Andrea Elliott’s front page article in the November 9 New York Times played up the thousands of Muslims in the U.S. military and how their “service...is more necessary and more complicated than ever before,” but gave the false impression that a Medal of Honor recipient named near the end of her piece was a Muslim himself, when he was actually Catholic.
Elliott spent much of her article, “Complications Grow for Muslims Serving in the U.S. Military” (which appeared above the fold on the front page of the print edition of the Times), detailing the concerns of “many Muslim soldiers and their commanders...[who] fear that the relationship between the military and its Muslim service members will only grow more difficult” after Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood on November 5. She later noted that “[w]hatever his possible motives, the emerging portrait of Major Hasan’s life in the military casts light on some of the struggles and frustrations felt by other Muslims in the services.”
Near the end of the article, Elliott changed the subject ever so slightly that it might have gone unnoticed. The reporter quoted Captain Erich Rahman, an Iraq war veteran and Bronze Star winner: “Too many Americans overlook the heroic efforts of Arab-Americans in uniform, said Capt. Eric Rahman...He cited the example of Lieutenant Michael A. Monsoor, a Navy Seal who was awarded the Medal of Honor after pulling a team member to safety during firefight in 2006, in Ramadi, Iraq. Lieutenant Monsoor died saving another American, yet he will never be remembered like Major Hasan, said Captain Rahman. Regardless, he said, Muslim- and Arab-Americans are crucial to the military’s success in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Elliott’s specific attention to Muslims in the military and their “struggles and frustrations” for most of her article, followed by this passing reference to Monsoor (pictured above, who was actually a Petty Officer, 2nd class), certainly gives the impression, despite the use of the “Arab-American” label, that the Medal of Honor recipient was a Muslim. However, this impression couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Navy’s biography of Monsoor, who died in 2006 after he jumped on a grenade to save the lives of fellow Seals, notes that the lieutenant “attended Catholic Mass devotionally before operations.” Another article written in tribute to the valiant officer cited his aunt Patricia Monsoor, who recalled that he “went to confession frequently.”
Elliott, by covertly changing the subject to “Arab Americans,” committed a journalistic sleight-of-hand, and implied that it was somehow equivalent to “Muslim.” If a conservative had made such an assumption, it might have been attributed to backwards stereotyping.
[Update, 10:15 am Eastern, 10 November: The New York Times updated the article at the link above and included the following correction at the end: Earlier versions of this article misstated the religion and rank of Michael A. Monsoor and the act he performed that earned him the Medal of Honor. I’ve also made minor corrections to the blog post above, such as changing the phrase “Medal of Honor winner” to “Medal of Honor recepient” and clarifying he was a Petty Officer.]