How an Islamophobic ad ran in the Tennessean, and what happened next
June 25, 2020 9:29 PM Subscribe
On Friday, June 19, 2020, Tennessee's Republican-led House of Representatives passed House Resolution 340, a resolution that congratulates the state's citizens "for clearly seeing that the mainstream media has sensationalized the reporting on COVID-19 in the service of political agendas." (Newsweek). Two days later, the Nashville Tennessean — the largest newspaper in the state — published a full-page ad of an Islamophobic conspiracy (tweet with photos of the print ad) from a fringe post-apocalyptic Christian organization. What Happened in the Tennessean’s Newsroom After That “Indefensible” Anti-Muslim Ad (Slate interview by Aymann Ismail with David Plazas, the opinion and engagement director)
(Ismail) I’m a Muslim person born and raised in America. I’ve gotten quite numb toward Islamophobia in media. When I saw the ad, I first thought to myself, “Well, this isn’t any worse than what I’ve heard from the president or Newt Gingrich.” What surprised me was how quickly the Tennessean responded, and how forcefully. Did you anticipate the national attention it got?
(Plazas) I’m not sure if I anticipated it. I’ve been doxed before on Twitter and in some cases I also get desensitized too. I’m a gay Latino man. And I say that because I live in this intrasectionality in the South, in a place where Confederate monuments abound. And I’ve been in a place where you’re constantly trying to chart your path in a very supremacist environment, even if not everybody’s like that. I think I was super sensitive to the ad because [the Tennessean] had just gone on weeks and weeks of what I thought was really meaningful and substantive coverage of Black Lives Matter protests. We had this package of all Black voices at the beginning of June that I was very proud of. And I had just written a column a few days before I went on furlough where I talked about the insult that state lawmakers made to a young Black woman denying her a memorial because of an allegation of a drug sale. Even internally we’ve done some great work with our employee resource groups to talk about these issues of racism and white supremacy and inclusion. And so this was a real shocker because, like you, I’ve seen all sorts of racism and you sometimes get numb to it. But at a certain point, especially in the last several weeks, I felt empowered to think we’re on the right path, and then this is a big one-two punch.
The executive director of the American Muslim Advisory Council said that because of the ad, “a huge target was placed on our community.” There are about 40,000 Muslims who live in the Nashville area. I know that you were planning, once it’s safe, going to visit the mosque. Is there anything that you are thinking about doing to help them that you haven’t mentioned so far?
We don’t want to assume that we know what the best steps are. So we don’t have it in mind quite yet, but in terms of just the bullet points of what’s happened, there was the termination of the manager, the change in processes in advertising, the returning of the money for the ad to the [Christian] group, donating the equivalent money to the American Muslim Advisory Council, granting house ads worth $50,000 to the American Muslim Advisory Council to help with the campaign for anti-racism. And general outreach. In a few days, I’ll also be interviewing on a podcast Sabina Mohyuddin, who’s the executive director of American Muslim Advisory Council. We actually had that interview scheduled several weeks before this happened, but obviously, we now have new things to talk about.
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