Smith Essay: News Coverage of 9/11 in Arab-American Affairs

ChristinaSmith
Christina M. Smith

This article seeks to converge two areas of existing scholarship: coverage of 9/11 in the mainstream media and the longstanding tradition of ethnic news outlets in the U.S.

Specifically, I examine how Arab-American Affairs covered 9/11 and its subsequent impact compared to the patterns demonstrated by previous studies.

Media Coverage of 9/11

There is a wealth of research on media coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Media scholar Douglas Kellner (2004) argued that mainstream media coverage fueled the longstanding “clash of civilizations” model and perpetuated fear of Middle Eastern terrorism.  Ultimately, this coverage worked to support the Bush Administration’s rhetorical justifications for the War on Terror.  Western media coverage, especially that from Britain, utilized similar framing mechanisms, as demonstrated in several essays in Pludowski’s (2007) edited volume.  Post-9/11 coverage of the War on Terror by the mainstream media continued to support the Bush Administration, as journalists “embedded” with military units provided a constant stream of information and visual images “that authenticated a story told by the government” and obscured the war’s deadly toll on civilians (Bennett, 2005, p. 157).

Even though mainstream coverage fostered war hysteria, news networks “fail[ed] to provide a coherent account of what happened, why it happened, and what would count as responsible responses” (Kellner, 2004, p. 44).  Overall, the media adhered to the Bush Administration’s polarizing “with us or against us” rhetoric, which led them to ignore problematic stories involving the detention of Arab-American citizens, privacy violations, and the weakening of civil liberties brought about by the Patriot Act.  Arab-American Affairs successfully addressed many of these issues, while simultaneously condemning the attacks in the strongest possible terms.

Arab-American Affairs Magazine

Arab-American Affairs magazine (formerly known as The News Circle) was a quarterly publication dedicated to the documentation and dissemination of Arab-American history, culture, and achievements.  The editor, Joseph R. Haiek, devoted his career to preserving the unique history of this group, earning him the Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations.  The Medals are presented to American citizens of diverse origins for their outstanding contributions to their communities and nation.  Mr. Haiek passed away in 2018, and his widely-published obituary overviewed his life’s work:

Haiek was born in 1932 in Jerusalem, Palestine and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1967.  He was the publisher and founder of The News Circle Publishing House in Los Angeles in 1972, covering news, views and culture on Arab Americans as well as the Arab World.  In addition to the Arab American Almanac, he was the publisher of the Arab American Affairs Magazine (The News Circle) and the founder of the Arab American Press Guild and the Arab American Historical Foundation. (“Joseph Haiek Passes,” 2018)

Arab-American Affairs magazine is part of a long history of the ethnic press in the U.S.  Scholar and preservationist of ethnic newspapers James Danky noted how such outlets serve two important roles:  First, they focus on the unique needs of a specific community, providing a form of “cultural resonance” for readers, and second, they often help to facilitate social justice for some groups (cited in Leibowitz, 2012).  Indeed, this was a key goal of Arab-American Affairs magazine in the wake of 9/11.

Differences in Coverage

Arab-American Affairs’ first issue after 9/11 was released in December 2001 and focused almost entirely on the terrorist attacks and U.S. response on the domestic and international fronts.  Mr. Haiek’s editorial, entitled “Arab-Americans Condemn Terrorist Attacks, Voice Concern About Hate Crimes,” immediately denounced the attacks and recognized the broader geo-political ramifications.  Mr. Haiek stated, “it is hoped that our foreign policy…will not get carried away by expanding the war on Afghanistan to include Iraq, Iran and other Middle East countries that oppose Israeli occupation.”  He also recognized the resulting hate crimes against Arab and Muslim-Americans occurring in the aftermath of 9/11:  “Patriotism is not tested and rated by the number of American flags we fly to prove our American loyalty.  Arab-Americans are proud, law abiding citizens who know their duties and rights” (p. 4).  The editorial ended with a call for pursuing cooperation among nations to combat the underlying cultural and political conditions that encourage radical Islamic terrorism.

