Los Angeles Times Omits Hijab-Clad Women from Refugee Photo Shoot

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Readers of Sunday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times were presented with a front-page story depicting a sympathetic portrait of President Obama’s Syrian refugee resettlement project.

The above-the-fold story prominently featured a profile of the Wawiehs—a family of Syrian refugees with six children who arrived in the U.S. last month. However, while the glowing profile included over half a dozen pictures in print and more than a dozen pictures online of the family adjusting to its new life—including pictures of family members lounging by their motel pool, shopping at the grocery store, attending pubic school, and moving into their new home—the wide-ranging photo spread contained one noticeable omission: Muslim women clad in the hijab.

For instance, the front page of the paper prominently features a large photo of some of the family members playing by a pool and enjoying a meal together, however, noticeably missing from the front page and interior photographs is the family’s mother. The L.A. Times reporter, Kate Linthicum, briefly notes that the family’s mother Safaa, who is seemingly not pictured anywhere in the story, wears a hijab:

Safaa, a wry woman whose light hazel eyes contrast strikingly with her black hijab, refuses to let the hotel staff clean the rooms, preferring to make the beds and scrub the floors herself.

While the photo spread does include pictures of the family’s younger daughters who are not yet of an age where they would ordinarily be encouraged to wear hijabs, the L.A. Times does not seem to include any pictures of adult Muslim women—whether it be the family’s mother, the family’s elder daughters, or any other adult women with whom the family interacts, which might provide a more complete picture of the family’s life.

The omission is striking given that the ostensible theme of the piece is how this Syrian family is seeking to “build a new life in a strange land.” If that is the paper’s thesis, then including pictures of the family’s friends and relatives, showing how adult women dress, would seem relevant to demonstrate the paper’s point.

Intriguingly, the only picture that includes any Muslim women in traditional coverings is one that catches a glimpse of the back of two women’s heads rather than their faces, and the paper does not identify the women in the photo’s caption. This is especially interesting since the two women, whose covered heads frame the photo on the left and the right, are shown taking pictures on their cell phones of the Wawieh family’s children, suggesting they have a relationship with the family and making it strange that the women would not be identified in the caption.

Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times

By contrast, although the photo spread excludes any pictures of identifiable Muslim women, it features and identifies Syrian men, including those who are not a part of the family, but are simply acquaintances.

Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times

Moreover, the online version of the article also includes a three minute-long video by Katie Falkenberg, which similarly excludes any identifiable adult Muslim females. Like the photo spread, the videographer does happen to catch a glimpse of one woman donning traditional coverings, but the video only shows the back of the woman’s head—concealing her face entirely. The video similarly does not identify the female.

Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/screenshot

Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times/screenshot

When Breitbart News reached out to the L.A. Times’s Kate Linthicum and Katie Falkenberg to inquire as to why adult women were omitted from the production, the paper did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

While the L.A. Times refused to respond, local CBS2’s Greg Mills reported in October that the decision to omit the older women of the family from CBS’s report was at request of the family’s father. Mills notes that, “[Fouad] Wawieh didn’t want his wife or teenage daughters shown on TV.”

If this is, in fact, the same request that was made of the L.A. Times, it necessarily raises editorial questions about why the paper’s front-page story, which sought to report on the cultural transition process for Syrian refugees, would accept such strict conditions from its participants about what can and cannot be depicted.

Moreover, if this request was made of the L.A. Times, it would seem to raise questions about why the paper would accept such conditions from the participants without relaying or explaining them to its readers, as the local CBS affiliate did in its report. Presumably there are other Syrian refugee families in the United States who would have been willing to allow their entire families to be pictured and profiled by the L.A. Times.

The fact that these conditions may have been placed is especially interesting given the fact that the Wawieh family seems to have quickly become the face of the president’s Syrian refugee resettlement project—having been featured by several different news outlets in the last few weeks.

When Breitbart News asked the reporter how she had been connected to the Wawieh family—i.e. whether she had been connected to them through a government contractor or an administration official—the L.A. Times did not respond for comment.

Moreover, the apparent absence of adult Muslim women from the story raises broader questions about Muslim immigration more generally, which the L.A. Times could have chosen to explore in a piece about cultural differences and Muslim refugee resettlement, but decided against it. Specifically, the L.A. Times piece decided not to explore questions raised by prominent conservatives and liberals alike, such as Andrew McCarthy or Bill Maher, who have expressed concerns about the Western resettlement of, what McCarthy describes as, “assimilation-resistant Muslims.”

Earlier this month, the Christian Broadcasting Network reported that Muslim immigration has put half a million U.S. girls at risk of female genital mutilation. “Most immigration talk is dominated by the issue of illegals, but some legal immigrants can also bring problems into our country,” CBN writes. “A practice called female genital mutilation (FGM), predominantly seen in Muslim-controled countries, is now an issue in the United States… an astounding half a million girls and women in the United States have either undergone female genital mutilation or are at risk of having it done to them.”

