Buffalo Muslim Wife's Beheading Spiked, But False Sex-Abuse Charges Against Catholic Cardinal Broke Immediately in '93

Does the media show religious discrimination in their news judgment? The founder of a TV network devoted to improve the image of Muslims being charged in the beheading of his wife is not a story the major media have leaped on. On Friday, news broke that Muzzammil Hassan, founder and CEO of Bridges TV, was charged with murdering his wife Aasiya after she filed for divorce. After some Nexis research, here’s a listing of major media outlets that have yet to report it: ABC, NBC, NPR, the NewsHour on PBS, USA Today, and The Washington Post.

But on November 12, 1993, all these networks (including NPR) reported within hours on the charges made against Chicago's Catholic cardinal at the time, liberal-leaning Joseph Bernardin, by a 34-year-old AIDS patient, who had just "remembered" he was sexually abused 18 years after the alleged event, and wanted $10 million for his anguish. It led newscasts on CNN and NBC. Connie Chung's sensational introduction on the CBS Evening News typified media reaction: "The Roman Catholic Church in America was rocked today by charges of scandal against one of its most prominent leaders and reformers." (The accuser, Steven Cook, recanted the lawsuit in March of 1994.)

Updated: while the Nexis search showed no CBS story on the beheading, MRC's Kyle Drennen found a news report on Wednesday's Early Show.

While The Washington Post can’t find space for the Muslim beheading story, it published the accusations against Cardinal Bernardin the very next day, with almost 1,000 words on page A-3. USA Today ran a story three days after the story broke.

CNN has offered a handful of stories on the beheading of Aasiya Hassan. But they aired the press conference of Cardinal Bernardin denying the charges live in the middle of the afternoon of November 12. They ran a one-hour special on sex abuse in the Catholic Church two days after the Bernardin charges broke titled Fall From Grace, which continued the sensational coverage of unproven allegations. Host Bonnie Anderson reported "Charges that a prince of the Church, a man eligible to become Pope, a Cardinal on the forefront of reforming how the Church deals with clergy's sexual abuse has himself fallen from grace."

In fact, it later emerged that CNN triggered the sudden accusations. In her "Public Eye" column in the March 14, 1994 issue of Time, Margaret Carlson reported: "The plaintiff's lawyer had rushed to file the suit in hopes of having it included in an imminent CNN special on priests and sex." For the special, "Cook's charges were added to the program and used to promote it."

Major newspapers who have noticed the Hassan charges have downplayed the Muslim angle. Nexis says the New York Times reported the story on Wednesday with the headline "Upstate Man Charged With Beheading His Estranged Wife." The story began frankly enough: "A man who founded a Muslim-American television station to help fight Muslim stereotypes is to appear on Wednesday in a suburban Buffalo court on charges that he decapitated his wife last week." (The Washington Edition of the Times we’ve received here in Virginia has featured no story.)

The Los Angeles Times also arrived on the story on Wednesday in a tiny 81-word article headlined "TV exec accused of beheading wife."

Wire-service reports also omitted the Muslim angle in their headlines. An AP dispatch was headlined "Police: TV exec beheads wife who filed for divorce." A Reuters story was titled "U.S. TV network founder charged with beheading wife."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis