In Michigan Genital Mutilation Case, AP Buries the Lede, Detroit Paper Only Refers to 'Cutting'

June 9th, 2017 12:29 PM

On Wednesday afternoon, the Detroit Free Press reported that "A federal prosecutor dropped a bombshell in court Wednesday, telling a federal judge that the government estimates that as many as 100 girls may have had their genitals cut at the hands of a local doctor and her cohorts" in a "historic" case involving female genital mutilation (FGM).

The Associated Press inexplicably buried this obvious "bombshell" lede in the final sentence of its brief unbylined Wednesday evening dispatch, while the Free Press itself has developed a sudden and troubling reluctance to call FGM by its true name.

In its brief Wednesday story, the AP instead chose to headline the fact that the primary defendants, Detroit-area doctor and his wife, will be released from jail with required electronic monitoring (underlines are mine):


Though prosecutors and surely others justifiably don't like it, release with monitoring is hardly unique. But an estimate of 100 cases of female genital mutilation performed by one set of defendants in what is supposed to be a country based on Western values is uniquely and intensely disturbing. The Free Press got the "bombshell" part of its story right by giving it top billing. One struggles to explain the absence of anything resembling journalistic or even adult judgment which would have caused the AP to relegate that fact to its much shorter story's final sentence.

That said, the Free Press, in a story by reporter Tresa Baldas, exhibited their own disturbing and deeply disappointing failure in judgment as they deliberately abandoned the used of the term "female genital mutilation."

Links to previous Free Press stories embedded in the current one show that the paper has used the proper and widely accepted term in previous reports:

  • (May 20) Religious defense planned in landmark Detroit genital mutilation case
  • (May 9) 4 kids in genital mutilation case to stay with parents - for now

But in Wednesday's report, the Free Press deliberately dodged referring to FGM, as seen in the bolded text in the following excerpt:

Feds drop bombshell: Up to 100 girls may have had their genitals cut in Michigan

A federal prosecutor dropped a bombshell in court Wednesday, telling a federal judge that the government estimates that as many as 100 girls may have had their genitals cut at the hands of a local doctor and her cohorts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward disclosed the information while trying to convince a judge to keep a doctor and his wife locked up in the historic case. It involves allegations that two Minnesota girls had their genitals cut at a Livonia clinic in February as part of a religious rite of passage and were told to keep what happened a secret.

"Due to the secretive nature of this procedure, we are unlikely to ever know how many children were cut by Dr. (Jumana) Nagarwala," Woodward said, referring to the lead defendant in the case, later adding, "The Minnesota victims were not the first victims."

Against Woodward's wishes, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman granted bond to two other defendants in the case: Dr. Fakhruddin Attar, 53, of Farmington Hills, who is accused of letting Nagarwala use his clinic to perform genital cutting procedures on minor girls; and his wife, Farida Attar, 50, who is accused of holding the girls' hands during the procedure to keep them from squirming and to calm them.

The government believes the three defendants, all members of a local Indian-Muslim sect, subjected numerous girls to genital cutting procedures over a 12-year period. To date, the government says it has identified eight victims -- including the two Minnesota girls -- though Woodward said the government estimates there could be as many as 100 victims. She said that's a conservative estimate, and that it's based on Dr. Attar's alleged admission to authorities that he let Nagarwala use his clinic up to six times a year to treat children for genital rashes.

Though the story contains three other references to some form of "cutting," Baldas's story failed to use the word "mutilation" even once. The reporter's Twitter account refers to "female genital mutilation" and "genital mutilation" in tweets relating to this story (HT Steve Edwards), indicating that it's the paper which has made the call on story terminology.

Readers will note that the Associated Press, despite its horrible decision to bury the real lede in this story, at least used the term "female genital mutilation."

In abandoning any reference to FGM, a term that is so common that it has its own medical dictionary definition, the Free Press appears to be following the Western guilt-laden lead of Celia Dugger at the New York Times.

In an April post, I noted that Dugger insists on using the term "genital cutting," because it is a "less culturally loaded" term. Using the term "female genital mutilation," in her view, has "widened the chasm" between "advocates who campaign against the practice and the people who follow the rite."

"Genital cutting" may be "less culturally loaded," but it's also far too tolerant in the circumstances. 

The Free Press's apparent decision to abandon a commonly used and perfectly descriptive term as it covers a historic case in its own back yard is deeply disappointing. It should be reversed.

Cross-posted at