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Front Page > Issues > 2003 > July

Community charges Oregonian with anti-Arab bias

Local Muslims and supporters call for apology from editor David Reinhard and reporter Les Zaitz for unfairly linking local imam with terrorists

By Dave Mazza

Over 75 members of Portland’s Muslim community and their supporters turned out to protest anti-Arab bias in reporting by the Oregonian. The demonstration, which included members of the Islamic Center of Portland, Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights, and the Justice and Peace Action Network, picketed the entrance of the newspaper’s downtown offices on SW Broadway over the lunch hour on June 19. Their demand for apologies from the Oregonian, including editor David Reinhard and reporter Les Zaitz went unanswered as this issue of the Alliance went to press.

“Although it may sell papers, attempting to link local Muslim leaders to terrorism is unfair, and produces negative repercussions all across our society,” stated Thomas H. Nelson, speaking on behalf of Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights. “Ultimately, it hurts us all, just as 50 years ago McCarthyism hurt not only the Senator’s targets but all Americans. We expect better from the Oregonian.”
Editor David Reinhard and reporter Les Zaitz drew the sharpest fire. Zaitz, an investigative reporter who started working on the terrorism beat last year, has been accused of suggesting without corroboration that local Muslims were being investigated by federal authorities for possible terrorist links. Despite statements by the FBI that Sheikh Mohammad Kariye of the Islamic Center of Portland was not a terrorism suspect, for example, Zaitz opened his May 31, 2003 story on Kariye’s conviction for “lying to obtain health insurance” with the assertion that the Muslim leader had helped recruit “warriors for CIA Afghan ‘Jihad’ against Russia in the 1980s.”

Reinhard was criticized for his columns on the arrest of Mike Hawash and on supporting the FBI in what many consider to be racial profiling. The editor described Hawash’s facial hair, grown to comply with the tenets of his faith, as “Islamic whiskers.” Reinhard, who participates in activities by the ultra-conservative Cascade Policy Institute, also argued that focusing on suspects based on their name or appearance was appropriate in waging war against Arab terrorists.

As the June 19 protesters pointed out, however, the damage extends beyond that to the specific individual being targeted by the paper. Such writings can create real hazards for an entire community.
“Many Muslim women and young children have been verbally harassed in public places and schools after the Oregonian’s smear campaign against the local Muslim community,” stated Alaa Abunijem of the Islamic Center of Portland. “This has resulted in many people being afraid to leave their homes, or go to school. In addition, the local mosque has been forced to cancel some services because of fears for the community’s safety.”

This would not be the first time that Oregon’s local media used stereotypes and other discriminatory images in its reporting to the detriment of local ethnic groups. In 1941, nearly all Oregon newspapers and radio stations called for the internment of Japanese Americans despite the absence of any evidence that this community, mostly U.S. citizens, were collaborating in any way with the Japanese empire. Thousands of Japanese Americans were eventually placed into concentration camps, most losing whatever property they had.

Those gathered outside the Oregonian offices on June 19 hope to prevent such a tragedy from happening again by calling the state’s largest newspaper to task. As Andrea Cano of the Justice and Peace Action Network noted, the damage goes beyond the newspaper since the Oregonian is the source material for much of what gets broadcast as news on local radio and television stations. “The rippling effect of all this has gone unchecked until this moment,” Cano stated.

While organizers of the event weren’t prepared to say what their next step would be, such as going to the paper’s advertisers, it was clear they were going to stay the course until they receive satisfaction.


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Last Updated: January 29, 2003