In 2011, a study by the Tahirih Justice Center titled, “Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States” and highlighted by Ayaan Hirisi Ali, found that in the U.S. there are “as many as 3,000 known or suspected cases of [forced marriage] identified by survey respondents in just the last two years. The fact that potentially thousands of young women and girls from immigrant communities may face forced marriages each year in the United States is alarming and demands attention,” the report wrote.

Similarly, Ayaan Hirsi Ali observed earlier this year that honor violence has become prevalent in the United States: “What most Americans just don’t get is that such horrors happen here in the United States of America—and not just in faraway countries like Afghanistan or Somalia.”

Hirsi Ali points to cases such as “twenty-year-old Noor al-Maleki from Phoenix, Arizona. In October 2009, she was killed when her father ran her over with his Jeep in a parking lot, crushing her body beneath its wheels. Police alleged that her father believed she had become ‘too westernized.'” Hirsi Ali also points to “Fauzia Mohammad, who was stabbed eleven times by her brother in upstate New York because she wore ‘immodest clothing.’ [And] Aiya Altameemi, whose Iraqi-born father held a knife to her throat and whose mother and younger sister tied her to a bed and beat her because she was seen talking to a boy near their home in Arizona.”

The apparent absence of adult Muslim women, however, was merely one of several noticeable omissions from the L.A. Times article.

The article states that when the family, “arrived in the U.S., a nonprofit contracted by the government paid their first month’s rent at the motel and issued them checks amounting to a little more than $1,000 for each family member.” Interestingly, the article does not mention the fact that refugee resettlement contractors, as Breitbart News has previously reported, receive large federal grants paid for by U.S. taxpayers.

The L.A. Times article goes on to state that, “The agency will help them for 90 days, then they’re on their own.” While this assertion may leave the reader to assume that the family will be cut off from assistance after 90 days, the opposite is in fact true. Indeed, buried in the 44th paragraph of the article, the reporter notes that the Wawieh family pays for their groceries that include “Pringles and Chips Ahoy” with a “pre-loaded debit card his family will receive each month from the state until they can get off food stamps.”

Although the article does not explain this, refugees are entitled to a broad range of welfare benefits upon arriving in the country—including food stamps, public housing, etc. Moreover, because refugees are on a pathway to U.S. citizenship, they will soon be able to access all federal entitlement programs.

According to data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 91.4 percent of recent refugees from the Middle East are on food stamps and 68.3 percent of recent refugees from the Middle East are on cash welfare. The Los Angeles Times article, however, makes no mention of these statistics. The article similarly makes no apparent attempt to estimate the cost that providing federal entitlements to a family of eight will impose on U.S. taxpayers.

In fact, the only mention of the family’s expedited path to citizenship comes in the 40th paragraph of the article, in which the reporter casually mentions that the family’s citizenship status will allow them to bring over friends and family through chain migration. The article notes that the family’s eldest son, Omar, hopes to bring his new girlfriend, whom he met in Cairo, to the United States after he gains U.S. citizenship:

In Cairo… [Omar] soon found himself in the throes of another teenage fixation: love. She also was a Syrian refugee, with powder-white skin and radiant dark eyes. As is custom, they spent time together in the company of friends, walking Cairo’s crowded streets and shopping malls. She was so devastated when he left for the U.S. that she refused to see him off. He dreams of bringing her to the U.S. a year from now, when he is eligible to trade in his green card for citizenship. But for the time being, their relationship unfolds only on WhatsApp. “My Love.” That’s how her name is saved in his phone. Omar doesn’t know much English beyond that phrase, which makes finding work hard.

The article seems aimed at trying to portray the family as one that is quickly becoming Americanized. Throughout the piece, the reporter notes how the father, “smokes Marlboros now,” and that the children have been honored at their schools with “‘courage awards,’ given to those who have demonstrated bravery,” and how the children “are picking up the language quickly — learning important words like ‘iPad,’ ‘Halloween’ and ‘pizza.'”

In a similar vein, the reporter drops several textual and photographic mentions throughout the piece to the family members’ smart phones and their active social media pages. However, the mention of the family members’ smart phones brings up other questions that are not explored by the reporter in story—namely, if the family requires financial assistance through welfare, who is paying the family’s wireless bills? When Breitbart News asked the reporter if she had looked at the family members’ social media pages to get a sense of how they had spent their months prior to coming to the United States, the reporter did not answer.

Moreover, while the overall affect of the article seems designed to suggest that the family is quickly Westernizing and mentions that the children are enrolled in—presumably taxpayer funded—ESL classes, and notes that the family is “trying to coax their tongues around an ungainly new language,” it fails to explore an obvious line of questioning about whether or not the family is actually committed to Americanization.

