Audrey Hudson's very long story in Tuesday's Washington Times takes the Council on American-Islamic Relations to task for its alleged falling membership. The civil liberties organization struck back in a strongly worded press release the same day that says the Times is a "right-wing" newspaper that publishes "agenda-driven reporting." For starters, it is pretty well established that the Times is a right-leaning newspaper. But that doesn't mean everything it publishes is right-leaning or even falls into right-left categories. And what does the right-leaning reputation of the Times have to do with its reporting on an Islamic civil rights group's membership levels? Is it conservative to investigate an Islamic organization or to dig into its background in the Muslim Brotherhood?
Here is the nut of the story, which is harsh:
Critics of the organization say they are not surprised that membership is sagging, and that a recent decision by the Justice Department to name CAIR as "unindicted co-conspirators" in a federal case against another foundation charged with providing funds to a terrorist group could discourage new members.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, director of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, says the sharp decline in membership calls into question whether the organization speaks for American Muslims, as the group has claimed.
"This is the untold story in the myth that CAIR represents the American Muslim population. They only represent their membership and donors," Mr. Jasser said.
CAIR barred Hudson from a recent news conference "because of her history of sloppy and agenda-driven reporting. It is unfortunate that her apparent bias leads her to 'cook' CAIR's membership figures and to tarnish the journalistic reputation of the Washington Times."
As a journalist, I do not think there is ever a reason to bar anyone from a news conference as long as they are being civil. Disagreeing or disliking a publication's coverage of your group is not a good excuse, and if the reporter's stories have been sloppy, CAIR should highlight those errors and explain why Hudson should be taken off the beat. It has not done this.
But I also think it was wrong of the Times to exclude a statement from CAIR executive director Nihad Awad that was sent before the article was published. All voices should be heard. Hudson, unfortunately, has been made part of the story, and that needs to be reported.
Both sides are behaving badly in this case, but ultimately, after reviewing the article and the press release, I do not see CAIR challenging any of the facts presented in the story, just the context. CAIR claims that Hudson is comparing apples and oranges in her figures, but that doesn't counter Hudson's report that the group is funded primarily by about "two dozen donors a year" who "contribute the majority of the money for CAIR's budget, which reached nearly $3 million last year."
Another problem I have with CAIR's response is that it indirectly compares Hudson's reporting to McCarthyism without citing any specific evidence. The head of the group cites a recent front-page article in The New York Times that quoted government officials as saying CAIR's critics engage in McCarthyism. They don't come out and say it, but insinuate that critics of the organization "engage in McCarthyite tactics." So any critic of this group or anyone who attempts to look into the background of a civil rights group is a McCarthyite? Please.
The Times will continue to bear the burden of being known as a conservative newspaper, but that does not mean its articles on CAIR are automatically off the mark. For example, check this story in Friday's Times that gives a pretty straightforward account of a report from the group citing an increase in anti-Muslim bias, which CAIR says is at an all-time high.
I don't see how this article could fall into CAIR's description of the paper's McCarthite tactics. Rather than making broad generalizations about the Times' coverage, CAIR should address the facts in the story.