Another prestigious prize (this time the Pulitzer), another disgrace ( sloppy reporting to advance a political agenda). According to Jonathan Tobin, writing in Jewish World Review, Andrea Elliot of the New York Times left quite a few important matters out of her Pulitzer Prize-winning 11,000 three part story on "An Imam in America," featuring Sheik Reda Shata of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The series, which first appeared on March 5-7, 2006, is touted on the newspaper's Web site as the story of "the inner life of a mosque in Brooklyn, and the dynamic, creative, conflicted and fearful imam at its center: Sheik Reda Shata. Through study and conversation, persuasion and persistence, Elliott achieved an intimate, tough-minded exploration of the lives of immigrant Muslims after 9/11."
Aha! Those terrified Moslems, living peacefully in America, scorned and discriminated against, merely because some 22 of their co-religionists engaged in some deadly mayhem a few years ago. Not quite. Elliot
Fail[ed] to mention anything about the role of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in the murder of 16-year-old Ari Halberstam in a van filled with Jewish children on the Brooklyn Bridge. Not one of her 11,000 words refers to the fact that it was this same mosque that was the forum for the sermon that inspired one of its congregants, Rashid Baz, to go out and try to murder as many Jews as he could in March of 1994.
At Baz's trial, it was revealed that Mohammed Moussa - Shata's predecessor at the mosque - was quoted as saying the following in a sermon heard by the killer on the day of the rampage: "This takes the mask off of the Jews. It shows them to be racist and fascist as bad as the Nazis. Palestinians are suffering from the occupation and it's time to end it."
In a subsequent article in The New York Sun, Halberstam's mother, Devorah, related that she called Elliot to ask why she had omitted the story of her son's murder from the feature on the mosque. Elliot replied that "she knew nothing about it."
This was, at the very least, an indictment of the reporter's research skills, which ought to have earned her the humiliation of an editor's note acknowledging the mistake, not journalism's greatest prize.
But there is more wrong here than just one missing fact. It is that the entire thesis of Elliot's work (which ironically concluded on the 12th anniversary of Ari's death) was to portray Shata and his mosque as a force for moderation.
Absent from the feature is any attempt at a serious discussion of how a religious leader who praises terrorists can, at the same time, pretend to be fostering interfaith dialogue with Jews and Christians. Shata utters coded responses such as, "What I may see as terrorism, you may not see that way," without follow-up from his interviewer.
Though quite a bit of space in the piece was devoted to the imam's attempts at matchmaking, serious issues about the way Islamist practices intersect with American life were left out. Their views of sensitive subjects such as "honor" killings of women or polygamy remain largely absent.
Tobin compares this bland glossing over unpleasant facts to that of another Pulitzer Prize winner, Walter Duranty, 75 years ago, also not so coincidentally for a NY Times series, this one on the joys and successes of Stalin and his Five Year Plan.
The New York Times and Pulitzer Board are opposed to revoking Duranty's long ago Pulitzer; continuing their biased reporting without all the news that's not fit to print, undoubtedly they are also so very proud to honor Ms. Elliot. In so doing though
What this proves is that those who imagined that Duranty was a relic of journalism's past were wrong. That a travesty such as Elliot's "imam" would bring a Pulitzer is a disgrace that again taints the reputation of both the prizes and the Times.