For instance, the L.A.Times article briefly discusses the Islamic Center of Claremont and says that the mosque has been “a source of comfort for the Wawieh family.” Although the reporter does not clearly explain the family’s connection to the Islamic Center, a separate local ABC7 report notes that the Islamic Center is helping the Wawieh family with their resettlement. The Times, without elaboration or context, casually mentions that the imam of the Islamic Center told hundreds of individuals who gathered for prayer that, “We are the best thing that happened to America.”

This comment raises the question as to whether the mosque or those who attend it believe in a philosophy of Islamic supremacy and are among those who prefer Sharia law to U.S. law. This question, however, goes unexplored in the L.A. Times article, and the paper declined to comment when Breitbart News asked whether there was additional unpublished context, which could help to explain the imam’s quote.

Similarly, while the article briefly discusses the life the family began to develop in Cairo—a life which included friends, employment, and even, as previously mentioned, a love interest—the article does not explore why the family was not permanently resettled in Egypt.

Although the L.A. Times reporter notes that the Wawieh family has relatives throughout the region—in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and “other distant points of the growing Syrian diaspora”—the article does not clearly explain why the family was not resettled somewhere closer to their relatives, but was instead brought to the United States—thus likely precluding the probability of their permanently returning to the region after the cessation of hostilities.

Moreover, while the L.A. Times article mentions the Paris attacks in the context of explaining American resistance to resettling Syrian refugees, the piece fails to include any information that would lend credence to such resistance. The article states, “After bloody terror attacks in Paris, anti-refugee sentiment has spread across the U.S., with members of Congress calling for drastic new controls on the admittance of Syrian refugees.”

The piece, however, does not mention a single instance in which a refugee or foreign immigrant in the United States was involved with terror activity—even as the U.S. Senate Immigration Subcommittee produced a list just a few days earlier documenting how the U.S. government has implicated 12 refugees in terror activity in this year alone.

In fact, in language that suggest the reporter’s own perspective on the issue, the article notes that members of Congress are calling for “drastic new controls on the admittance of Syrian refugees.” The use of the phrase “drastic new controls” is curious given that an outright majority of Americans oppose resettling Syrian Muslim refugees in the U.S. and that the program to resettle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees did not even exist but for a short time ago.

Moreover, similar to most establishment media’s immigration articles, the L.A. Times piece also fails to provide readers with numerical context. For instance, the author’s claim that Congress has called for “drastic new controls” might seem less credible to readers if readers were informed that, even if the U.S. did not admit a single Syrian refugee, the nation’s current immigration policy would still result in the issuance of nearly 700,000 green cards over the next five years to immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.

When Breitbart News reached out the to L.A. Times to inquire as to how it is “drastic” for lawmakers to oppose a controversial expansion of a program that most members of the public also oppose, the L.A. Times reporter did not respond for comment.

Although the L.A. Times reporter and photojournalist have not responded to Breitbart’s request for comment, they have addressed the piece on their respective social media pages. Photojournalist Katie Falkenberg tweeted out several articles that seemingly support the president’s refugee resettlement operation. For instance, Falkenberg tweeted out an op-ed titled, “Why My State Won’t Close Its Doors to Syrian Refugees” and retweeted an NPR article described as, “Test of ‘character’ This Governor Welcomes Syrian Refugees.”

Kate Linthicum, the author of the article, told her twitter followers that her piece could be seen as “a taste of their life” again, choosing not to inform her readers that a large portion of the family’s life was excluded from visible portrayal. Linthicum also wrote, “Compared to other Syrians, the Wawiweh family is so lucky. But refugee life isn’t easy.” Again, Linthicum fails to note that many refugees receive more government assistance than many native-born Americans. Linthicum also encouraged her followers to watch the L.A. Times video which excluded any identified adult Muslim women, describing the video as “beautiful.” Linthicum wrote, “Watch this beautiful @KatieFalkenberg video about life before & after the Syrian war.”

According to a November 19-23rd Economist/YouGov poll, a majority of respondents (62 percent), including women (66 percent), blacks (55 percent), Hispanics (63 percent), and independents (62 percent), believed that the U.S. “should not accept Syrian refugees who are Muslim.” Interestingly the only groups, according to the YouGov poll, that believe the U.S. should accept Syrian Muslim refugees are those who placed in the highest economic bracket of the poll’s respondents (50 percent of those whose family’s income exceeded $100,000 supported admitting Syrian Muslim refugees); those who are liberal (70 percent supported admitting Syrian Muslim refugees); and those who identify as Democrats (52 percent supported admitting Muslim Syrian refugees).


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