CBS Uses American Muslim Family to Frame Hearings on Radical Islam as Discriminatory

On Thursday's CBS Evening News, following a report that portrayed congressional hearings on radical Islam as bigoted political theater, correspondent Seth Doane profiled a Muslim family in Tennessee and suggested they were indirect victims of the testimony on Capitol Hill: "The Sbenaty family is getting tired of defending their religion."

Anchor Katie Couric introduced Doane's report this way: "...most of the more than two and a half million Muslims living in this country want it known they are patriotic Americans." As if the hearings somehow accused all American Muslims of being unpatriotic. Doane began by proclaiming: "Every morning at his Murfreesboro, Tennessee, middle school 14-year-old Salim Sbenaty honors his country [by saying the Pledge of Allegiance]. But today, while he was taking his English exam, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were examining extremists within his religion, Islam."

This was not the first time Doane interviewed the Sbenaty family, back in September of 2010 he spoke with them about the controversy surrounding the proposed construction of Mosque in Murfreesboro. Then, as during Thursday night's report, Doane highlighted teenager Salim: "...he's proud of his school, his soccer trophies, and his country....He's also proud of his religion. Salim Sbenaty is Muslim, and nowadays, this Tennessee town that's been his family's home for nearly 20 years, doesn't feel the same."

In the September 10 report Doane noted: "Salim's dad says even after September 11th, he didn't see hatred like this....Salim's 20-year-old sister Dima says for the first time she's scared."

What Doane failed to mention in that report was that the father, Saleh Sbenaty, was a member of the planning committee for the Murfreesboro mosque. Sbenaty was identified as such in an August 23 live Q&A for WashingtonPost.com. During the online chat, he was asked about opposition to his mosque in Tennessee and the proposed Ground Zero mosque: "Where is this anti-Muslim sentiment coming from? Do you feel it is spreading and if so, why?"

In response, Sbenaty ranted: "I believe it is fueled by fear and by two long wars with Islamic countries. To add to that, it is the election season and some of those who are running for office thought that they will get more votes by bashing Muslims and Islam more. I believe also some of the so called media outlets have programs dedicated to spreading fear and doubts about Muslims and Islam."

On Thursday, Doane explained: "It was last fall as controversy also swirled around the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero that we first visited the Sbenaty's." He then asked Saleh: "Since we met last, have things gotten better?" Saleh replied: "I wish. It's like a roller coaster ride, you know, unfortunately." Doane concluded: "In this family, today's hearings have simply fueled fatigue."

Here is a full transcript of Doane's March 10 Evening News report:

6:35PM ET

KATIE COURIC: And underscoring Congressman King's position is the case of Major Nidal Hasan, the American-born Muslim behind the Fort Hood massacre. Today the Army Secretary reprimanded nine officers for giving Hasan positive reports and promoting him despite his marginal performance and anti-American rhetoric.

Despite the Hasan case, despite the congressional hearings, most of the more than two and a half million Muslims living in this country want it known they are patriotic Americans. Seth Doane traveled to Tennessee to get reaction from one Muslim family.

SCHOOL CHILDREN: I pledge allegiance to the flag-

SETH DOANE: Every morning at his Murfreesboro, Tennessee, middle school-

CHILDREN: One nation under God-

DOANE: 14-year-old Salim Sbenaty honors his country. But today, while he was taking his English exam, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were examining extremists within his religion, Islam.

SALIM SBENATY: We're not some crazy radical. We're – we're regular people. We're like the average Joes.

DOANE: The Sbenaty family is getting tired of defending their religion. These hearings on Capitol Hill aren't targeting you, your family, really, are they?

DIMA SBENATY [SISTER OF SALIM SBENATY]: Well, in – in a sense they are. You know, they're associating the religion with terrorism.

SALEH SBENATY, PHD [FATHER OF SALIM SBENATY]: If the mosque itself and the place of worship is labeled as radical, then if I go there, I'm going to be radical as well.

DOANE: There are about 250 Muslim families in this town of about a hundred thousand people. They say they've lived here in peace for decades until last year when the proposed expansion of a mosque inflamed emotions. It was last fall as controversy also swirled around the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero that we first visited the Sbenaty's. Since we met last, have things gotten better?

SALEH SBENATY: I wish. It's like a roller coaster ride, you know, unfortunately.

DOANE: For instance, two Tennessee lawmakers recently introduced a bill that criminalizes some aspects of Sharia or Islamic law. Can you understand how some Americans would be scared, would be fearful of Islamic radicals?

SALIM SBENATY: I do, definite – I'm – I'm afraid of radicals. I mean, everybody should be afraid of radicals. But we've got to understand that my religion, Islam, has nothing to do with these people. They've convoluted it.

DOANE: In this family, today's hearings have simply fueled fatigue.

SALEH SBENATY: You know, what else can you do? What – what else can you say?

DOANE: A lot has been said, but both sides may wonder if the other is listening. Seth Doane, CBS News, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

— Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC