By now, you'd think pretty much everyone knew how Muslims feel about other Americans' attitudes toward them. But no, CBS News trudged that worn path yet again yesterday.
Ace anchor Scott Pelley interviewed five young Muslims, all American born. He asks how they feel going to work and school after an attack like the recent massacre in San Bernardino, Calif. And he seldom goes off script.
A hijab-clad student talks about being tripped by a man who then starts screaming "Go back to where you came from." Another woman complains about the mother of her "absolute best childhood friend" putting a "super-hateful post" about Muslims on Facebook.
"When I saw it, I just broke down in tears," she says, choking up a bit. She says she wrote the woman a long letter saying, "We're the Muslim family you know, and you know we're not like that."
What did the Facebook post say? And did the mother reply? Pelley doesn't ask.
The young Muslim does volunteer that the family are "white Christians." Why does that make a difference? Why didn't Pelley ask?
He does ask about a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, saying that 56 percent of Americans believe "The values of Islam are at odds with American values." The five interviewees naturally disagree. And interestingly, three of them deny that the faith is inherently violent or counsels killing the innocent -- interestingly, because Pelley's question didn’t bring that up.
He's clearly done some homework, but verses in the Quran and Hadith about violence didn't seem to be part of it (although HuffPost wrote on it five years ago). One of the young Muslims repeats a standard liberal line that you can use Bible verses to support violence, too.
Pelley also asks their reaction to claims by ISIS that it's acting "in the name of all Muslims." Again, they unshockingly reject ISIS as Islamic at all. One says the word "Islam" means peace. (Actually, "Islam" means "submission"; the Arabic word for peace is salaam.) Another says that anti-Muslim voices, like that of Donald Trump, are "playing into the hands of ISIS."
Among the few surprises in the interview was from a young man: "I don’t like to identify myself as a Muslim-American. I'm an American who is Muslim." Other interesting comments come from a uniformed Army lieutenant. He says that when he decided to join the Army, everyone -- Muslim and non-Muslim alike -- asked "Are you going to kill your own people?" This revelation of prejudice on the Muslim side doesn't draw any interest from Pelley.
The lieutenant also notes anti-Muslim hate speech on social media, but asks "How about the Muslims that have the knowledge? What are they doing?" For once, Pelley then asks a follow-up question, asking the five what they're doing to counter radicalization. But one of the students retorts that whenever a white person does a mass shooting, media don’t expect all whites to condemn it.
Of course, that’s not what Pelley asked. American Muslim leaders condemn terrorist acts all the time, as they did this month. Pelley, however, was asking about the spread of radical ideas that can morph seemingly peaceful people into killers -- ideas presented in the name of a world religion. The student dodged the question, and Pelley let her get away with it.
I could go on, but you get the drift. This interview of nearly nine minutes -- lengthy by TV news standards -- could have been patchworked together from a dozen other media. It also could have been produced a decade or more ago, when Muslim leaders were saying pretty much the same thing.
And whenever the five interviewees do say something counter-intuitive, Pelley seldom follows it down. All this from a network that boasts of "Original Reporting."
The interview is part of "Muslims in America," a whole webpage by the network. The page also has a new text and video from CBS This Morning, with earnest young voices hand-picked by the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich. The topic -- "how it feels to be Muslim in America" -- isn’t exactly designed to unveil anything new.
None of what I've written is meant to deny Muslims a voice in mainstream media. Pelley and CBS News do a service in showing that the jihadis don’t speak for all believers. But the report does only half its job. It may help counter the view of other Americans that "they're all alike." But it does little against the religious superiority that terrorists claim.
I fully understand the thorns in covering religious controversy. In 2006, as a religion writer for a daily newspaper, I wanted to write up a hard look at the quranic verses that were said to condone violence against unbelievers. My editor paused and said, "I'd … rather do something on diversity in the community." My resulting story didn’t include the verses, but I did try to deal honestly with the issues.
But that nine-year-old article has much of what you'll hear and read from CBS News this week: polls, violent incidents, how Muslims feel about it, what they're doing about it. As I wrote back then: "Shouldn't we have been further along by now?"