NYT's Poster Child for Islamic Moderates Falls off the Poster
New York Muslim school activist Debbie Almontaser was, until late last week the principal of a new Arabic-themed public school in Brooklyn, the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which was set to open next month. That's before she came under fire from comments she made about an "Intifada NYC" T-shirt sold by an activist group which shares an office with the Yemeni-American association that Almontaser represents. The Times finally picked up on the story when Almontaser resigned, but both its current and previous coverage of her portraystheex-principalas a passive and moderate victim of vengeful forces.
The day before she condemned the T-shirt message's connection to Palestinian terrorism, Almontaser told the Post that 'intifada' meant 'shaking off' and the shirts represented women 'shaking off' oppression." Under fire from, of all places, United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, Almontaser resigned Friday.
Reporter Julie Bosman's Friday afternoon web post was soppy and pre-emptive, piling on irrelevant positive details about Almontaser's family, all but waving her hands and shouting "No radicals here!"Bosman's actual print articlecame stripped of most of those details but the tone remained the same, with Almontaser having "resigned under pressure after she was quoted defending the use of the word 'intifada' as a T-shirt slogan."
From Bosman's web post:
"Ms. Almontaser is a well-known Muslim activist in New York City and a member of a prominent Yemeni-American family in Brooklyn. She helped to educate children in interfaith understanding after 9/11. Her son Yousif has served in the Army National Guard. Five of her nephews have served in Iraq as marines; Andrea Elliott of The Times wrote about the nephews' service in an article published last August. (Daniel J. Wakin of The Times wrote about Ms. Almontaser's work in November 2001 and August 2002.) This week, Ms. Almontaser has found herself in the crosshairs of public scrutiny."
Notice that Almontaser didn't put herself there, but passively "found herself" there.
The story was broken and pursued solely by the New York Post and ignored by the Times until Almontaser resigned. Bosman may have an emotional and/or professional investment in Almontaser's alleged moderation; back on May 4 Bosman covered other controversies over the school and portrayed Almontaser as an innocent victim of misunderstanding and prejudice:
"The principal, Debbie Almontaser, who came to America from Yemen at age 3 and who organized peace rallies and urged tolerance after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been vilified on Web sites as having an 'Islamist agenda.'"
Perhaps those concerns were justified?