CNN Suggests ‘Prejudice’ and ‘Terror’ Motivates Opponents of Arabic School in NYC

CNN, in their day-long reporting on Tuesday about the opening day for a controversial publicly-funded Arabic-language school in New York City, sympathized with the school and its supporters, and helped denigrate its opponents. On "American Morning" and throughout the day on Tuesday on their "Newsroom" program, CNN aired a report from correspondent Richard Roth on the Khalil Gibran International Academy, whose curriculum will focus on teaching "Arabic language and culture" (as detailed in a CNSNews.com report last week). The report focused on Carmen Colon, a mother and "community activist" in Brooklyn (a detail not mentioned in Roth’s report) who pulled her son from the school before its opening. The report closed with a clip from Colon, who said, "The people who are so against this school who, for me, seem more like the terrorists by terrorizing the community and making us feel that it's unsafe for our children to be there. They're the ones who are terrorizing us, not the school, not the principal, and not the administration."

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Roth’s report aired multiple times during CNN’s "Newsroom" program, as well as the "Your World Today" program on CNN International, which is simulcast on CNN during the 12 pm Eastern hour. The report was often prefaced and followed by Roth’s live reporting from the school in Brooklyn and from City Hall in Manhattan, where a rally against the school took place.

During the 2 pm Eastern hour of "Newsroom," anchor Kyra Phillips interviewed Pamela Hall of the organization "Stop the Madrassa" after the report reran. Hall, who was featured in Roth’s report, faced a hostile interview from Phillips, who took the statements from NYC education officials associated with the school at face value.

Excerpts from Phillips’ September 4 interview of Hall:

KYRA PHILLIPS: Pamela, tell me more about why you want this school closed down.

PAMELA HALL, "STOP THE MADRASSA": Well, the situation has never changed. We still do not know what the curricula is. It has not been released. We do not have the textbooks. We do not know what has been created. It is a false statement to say that they have to simply abide by some kind of public school regulations. And the latest document released by the Department of Education is that they cannot find the curricula. They opened that school today, 7:30 this morning. They've (sic) teaching the children something and they will not tell us what.

PHILLIPS: We will tell you what, because Garth Harries, who works for the school system, talked about the curriculum this morning on CNN. Here is what he had to say.

GARTH HARRIES, NYC DEPT. OF EDUCATION: It's the core sixth grade curriculum that these kids are starting with, which is the basics, math, English, history, science, and the kids are also going to be learning Arabic, which is an incredibly exciting and unique opportunity for these kids. Religion plays absolutely no part in this school. This is a public school. It wouldn't play a part in any of our schools. As a themed school focused on a language, it's like so many other. We have 70 dual-language programs around the city. Those are programs that frankly give our kids a leg up. It gives them a language, they're inclusive, and they let them learn about the world.

PHILLIPS: Well, there you have it. There's your answer. Do you feel better about the school now?

HALL: No. No, that is not an answer. Garth Harries is being quite dishonest with you. He himself, the Department of Education, they have known that they are not releasing the curricula, and they have not released it. That's why we have to go to court next week. They have told us they cannot find the curricula and it will take them at least a month to find it....

PHILLIPS: Well, I'm curious why you're calling it a Madrassa. It's an academy.

HALL: It is a public school that has associated with it people like Almontaser and her all-religious board of imams. These people are all ...

PHILLIPS: But they disassociated them from that woman who was wearing the T-shirt that was the principal. And they now have a new principal, a white Jewish woman...

HALL: She's not new. She’s not new.

PHILLIPS: She's the acting principal right now...

HALL: Yes. She's not new. She helped create the school.

PHILLIPS: But she's not Islamic. She's not Arabic.

HALL: Because you're trying to make this be that we are saying that they are teaching religion. This is an Islamist ideology propaganda textbooks that are out there that we have seen and we have done our research on...

CNN clearly showed its knack for sympathizing with groups they see as "persecuted minorities" in the above excerpts. Since 9/11, they have focused in particular on the "plight" of Muslims and Arabs who live in the U.S. (as Christiane Amanpour did in "God’s Muslim Warriors"). They also showed their apparent disinterest in the school system’s lack of transparency with regards to the school’s curriculum.

After another clip from the earlier "American Morning" interview of Harries was played, Phillips put her "multiculturalism hat" on.

PHILLIPS: Now, Pamela, isn't that what we would want our children to do, is have a better understanding of the Arabic culture, so we don't create more prejudice, we don't create more division among Americans and the Arab culture?

HALL: Whose Arab culture? We keep asking them. That is why the friends of Khalil Gibran have said, please cease and desist using this name. How are they going to teach about Maronite, Melkite Christians that make up some of, most of the Arab-speaking world (sic)? How will they teach about their cultures? There is no Arab culture. Whose culture is he speaking about?

PHILLIPS: You're talking about those that speak Arabic, those that live in the Middle East, those of Middle East decent that live in the United States. They're talking about bridging a very divided world right now. You've got the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq, all the insurgency, the terrorism, what happened on 9/11. There's a lot of misconception about the Middle Eastern people, and this is one step toward teaching our children - this is what they say - to understand the language and the culture of the Middle East. Don't you think that's important?

CNN cannot genuinely portray itself as an "objective" news source is it continues to push this kind of multiculturalism in their reporting and in their questioning of guests.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center