ABC's Bianna Golodryga Goes Undercover to 'Expose' Secret Muslim Bias in America, Doesn't Find Much

ABC on Friday did its best to find secret discrimination against Muslims, sending Good Morning America's Bianna Golodryga undercover in a hijab (Islamic head covering). Yet, despite the misleading graphic, "Life Under the Veil: TV Experiment Exposes Bias," the morning show didn't find much bigotry.

Late in the segment, Golodryga admitted, "Overt discrimination is the exception." When an ABC producer tried the experiment in New York, the correspondent acknowledged, "Everywhere, people went out of their way to be friendly." [MP3 audio here.]

Yet, Golodryga kept trying. Going to the red state of Texas, she explained, "But it was different in my hometown of Houston. At the airport, I could feel all the eyes on me."

Wearing a burka, she narrated, "In a nearby mall, I wanted to see what would happen if I wear wore a more striking version of Islamic dress, which covers everything but the eyes and is less common here in the states. The stares increased."

If something is uncommon, wouldn't it be likely that stares increase?

After a man walked by and offered a muffled comment, Golodryga deciphered, "It sounds like he said, 'Islamic queen.' I couldn't tell if he meant it in a friendly way or not."

To build the case for rampant anti-Muslim sentiment in America, Golodryga asserted, "According to the FBI, hate crime incidences against Muslims soared from 28 in 2000, to 481 in 2001. And still remain well above pre-9/11 levels."

However, as Michael Doyle of the Sacramento Bee reported on August 28, 2010, hate crimes against Muslims are rare and occur less often than violence against Jews and gays:

Jews, lesbians, gay men and Caucasians, among others, are all more frequently the target of hate crimes, FBI records show. Reported anti-Muslim crimes have declined over recent years, though they still exceed what occurred prior to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. [...]

In 2008, 105 hate crime incidents against Muslims were reported nationwide. There were 10 times as many incidents that were recorded as anti-Jewish during the same year, the most recent for which figures are available.

(For more, see a NewsBusters post.) But, Good Morning America has yet to do a segment featuring someone wearing a yarmulke or Kippah to see if they suffer anti-Semitic bias.

Golodryga concluded by marveling of her undercover experience on the subway: "People didn't even pay attention to me as I walked around like a normal American. My religion didn't matter."

One might wonder, then, what was the point of this segment on bigotry and "bias"?

A transcript of the segment, which aired at 8:18am EDT, follows:

ABC GRAPHIC: Life Under the Veil: TV Experiment Exposes Bias

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: In the final part of our special series, "Islam in America," we look at what it's like to be Muslim in America today. Bianna Golodryga went undercover to find out how people respond to women wearing the traditional Muslim head scarf. And she joins us now. And this was definitely a first for you.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA: Yeah. It was quite an eye-opening experience, George. Good morning. The Council of American-Islamic Relations has noted a spike in hostility toward Muslims, including bomb threats at mosques, physical threats on Muslims. Even an advertising campaign telling Muslims to change their religion. So, I wanted to find out what it felt like to be a Muslim in America. And I talked to American women who are doing just that. I donned the hijab myself.

AYESHA BUTT: I think the hijab, is one thing that makes it a little different. Makes a Muslim woman different from a non-Muslim woman.

GOLODRYGA: A hijab is a head scarf that women wear in public, a symbol of their faith visible to all. Do you notice people looking at you?

RUGIATU CONTEN: I'm randomly checked. At a specific airport, I just stand aside because I know I'm going to get randomly checked. And then when I go in the room, I see five other Muslim women, I say As-Salamu Alaykum and do the, you regular, you know, procedures.

BUTT: Definitely, things changed a lot after 9/11. Before 9/11, you weren't called a terrorist. It was after 9/11 that people stop to let you know that you were a terrorist. Or they called you, like, Osama's wife or something like that. And then, recently, things I would say have been very similarly hostile.

