A year ago today, President Donald Trump signed the first iteration of the Muslim ban, restricting travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. Since then, the executive order, which was a core Trump campaign promise, has faced powerful legal challenges, implementation roadblocks and forced revisions -- yet, parts of it still remain intact. Just as important, the ban has become one of the clearest windows into the challenges and harms the Muslim community faces in the era of Trump.
With more news coverage being devoted to American Muslims’ diverse experiences with Trump in the White House, it is important for journalists and media outlets to avoid aiding and abetting anti-Muslim extremism in the year ahead. Here are five do’s and don’ts for media outlets to consider:
DO offer appropriate context about the anti-Muslim hate groups behind the Muslim ban and the Trump shills’ dishonest defense of it
When Trump first called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” as a presidential candidate, he cited a flawed poll from the anti-Muslim Center for Security Policy (CSP) as justification for its implementation. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated CSP a “hate group” for being a prominent “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement in the United States.” From the moment Trump enshrined this campaign promise into an executive order on January 27, 2017, white nationalists and neo-Nazis threw their unwavering support behind the discriminatory policy. And as it faced myriad legal challenges, Trump surrogates and anti-Muslim commentators attempted to sweep the ban’s original intent under the rug, framing it as nothing more than a national security precaution -- not a ban targeting Muslims. This year, the Supreme Court will decide the legality of the third iteration of Trump’s ban. It is imperative that media highlight its hateful origins and the extremism of the groups and activists mobilizing to keep it alive.
DON’T cite or quote anti-Muslim hate groups and their surrogates without identifying their backgrounds of extremism
As anti-Muslim extremists have found more political legitimacy under this administration (even finding positions directly in the administration), major outlets -- especially Trump’s go-to network, Fox News -- have given them a platform to discuss Trump’s latest policies and rhetoric targeting Muslims. Too often, viewers and readers are not informed of these talkers’ backgrounds of extremism or hate group affiliations. Extremists exploit this lack of disclosure by casting themselves as legitimate talking heads and experts in the fields of national security and immigration. Some media outlets tend to reinforce this by couching their coverage and discussions about Muslims largely in the context of immigration and terrorism, which fuels Trump’s narrative -- and that of anti-Muslim groups -- that Islam is foreign and “other” and the Muslim community poses a threat to national security. As Media Matters and Southern Poverty Law Center note in this journalist’s guide to anti-Muslim extremists, reporters and media outlets are better off seeking other sources. But when they are covering these extremists’ activities, it is imperative that they alert their viewers and readers to their hate-based rhetoric and policy positions.
DO rely on Muslim leaders, activists, and experts to discuss the Muslim community’s experiences in the Trump era
While anti-Muslim groups and personalities have enjoyed more media attention, some major outlets have largely failed to turn to Muslim leaders in real time to discuss Trump’s latest anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. For example, immediately after the administration revealed the first two iterations of the ban, the vast majority of guests brought onto CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News’ prime-time shows to discuss the news were not Muslim. With that lack of inclusion, discussions of the ban on these networks largely revolved around the political and logistical consequences of the executive order -- not its real-life impact on the people affected. It is essential for reporters and outlets to turn to more leaders and experts in the community to inform their reporting.
Additionally, it is important for journalists and outlets to highlight the tangible and personal consequences of Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. As Muslim Advocates’ special counsel Madihha Ahussain noted on a recent press call with Media Matters and Southern Poverty Law Center, “Whether it has been Muslims walking on the street being called names and threatened with violence, Muslim women wearing headscarves being physically attacked, Muslim children in schools being bullied, or mosques around the country being vandalized, it seems and feels as though no aspect of the community has been spared from the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment and violence over the last year.” Sure enough, in 2016, there was a 20 percent increase in reported anti-Muslim hate crimes. In the first half of 2017, there was a “91 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes ... as compared to the same time period in 2016.” And in 2017, there was an average of nine mosque attacks per month from January through August, according to a CNN analysis.
DON’T resort to false balance, “both sides” reporting in response to anti-Muslim hate
Anti-Muslim extremists count on the media to cover their talking points and activities as supposedly credible counterpoints to actual experts. In response to the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, too many media outlets have introduced false balance in their reporting and commentary, pitting pro-Trump extremists against Muslim advocates and experts. When Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos in November 2017 that were posted by an ultranationalist British leader, CNN, for example, covered these tweets with a series of “both sides” panel discussions stacked with pro-Trump commentators that justified and defended the tweets. By introducing two sides to this debate as valid, the network muddied the truth about these harmful videos and their impact on the Muslim community. “Both sides” reporting and commentary unnecessarily inflames anti-Muslim sentiment and increases its real-life impact.
DO acknowledge the weaponization of anti-Muslim sentiment online
Journalists and media outlets can’t ignore the rise and weaponization of anti-Muslim hate on major online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. Too often, members of the “alt-right” harass Muslims online and fake news websites publish fake news stories demonizing Muslim communities that go viral here in the U.S. and throughout the world. Highlighting this reality and Muslim leaders’ front-line experiences with online hate gives viewers and readers a broader understanding of the challenges the community faces in the Trump era and encourages greater accountability from the online platforms that are exploited to amplify anti-Muslim hate.