Speak No Evil: Networks Obscure Deadly Extremism of Muslim Brotherhood

  • ABC, NBC and CBS news programs have mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood 135 times in 17 years, but only linked them to fundamentalist Islam 37 percent of the time.
  • Just since the unrest in Egypt began in January, they've mentioned the Brotherhood 85 times, and decreased how often they report the nature of the group - just 32 percent of those stories mentioned the group's extremism.

Declaring "jihad" against the United States. Taking credit for deadly bombings in Cairo. Sponsoring Hamas. Assassinating Egyptian leaders. Making common cause with Nazi Germany. Openly calling for shariah law. Spawning prominent al-Qaida leaders.

Only the liberal network news media could paint a group with a resume like that as "peaceful" and "moderate." But that's precisely how the broadcast networks have often portrayed the Muslim Brotherhood.

For more than 17 years, since the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the news programming on ABC, CBS, and NBC have treated the Muslim Brotherhood with kid gloves, giving the radical Islamic group a passing mention here or there, but hardly ever exploring on air its fundamentalist religious connections and extreme ideology. Instead the Brotherhood was "relatively peaceful," "non-violent" and responsible for "charitable works."

One reporter allowed her guest to claim Americans have an irrational fear "of all Islamic groups, including ones that are relatively peaceful, like the Muslim Brotherhood-Brotherhood in Egypt."

The Culture and Media Institute searched for network stories mentioning the Muslim Brotherhood going back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Of the 135 stories analyzed, but just 37 percent talked of the group's ties to extreme fundamentalist Islam.

In the wake of the Egyptian uprising in January 2011, coverage has only grown worse. The networks mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood in a whopping 85 reports, but only a third of those (32 percent) linked the group to its Islamic fundamentalist roots.

The Muslim Brotherhood is likely to obtain power officially or unofficially, yet the networks have skirted the extremism of the group or - at best - given viewers a contradictory image of them.

Contradictory Characterizations

Although the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981 (Sadat had dared make peace with Israel), it wasn't until the group was linked to those responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that the group received any significant network news coverage.

From 1993 to 2010, the Muslim Brotherhood was mentioned just 50 times and less than half (44 percent) of those mentions told viewers that the Brotherhood was religious or connected to Islam.

In fact, 28 stories contained network anchors making conflicting statements like ABC's Peter Jennings did on March 14, 2003, saying: "In Egypt today, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood called on Muslims to join a jihad against the U.S." Jennings then claimed "The group has millions of followers ranging form the conservative, to the moderate."

On Nov. 29, 1995, ABC's Bill Redeker reported that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had "banned the most influential Islamic organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, from running as a political party" in upcoming elections, and had arrested 54 members of the group.

"They were tried as a group for involvement in non-violent political activities," Redeker said. The government maintained it was cracking down on terrorism in the wake of bombings and assassinations. "But there has been no evidence that the Brotherhood was involved in those crimes. And the group's record of charitable work and its public condemnation of violence have made it the most popular opposition movement here."

Covering Egyptian elections a decade later, ABC's Dan Harris didn't even mention the reasons the government excluded the Brotherhood from participation. Mubarak, Harris said on March 17, 2005, "is expected to impose severe restrictions on any political opponents. He's also keeping some of his most formidable adversaries, Islamic leaders, in prison." The report then showed a clip of a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Essam El-Erian, saying, "[Mubarak] will choose who can run against him, and that is nonsense."

Even after attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, reporters were reluctant to cite the Muslim Brotherhood's history of violence. On CBS's "60 Minutes" Sept. 23, 2001, Ed Bradley fretted about how the Middle East perceived the U.S. "What are they saying about us?" in the Middle East, he asked. That night Bradley interviewed the very same Essam El-Erian, "a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, an outlawed political party that wants to replace Egypt's government with an Islamic state."

Just a political party?

The next week, Bradley profiled Ayman al-Zawahiri, the no. 2 man of al-Qaida and detailed his connection to the Brotherhoood but characterized the group as 'non-violent.'

Bradley said of al-Zawahiri, "… even when he was a teen-ager, Zawahiri was active in the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's oldest, fundamentalist political organization, which, back in the 1950s tried to bring down the government of Egypt … While some of its members preached violence, for the most part the Muslim Brotherhood was non-violent. But it gave birth to a new group that was far more radical, Islamic Jihad."

On Jan. 28, 2006, NBC's Campbell Brown didn't protest when a guest implied the the U.S. had an irrational fear of the Brotherhood and Muslim groups. Asked about the elections that had recently brought the terrorist group Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip, Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland, said, "But on - on the broader problem for the United States is not just so much the terrorism. I think the Islamist issue. There's fear in the United States of all Islamic groups, including ones that are relatively peaceful, like the Muslim Brotherhood-Brotherhood in Egypt."

