Thursday, May 6, 2010

Contessa Brewer disappointed terrorist is a Muslim?

By Rick Francona

Contessa with Rick at MSNBC - 2007

First, by way of full disclosure, I know Contessa Brewer both professionally and personally. I worked with her on air at MNSBC hundreds of times when I was an NBC News military analyst between 2003 and 2008, and I have also been to her home on several occasions - she is a charming hostess.

With that as background, I admit that I was a bit taken aback by her recent remarks on a talk show program expressing her dismay that accused terrorist Faisal Shahzad is a Muslim. Here is the clip of the show:

Immediately, there was a backlash asking which religion or from which country she hoped the perpetrator would be. Although I am sure Contessa did not want the accused to be of a specific religion or from a particular country, the question raises a valid point.

Why should a news reporter/anchor care what religion or nationality an alleged terrorist is? In a journalistic sense, it should not - the job of a reporter is to report the facts. The facts are that Faisal Shahzad is a Muslim, he is from an Islamic country - Pakistan is officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan - and he has admitted to attempting to detonate an vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBEID, or what we used to call a "ca bomb") in New York's Times Square.

Let's assume Contessa was speaking as a commentator or an analyst - believable since she was speaking on a radio talk show, not a news broadcast. Here is where I have a problem with many journalists. Many of them have terrific journalistic skills, some honed by education at some of our best schools and years of experience ferreting out sources and stories. However, most of them are not subject matter experts - that's why they hire people like me, for example, to provide the military analysis based on expertise they do not possess.

I would prefer that journalists stick to reporting, leaving the analysis to subject matter specialists and leaving the commentary to the pundits (many of which are not well-versed in the issues they address, but that's a different issue). It is when journalists venture beyond reporting that they get themselves in trouble.

Clearly, Contessa has been influenced by the noticeable MSNBC (and NBC News across the board) shift to the left over the past two years. When I worked there analyzing military operations in the Middle East, I thought that NBC News did a credible job of reporting fairly - I did my best to make sure our military analysis was unbiased. That changed dramatically during the 2008 Presidential campaign. The network has obviously made the editorial decision to support the Obama Administration.

That said, you would think that when it comes to a subject like terrorism, why should a journalist/reporter/anchor be "frustrated" that a terrorist who attempted to kill or maim hundreds of innocent people in Time Square be a Muslim or from an Islamic country? There should be a sense of outrage that some lowlife has attempted to kill people in the name of God, not concern that the perpetrator is of one religion as opposed to another.

Contessa, you're a friend and former colleague. The vast majority of terrorist attacks against Americans are executed by young Muslim men either from the Middle East/South Asia or trained there. That's a fact - let's support our efforts to stop terrorism and worry less about perceived racial profiling or whatever it is that frustrates you until it actually happens.