Arab-American leaders meeting with media representatives at Dearborn’s New Yasmeen Bakery last Friday delivered an urgent message: Listen to us. Please!
The way they see it, coverage of events since Sept. 11 is failing to convey the message that Arab-Americans are hardworking and patriotic rather than the terrorist minions of Osama bin Laden.
“We feel like we’ve been desecrated,” said Dearborn Heights resident Zana Macki, who announced plans to form a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the image mainstream media is providing of Arab-Americans and Muslims. Macki said the new group wants to work with local media on a one-year campaign of tolerance, explaining that “there’s a real tension that’s never existed before.”
Unfortunately, the pleas for balance appeared to fall on deaf ears, with the media muck-a-mucks opting to, in effect, blame the victims.
Explaining that complaints are a daily occurrence, WDIV Channel 4 General Manager Joseph Berwanger told the noticeably distraught group: “I don’t think the media are guilty of unfair coverage. I think a lot of people are guilty of unfair viewing, of unfair hearing. It’s easy to be sensitive about a situation and not hear it properly.”
So there you go. The coverage has been fine. It’s just the perceptions of the groups being covered that are, as they say in corporate-speak, problematic.
Dick Haefner, news director of WJR radio, was only slightly more empathetic.
“You are involved in an all-American enterprise,” he explained. “You are victimized, or at least you think you are, by the media,” adding, “it’ll never be perfect.” (To his credit, Haeffner suggested that the Arab leaders provide more information and resources to media outlets and said he believes good will come from the discussion.)
Then there was Rich Homberg, vice president at radio stations WWJ and WXYT, who said that from his point of view, “things are pretty good.” He explained that after the biggest terrorist attack ever against America, “Detroit has held together pretty good.”
The ultimate insult in what News Hits perceived to be a mind-numbing display of arrogance (but hey, we could just be seeing things all wrong here) lay in the fact that not a single media rep had the decency to ask what images in particular were so insulting or how coverage could improve.
Had such an obvious question actually been posed, the media know-it-alls would have discovered that, among other things, it is particularly distressing when generic shots of Muslims praying are linked with images of terrorist attacks. The way folks in the Arab-American community see it, the message being conveyed is a sort of blanket indictment of all Islam.
Now, to the unsophisticated viewer, that sort of juxtaposition could be considered akin to broadcasting a KKK lynching alongside footage of Christians showing up at a church for Sunday morning services.
But to the rest of us, the difference is obvious: No good Christian would ever condone a Klan lynching.
What’s so hard to understand about that?Lisa M. Collins contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]