDALIST: You know, first of all, thank you so much. This has been an amazing experience. Honestly, it still doesn't feel real. But, you know, we — Team USA went into our match as underdogs. You know, we haven't medaled this entire Olympic qualification. Winning five world medals at the last five world championships, we went a whole year without winning a medal at a World Cup. So, I know that no one expected us to go home with a medal on this trip; and it was just a phenomenal experience for us to band together as teammates — to believe in ourselves; to be positive throughout the day. And that moment when I realized that we won, it's just like — I think I jumped so high into the air. (Cuomo laughs) I just like — I mean, the best feeling; the best feeling.

CUOMO: Well, good for you. Congratulations! Thank you for representing the country well. And, of course, there's an added layer of significance. Even though one of your teammates in that picture had really wild blue hair, it's what's on your head that has made the news—

MUHAMMAD: (laughs) Yeah—

CUOMO: Why was wearing the hijab — you know, something that was not going to be a condition for you one way or the other — you were not going to do it if you didn't get to wear your hijab — and what did you want this statement to be?

MUHAMMAD: Well, you know, as a Muslim youth growing up, my parents wanted to find a sport for me to play where I could be fully covered; where I could pursue my desire to participate in sport, but I could also — you know, adhere to the tenets of my faith. When I found fencing, I immediately just — almost found myself. And one of the amazing things about — you know, living in the United States and being American is that — you know, regardless of your — your faith; your ethnicity, we can — you know, achieve our dreams and we can — you know, participate at sport at this level. And it's just been an amazing experience for me.

CUOMO: So, I know fencing. I have a wife who was a champ. My daughter does it. It's very empowering. And you are now taking that discussion to another level — because for many critics, when they talk about the hijab, they say — well, that's a symbol of extremism; and you're an American, and you should dress like an American and be an American first. You dealt with race; you dealt with religion getting into a sport that was largely white — especially, where you were in New Jersey. How do you deal with these added elements? What do you say to those critics?

MUHAMMAD: You know, it — it hasn't been the easiest journey, but I wouldn't trade any of my experiences. They've all made me stronger. And what I — what I love about — you know, my experience here, as a minority member of Team USA, is that I'm able to encourage other youth to pursue their dreams — to not let other people dictate — you know, their journey for them.

I think that — you know, Simone Biles — you know, Simone [Manuel] in the pool, even — we provide a different image than what people are used to seeing, and we challenge the norm. We're showing minority youth out there; we're showing Americans, that this is one of the beautiful things about our country. And hopefully, we're inspiring generations to come to pursue their desire, even though they may be different.

CUOMO: What do you want people to know about what it is to be American? You represent that as well — especially during a political climate here right now, where being Muslim is under the microscope in the American presidential race.

MUHAMMAD: You know, I want people to know that Muslims come in all shapes and sizes — you know? And we do various things — that we're productive members of society. And, you know, we — we're even present here on — on the United States Olympic team.

This dream of mine wouldn't have been able to come to fruition were it not for — you know, the support system that I have — not just in my town, but also — you know, from my friends and family. This has been a beautiful experience. This is the America that I know and I love — the America that is inclusive; that is accepting; and that encompasses people from all walks of life.

CUOMO: You Tweeted, 'Muslim black girl — these are not limitations.' You're presenting a whole package there for people.

MUHAMMAD: You know, this is — this is who I am. You know, I embrace — you know, I embrace every single facet of my life. I embrace who I am, and I love who I am, and I want — you know, I want — I want youth out there to believe in themselves. I want them to love themselves. I want them to be accepting of themselves, and not allow other people's misconceptions — you know — and allow stereotypes to dictate their lives for them. You know, I want them to believe in themselves, and believe that they — they can also achieve — you know, a dream of — you know, becoming an Olympian.

This is — I don't think that the stories that we're seeing of these Olympic games are — are really that — that out of the norm, in a sense that anyone can have — can have this moment. Anyone can be holding this medal. I truly believe that. It literally just comes with hard work and perseverance. Anyone can have what I have.

CUOMO: Anybody can, but very few will — and you are among them — so you're going to have to add that to your description of self: Olympian and medal winner—

MUHAMMAD: Yeah—

CUOMO: It's great to have you with us. Congratulations!

MUHAMMAD: Yeah—

CUOMO: Enjoy the rest of your time down there in Rio.

MUHAMMAD: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Go Team USA!

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