Last week, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) made anti-Muslim comments while recounting an alleged encounter with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a Muslim Somali American, implying that she was a terrorist.
On November 26, Boebert tweeted a lackluster apology to “anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar,” and on November 29, Omar and Boebert reportedly spoke on the phone. Omar said she ended the call after Boebert “doubled down” on the comments, refusing to publicly apologize and demanding that Omar apologize for being “anti-American.”
As of December 3, some progressive Democrats have called for Boebert to be censured or removed from her committee assignments, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has resisted, reportedly saying that punishing her might backfire on Democrats.
Some mainstream coverage of Boebert’s anti-Muslim attack against Omar minimized the danger of Boebert’s bigotry, sometimes failing to mention her history of racist and anti-Muslim commentary, which has included multiple previous attacks on Omar; her support for the right-wing QAnon conspiracy theory; and her alleged connections to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Some coverage also portrayed the incident as a two-sided “controversy” rather than as a dangerous attack on a marginalized group, downplaying the threat it poses to Muslims’ safety.
Other stories stoked alarm over whether Democrats would take action against Boebert, suggesting doing so would create a “slippery slope” toward intolerance and put them in danger themselves. These stories placed concerns about supposed cancel culture over the physical and mental safety of a marginalized religious group. On November 30, Omar shared a graphic, slur-laden death threat voicemail she had received after Boebert’s comments.
Obscuring Boebert’s extremism
Some stories about Boebert’s attack on Omar failed to acknowledge either Boebert’s previous racist and anti-Muslim statements or the allegations that Boebert or her staff played a role in planning the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
- An Associated Press article did not mention Boebert’s previous bigotry and extremist connections, describing her as a “partisan lightning rod” with a “fiery presence on social media.”
- While ABC7 quoted Omar and several of her supporters condemning Boebert’s comments, its report on the incident did not discuss Boebert’s extremism or previous bigoted remarks.
- In one online story on the incident, CNN did quote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) referring to Boebert’s “repeated, ongoing and targeted Islamophobic comments and actions” against Omar but did not elaborate on what these comments and actions were and didn't mention her other extremist actions.
- A Wall Street Journal article highlighting Boebert’s supposed apology did not mention any of Boebert’s previous comments about Omar or other Muslims, her racist statements, or her connections to right-wing extremism.
- In a story about Omar’s call with Boebert, ABC did not mention Boebert’s history of bigoted statements or her connections to right-wing extremism, referring to her simply as “the Colorado Republican.”
Casting the incident as a two-sided “controversy” instead of an anti-Muslim attack
Other stories framed Boebert’s attack on Omar as a two-sided partisan “controversy” rather than as an issue of human rights that could place Omar and other Muslims in physical danger, referring to “tension” between the two rather than emphasizing Boebert’s behavior.
- A Politico report on the phone call between Omar and Boebert referred to the incident as a “controversy” and said the call had ended up “exacerbating already rock-bottom relations in the House."
- A CNN digital article said the call between Omar and Boebert “did little to calm tensions between the two lawmakers, as Omar says she hung up on Boebert, after she ‘refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments.’” This portrays Boebert's attack as a personal or partisan dispute between peers.
- Reporting on the call, Business Insider framed the story as a both-sides partisan dispute, writing that “the two seemed to differ over whether Boebert had offered a sufficient apology for her Islamophobic comments. … That apparently led to a breakdown in the conversation between the two women, who represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, as Boebert claims she was hung up on.”
- The New York Times reported that Boebert had “reach[ed] out” to Omar after the video came out, “escalating a feud,” and used Boebert’s statement that Omar’s request for an apology was part of “cancel culture 101” as the story’s final quote.
- Another Politico story verged on blaming Omar for her response to the situation, reporting that “Lauren Boebert said she called Ilhan Omar, recounting what became a back-and-forth over biased rhetoric. Omar hung up on her.”
Taking Boebert’s Twitter apology as sincere and arguing that censuring right-wing extremists creates a “slippery slope” for Democrats
Some stories implied that if Democrats punished Boebert, they would risk playing into so-called cancel culture by chastising people who have apologized for their wrongdoing. Boebert has not yet apologized publicly to Omar; her Twitter apology referred only to “anyone in the Muslim community I offended.”
- An article in Politico Playbook referred to the Democrats’ decision to censure Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), writing that their dilemma over how to handle Boebert “highlights the slippery slope Democrats created when they removed MTG from her committees over comments she made before entering Congress. Where do Democrats draw the line?”
- On CNN’s At this Hour with Kate Bolduan, CNN political analyst Rachael Bade said the Democrats face a “difficult situation” in deciding whether to punish Boebert because House Minority Leader Kevin “Mccarthy did get her to apologize publicly.”
- On CNN Newsroom, CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona took Boebert’s tweet as a sincere apology, saying Democrats were concerned about setting a “precedent” by punishing Boebert, who “did apologize for her remarks and is at least trying to make amends.”
- Axios reported that Democrats were setting a dangerous precedent, writing, “House Democrats have increasingly taken it upon themselves to dole out discipline to GOP members for inflammatory rhetoric this year, which Republicans warn will fundamentally alter how Congress conducts its internal affairs.”
Providing better coverage
Other outlets did a better job of noting Boebert’s history of making racist and anti-Muslim comments and highlighting the danger her language poses to Omar and other Muslims.
- On CNN’s New Day, CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox noted that Boebert’s remarks endangered Omar and others, saying that her statement was “a problem not just because it is incredibly racist, but also because it could potentially put people's lives at risk.”
- The Denver Post wrote that Boebert “has a history of using anti-Islamic language as an attack on Democrats in Congress,” a fact many stories omitted.
- Writing for MSNBC Opinion, columnist Dean Obeidallah exposed Boebert’s history of attacking Muslim colleagues, denegrating anti-racist groups, and promoting white nationalist conspiracy theories. He also connected her bigotry to that of other Republicans, writing, “The response from the Republican Party — or, rather, lack thereof — is a clear statement about the kind of hate speech that is tolerated by the GOP.”
- Before her most recent attack on Omar, KUSA anchor Kyle Clark called out Boebert for another set of anti-Muslim comments about Omar that she made on November 17, calling those and other things she has said “cruel” and “bigoted” and saying the media have set a lower standard for politicians like Boebert who make “vile” comments all the time.