American journalism schools teach reporters to put their own biases aside. That’s a cornerstone of how we report. We want to be open to all perspectives, weigh each side, and let the reader come to their own conclusions about what we cover.
Enter the era of fake news and Internet memes and advertorial and native advertising. Where are we headed? It’s a mystery that many of us trying to figure out. But one thing that seems evident is that there has been a shift in how readers/viewers perceive the neutrality stance that journalists hold to be sacred. Many are skeptical and believe that bias still finds its way into the news, and that pretending that it is unbiased is itself a lie. I for one think this raises some great questions for news professionals and we will be better for all the self-evaluation and rumination that we are undergoing right now.
On a personal level, I decided to take a leap of faith and try something new. After President Trump was elected, I had a lot of feelings about the divisiveness of the country, the political rhetoric about Muslims, and how me and my family fit into all of that.
I proposed to my editor at KCTS 9, the PBS affiliate in Seattle, a story about how Muslim parents are talking to their young kids about the political shift. Surely, the increase in hate crimes and mosque vandalism might be prompting concerns about playground bullying.
During the Iraq war, I remember my baby brother, then in middle school, being called a terrorist. And I also remember trying to get his vice principal to take action, and her dismissing it as the “harmless” bullying that goes on in those years of schooling. We have grown a lot in our understanding of bullying and its dangers since then, but the threat seems as real today to many parents.
My editor saw through my pitch, noting the very personal nature of the idea, and asked me to write it as a personal essay rather than simply report what others are doing. The result was an article that is a mix of my personal confessions around the topic, along with really valuable input from other parents and therapists on how to cope with the challenges of talking to young children about hate, racism and the darker sides of our society. It was particularly challenging because I am so private about my faith. It took a lot for me to admit where I stand and how I’m parenting my children, as I know that many in my community have thoughts on what is the right way to raise Muslim children. That being said, I felt so supported by the others parents I interviewed, who were open and vulnerable about their own struggles. And I have felt so supported since this article published, by my Muslim community and my community of journalists — many of whom welcomed such an open dialogue on a difficult topic.
I have several Muslim friends at esteemed news organizations such as NPR and Guardian US who covered the Trump campaign, and they too have written personal essays about what it felt like to be a Muslim in that role. I think that being so bravely honest in this era where the truth is becoming harder to sniff out is refreshing and reminds us all of our humanity — the ways in which we’re all connected and all the same. There isn’t that much that differentiates us; we just get hung up on all the differences.
Please give the piece a read, and share your thoughts.