The Asian American Journalists Association’s MediaWatch Committee and Muslim American Task Force are troubled by recent coverage of the New Mexico compound raid where authorities charged Siraj Ibn Wahhaj and four others with child abuse.
Wahhaj is the son of Siraj Wahhaj, a Muslim cleric who leads a well-known Brooklyn mosque. An online story by CBS News on Aug. 8 reported that the imam “was on a list of people who ‘may be alleged as co-conspirators’ to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing,” as cited in court documents. NBC’s Today Show on Aug. 9 stated the mosque “has been linked to radicals in the past” and the imam himself “was actually indirectly linked to the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.”
We find this oversimplification problematic. NBC fails to mention that Wahhaj was never charged in the WTC attack. And CBS’s description of the imam as a possible co-conspirator can leave readers with the wrong impression. Even the United States Attorneys' Manual generally recommends against naming unindicted co-conspirators.
Both NBC and CBS point to Wahhaj’s past links to radicals but do not say anything about his work in the community as well as with the New York Police Department. The mosque has been considered a respected pillar in its community for many decades. CBS also fails to note there is no evidence that Wahhaj has anything to do with what happened at the New Mexico compound and in fact had been working with authorities to find his grandson who was believed to have been kidnapped by the younger Wahhaj.
Upon discussion with AAJA, NBC has updated its story with an editor’s note recognizing that it should have mentioned Wahhaj was not charged in the WTC attack. AAJA MediaWatch and Muslim American Task Force urge journalists to provide proper context when reporting on this story going forward, and we offer ourselves as a resource for further guidance.