Muslims, NYPD and Dubious Journalism Awards

The Joan Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School has weighed in on the long Associated Press series of articles attacking the New York Police Department for its surveillance of Muslims. This series has won a Polk Award, a White House Correspondents Association award, a Pulitzer Prize and now $25,000 from the Shorenstein Center for excellence in investigative reporting. The series reported that the NYPD conducted surveillance of mosques, universities and Muslim groups, reaching into New Jersey (irritating Gov. Chris Christie), and onto the Yale campus (incensing the president of the university).

The outrage among journalists has been palpable. This explains the unusual cascade of prizes and the often sneering dismissal of dissent from those unimpressed by the series, including the city’s two tabloids, The New York Daily News and the New York Post. The AP couldn’t resist a bit of sneering as well, mocking the NYPD for “worrying over ‘militant paintball trips’ that (Muslim students at Brooklyn College) insist were recreational.”

The AP report also included this tell-tale line: “The tactics disclosed by the series stirred debate over whether the NYPD was infringing on the civil rights of Muslims and illegally engaging in religious and ethnic profiling.” The phrase “stirred debate,” like its close cousin “raised questions,” amounts to an admission that the four reporters had not been able to find anything illegal in the NYPD surveillance. The hint that things were actually fully legal is stuffed away in a sentence attributing the idea to the mayor and police commissioner: “Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have defended the program as a thoroughly legal tool for keeping the city safe.”

In other words, the AP reporters came back without the goods, but given the political leanings of their profession, they got all the prizes anyway.

KC Johnson had this to say on this site when the series began:

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg–hardly a right-wing radical–termed the AP story ‘underwhelming.’ Goldberg added that it’s hard to insinuate, as the AP story did, that the NYPD program represented an assault on civil liberties, given that ‘New York City is a much-more liberal place than the country as a whole, and is more attuned to civil liberties issues than either the Bush or the Obama administrations… I have a certain amount of faith that the NYPD isn’t overstepping its bounds in this matter, because of the city government’s baseline level of civil liberties sensitivity, and because I’m somewhat familiar with the way these programs are vetted in New York, and the vetting is fairly rigorous.’ Perhaps the NYPD program does go too far. But, at the very least, the matter is a close call, and reasonable arguments can be made on both sides.”

All these awards for an inconclusive series is an odd business. The public in this very liberal city seems to think so too. A March poll by Quinnipiac University showed that voters say the police act appropriately in dealing with Muslims 58-29 percent. Voters approve of the way the NYPD is doing its job by a two-to-one ratio according to the poll: 63-31 percent. Commissioner Kelly enjoys a 64-25 percent approval rating, and 82 percent say the NYPD has been effective in combating terrorism. Yes it has. And that’s why it’s held in such high respect here.

John Leo

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

One thought on “Muslims, NYPD and Dubious Journalism Awards”

  1. I guess I see the role of a union president and a defense lawyer as slightly different, since a defense lawyer’s job is represent the interests of the individual, while the union president’s job is to represent the entire membership. Usually that does mean representing the interests of the individual members, but in a case like this, the interests of Pogan and the interests of NYPD cops in general seem to diverge, since Pogan’s actions will inevitably (and unfairly) give a bad name to NYPD cops in general. By staunchly defending Pogan’s actions, rather than just calling for due process and no rush to judgment, Lynch may actually be acting contrary to the interests of the majority of officers, by implying that they endorse or condone unprovoked attacks on citizens.I certainly think the PBA should ensure that Pogan has legal counsel, and ensure that he is given due process by the department. But making a public statement saying that Pogan’s actions were justified, when almost everyone believes that’s not true, has the effect of damaging the credibility and reputation of all the professional, respectful cops that Lynch represents. The union could have defended Pogan’s rights without so strongly defending his specific actions in this incident.

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