Human rights advocate says Washington Post distorted her views on Islam
Hudson Institute senior fellow Nina Shea.
Hudson Institute senior fellow Nina Shea.
By Benjamin Mann
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.- Nina Shea, a prominent Catholic advocate for global religious freedom, says the Washington Post presented her as a “religious bigot” by falsely crediting her with an inflammatory statement on Islam.

Shea, a Hudson Institute senior fellow and commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told CNA June12 that the Post's religion writer Michelle Boorstein committed an “inexplicable journalistic lapse” with her use of a “fabricated” quotation.

While Boorstein noted some of Shea's objections in an “update” to her story (“Federal lawsuit charges religious freedom commission with discriminating against Muslims,” June 11), she has refused to make a correction or withdraw the story, after being notified of the errors of both fact and attribution.

The inflammatory words were misattributed to Shea in a story about Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, government relations director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Ghori-Ahmad is suing the U.S. religious freedom commission, saying she suffered religious discrimination while employed as an analyst.

In her June 11 Washington Post report, Boorstein said that Ghori-Ahmad's lawsuit quoted Shea as saying that “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like ‘hiring an IRA activist to research the UK twenty years ago.’”

However, most of the quoted words – including the alleged warning about “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad” – were never used by Shea, despite Boorstein's assertion that the suit “quotes Shea as writing” them.

In fact, an examination of the legal complaint shows that the entire phrase – “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like” – is Ghori-Ahmad's own. The lawsuit does not attribute the phrase to Shea, as Boorstein's story suggests.

Shea is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which has been brought against the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom as an organization.

Currently, Shea is in contact with representatives of the Washington Post, and says the paper “should print a correction of the serious factual error” that it published to an international audience online.

Although Shea notified Boorstein of the error on Monday, the Washington Post religion writer did not acknowledge or correct the factual error and misquotation. Instead, in an evening update to the story, Boorstein offered a general paraphrase of Shea's objection to being “depicted as bigoted.”

Shea told CNA that by attributing the remark to her “the Washington Post blog has crossed a line.”

“This is a classic case of yellow journalism. The lawsuit does not quote me writing those words. Those were Ms. Ghori-Ahmad’s words in the complaint characterizing statements that she alleges I wrote.”

Boorstein's article did acknowledge, and quote, Shea's explanation of her actual grounds for opposing Ghori-Ahmad's hiring. The former analyst's writings, Shea said, “reflect … activism and bias, not scholarship, which would not serve us well on the research staff.”

Shea, whose 2011 book “Silenced” called attention to the persecution of various Muslim groups, said that her human rights work “has held up under scrutiny and has been taken seriously by the US State Department, Congress, think tanks, and a number of key Muslim figures.”

“It was in recognition of this role that the Ahmadiyya American Muslim Community honored me with its inaugural Humanitarian Award last July,” she noted, rejecting the Washington Post's implication that she is biased against members of the religion.

Shea also noted that Boorstein “never asked for a comment” from her on the story about Ghori-Ahmad's lawsuit, despite having “contacted me many times in the past.”

Tags: Human rights

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