GOLODRYGA: According to the FBI, hate crime incidences against Muslims soared from 28 in 2000, to 481 in 2001. And still remain well above pre-9/11 levels. The most recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission figures showed complaints of workplace discrimination against Muslims are up 20 percent. So, what would happen if your daughter came home and said she wanted to wear a hijab?

RUBINA AHMAD: As a mother, as long as she stayed in big cities and cosmopolitan- where people are more tolerant, people are more knowledgeable of different cultures, religions, I would be fine. But, I would be concerned about her safety.

GOLODRYGA: I decided to see what it would be like to wear a hijab in lower Manhattan, not too far from the proposed community center and mosque. Our hidden cameras followed me into a swanky restaurant. And a department store. And on to the subway, where New Yorkers took the hijab in stride.

But it was different in my hometown of Houston. At the airport, I could feel all the eyes on me. And our cameraman overheard one man tell his companion that he hoped I wasn't on his flight. In a nearby mall, I wanted to see what would happen if I wear wore a more striking version of Islamic dress, which covers everything but the eyes and is less common here in the states. The stares increased. And so did the comments. [Muffled comment from passerby.] It sounds like he said, "Islamic queen." I couldn't tell if he meant it in a friendly way or not. Finally, we went to Orleans County in western New York, where five teens were arrested after allegedly harassing Muslims outside this mosque. Our producer went to a gas station, supermarket and hardware store. Everywhere, people went out of their way to be friendly.

WOMAN #1: You're welcome. You have a great day.

WOMAN #2: Did you find everything okay?

GOLODRYGA: Our three-day experiment reflects what these women report. Overt discrimination is the exception.

BUTT: There are a few that will be hostile. You know, whether you're in the grocery store or driving on the highway, someone's going to cut you off and say something about being a terrorist. There are those rare, few people out there. But I don't think the majority is like that.

GOLODRYGA: Today, many young Muslim-American women embrace the hijab, rejecting the notion that traditional dress is somehow repressive.

AHMAD: It's part of their Muslim identity. They are true American-Muslims. And they exercise their right as an American-Muslim and they decide to wear it.

CONTEN: Now, I'm wearing the hijab. And I realize that people see me for who I am, more than what my hair looks like or what I'm wearing or how pretty I am. Definitely, that's the plus-side. And also, the sisterhood, like Aysha to talk about.

BUTT: Nobody forced me to do it. I we were the cool people. Like-

GOLODRYGA: So, it's cool to wear a hijab?

BUTT: Oh, it's awesome! Like, you know, You had the matching hoodies. You had the matching hijab. Like, you can see my little toy here. [Points to her hijab.] You can play around with it.

GOLODRYGA: Accessorize it up.

BUTT: Like, you can have a lot of fun with it.

CONTEN: Hijabs, they are very wild. But people just don't see it. At our parties-

BUTT: Yeah, it's kind of special.

CONTEN: Yeah.

GOLODRYGA: Some believe this generation is paving the way forward for all Americans.

AHMAD: They are really helping, not only Muslim girls. But they're also helping Americans to learn about Islam. And making other people see them the way they are. You know, as part of maturity of a nation. They have educated the masses of the nation.

GOLODRYGA: Quite an impressive group of women. Many Americans see the hijab as something that restricts women, hiding their individuality. What these women told me is that when they wear the hijab, they feel liberated. It frees them from some of the pressures they feel. And, actually one of the girls, Ayesha, that you saw talking about stylizing her hijab, she said she conducted an experiment when I told them about what we did. And she went out without the hijab, in American, western clothes. And she wore that for a week. And she felt more liberated as a woman wearing the hijab. Because people talk to her as a woman and they didn't- in a sexual sort of-

STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, that's interesting. Just fascinating stuff. And I guess it confirms something that I've believed. Americans tend to show greater respect for anyone who seems to be taking their faith seriously.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah. Especially here in New York. You saw that on the subway, right? People didn't even pay attention to me as I walked around like a normal American. My religion didn't matter.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org