The subjects of post-9/11 discrimination and profiling were prominent topics throughout.  One article reported on meetings between Attorney General John Ashcroft and Arab-American leaders, where “the impact of anti-terrorism legislation on civil liberties” were discussed (p. 17).  The same page carried “Guidance on Voluntary Interviews” offered by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which warned of “ethnic profiling” and an Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) memo that opened the possibility of detention and interviews with Justice Department officials.  In fact, one article discussed how Congressman Darrell Issa was a victim of racial profiling when he was not allowed to board a plan from Washington Dulles to Saudi Arabia.  Finally, an article detailed a meeting between the FBI and four organizations:  the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Council for American Islamic Relations, the Arab-American Republican Club, and the Arab-American Caucus of the Democratic Party of Orange County, where community members voiced concern about hate crimes and profiling (p. 27).

In another section, entitled “From the American Press Following September 11 Attacks,” the magazine reprinted coverage from a variety of newspapers and magazines, including one article by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh uncovering the investigations into Osama bin Laden and the terrorist attacks.  In a turn to foreign policy and international socio-political events, other articles in the magazine discussed related issues in Iraq and the Middle East, including a reprint of U.N. caution against extending the Bush Administration’s War on Terror to Iraq (p. 29), a condemnation of Israeli settlements by Colin Powell (p. 36), and a warning against Islamic extremism by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah (p. 37).

Later issues of Arab-American Affairs do not address the 9/11 terrorist attacks directly, but continue to interrogate U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, including its unwavering support for Israeli occupation of Palestine.  The June 2002 issue revisits incidents of profiling and civil rights violations from the U.S. government and private corporations in an article about three resolutions passed by the DNC.  Mr. Haiek’s August 2003 editorial strongly cautions against the invasion of Iraq, noting “the urge-to-remove Saddam campaign exploded with our media drumming up war propaganda and accusing all those who opposed the war as being unpatriotic and un-American….How will President George W. Bush go down in history after his New World Oil Order? ” (p. 4).  All the articles demonstrated a deep understanding of the region’s history and culture.

Conclusions

In his theory of media framing, Entman (2004) suggested that it is important to investigate not only what is highlighted within a specific frame, but also what is obscured by the frame’s deployment.  In this case, Arab-American Affairs almost immediately began providing an alternate framing of the 9/11 attacks and War on Terror that was missing in the mainstream media.  Retrospective analyses detail mainstream media complicity in supporting Bush Administration rhetoric, yet Mr. Haiek’s publication provided one example of an important counter-frame immediately following 9/11.  His coverage illustrates the need for ethnic news outlets, and the important function they provide for communities and democratic ideals.

About the author: Christina M. Smith (Ph.D., Arizona State University) is an Associate Professor of Communication at California State University Channel Islands, where she teaches and researches in rhetoric and media studies.

Featured image:  The December 2001 cover of Arab-American Affairs magazine.

References

Bennett, W. L. (2005). News: The politics of illusion. New York: Pearson.

Entman, R. M. (2004). Projections of power:  Framing news, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Joseph Haiek Passes, Publisher of the Arab American Almanac and Community Activist (2018, January 25).  Retrieved from https://www.arabamerica.com/the-passing-of-joseph-haiek-publisher-of-the-arab-american-almanac-and-community-activist/

Haiek, J. R. (2001, December).  Arab-Americans condemn terrorist attacks, voice concern about hate crimes. Arab-American Affairs, p. 4; p. 17.

Haiek, J. R. (2003, August). U.S. in the Middle East: An Assessment. Arab-American Affairs, p. 4.

Kellner, D. (2004). 9/11, spectacles of terror, and media manipulation:  A critique of Jihadist and Bush media politics. Critical Discourse Studies, 1, 41-64.

Leibowitz, F. (2012). The future of ethnic newspapers in the United States and Canada. Serials Review, 38, 105-109.

Pludowski, T. (2007).  How the world’s media reacted to 9/11.  Spokane, WA: Marquette.

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