Occasionally, reporters would correctly characterize the Brotherhood's extremism. On the March 4, 1993, 'CBS Evening News' Jacqueline Adams' report was one of the few exceptions. She said of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing :

'Yet authorities quickly issued a search warrant and closed the Al Salam Mosque, where the suspect is believed to worship. The mosque has long been suspected as a base for fund-raising for any number of interconnected, little-known, Islamic fundamentalist groups. Among them, the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian-backed Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood. That group claimed responsibility for a bombing in Cairo last Friday in which seven were killed, including two Americans, a bombing which coincided with the World Trade Center blast.'

Fifteen years later, ABC's Bill Weir said on April 14, 2008, "Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood have grown stronger since the country gave rise to two of the biggest names in al-Qaida."

Even a well-known liberal like Jonathan Alter demonstrated an understanding of the nature of the Brotherhood when, on Oct. 8, 2001, he said on NBC's "Today" show that "Modern Islamic terrorism has roots in religious fundamentalism with radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928, and later, the Islamic Jihad demanding a rejection of the West and a return to stricter Islamic traditions."

"Most theologians say these extremists have twisted Islamic doctrine, as in their calls for jihad, or holy war," Alter added.

CBS has also supplied contradictions for their viewers. Perhaps political correctness hadn't solidified around the issue of Islamist terror back in 1993, because CBS "This Morning" host Harry Smith and news consultant and Middle East expert Fouad Ajami linked the Muslim Brotherhood to Islamic fundamentalist extremism. On that March 5, 1993, broadcast, Ajami told Smith that the Muslim Brotherhood has a "spiritual guide" and the members have sought "religious sanction" from their leader Sheik Abdel-Rahman. Ajami also admitted that certain "sect characters have become much more extremist than the main body of the Muslim Brotherhood' and that the Brotherhood has 'deep roots of Islamic fundamentalism."

Twelve years later, however, CBS had changed its mind about this "extremist" group. "CBS Evening News with John Roberts" reporter David Hawkins quipped that some Egyptian women find the Muslim Brotherhood "appealing" citing its "charity" as "attractive," on the Dec. 11, 2005, broadcast.

Hawkins said, "Many Egyptians, especially the poor, are attracted to the Muslim Brotherhood's charity, and some women find its religious piety appealing." The worst thing Hawkins mentioned about the group was that "[O]thers say the Muslim Brotherhood is a threat to women's rights and religious minorities."

Change for Egypt, Not for Nets

The Muslim Brotherhood began to loom large in network coverage in January 2011 when a grassroots uprising in Tunisia inspired a similar call for change in Egypt's government.

Jan. 25, 2011, marked the day when protesters in Cairo took to the streets and demanded Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak step down so that others (among them, the Muslim Brotherhood) could vie for power. The network news covered the Egyptian developments around the clock for more than two weeks, and in a month and a half, the Muslim Brotherhood was mentioned in 85 stories between Jan. 1 and Feb. 17, 2011.

In this crucial era of violence in the streets of Cairo and spreading Middle East unrest, less than one-third (28) of the network news stories covering the Muslim Brotherhood actually connected the group to its Islamic roots or its violent past. The networks turned to Middle East experts and on-scene reporters who mostly downplayed the group's extremism.

That's what NBC's Richard Engel did on Feb. 8, when he assured anchor Brian Williams that the Brotherhood is "not al-Qaeda, it's not the Taliban. They do support Islamic law, but the people who are members of the Muslim Brotherhood wear business suits." Engel continued, saying, "It's much more similar to - it's much more akin to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It's anti-American, it's anti-Israel, but it wouldn't kick all the Christians out of this country, but it would definitely take a more anti-American line."

More akin to Hamas, the group that randomly lobs rockets into Israeli residential neighborhoods? There's a relief.

On Feb. 12, 2011, Shadi Hamid, a "specialist on democratic reform in the middle east" was asked to comment on the revolt in Egypt on "NBC Nightly News" with anchor Lester Holt. Hamid said, "Egypt doesn't have a strong opposition. The only really powerful group is the Muslim Brotherhood and there's a lot of fears, I think in the West about what might happen if they step into the vacuum. I think some of those fears are unfounded. The Brotherhood is a relatively mainstream and moderate organization that renounced violence."

When the networks weren't sending mixed messages about the Brotherhood, they were leaving their viewers to fill in the blanks. On the Feb. 12, 2011, "Saturday Today" broadcast, reporter Mike Viqueira linked the Muslim Brotherhood and Islam stating, "… the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group suppressed for years …"

But why was it suppressed? Viqueira didn't say. Nor did CBS's Katie Couric when she reported on Feb. 15, 2011, that "The Muslim Brotherhood, banned by the Mubarak government, said today it plans to form a political party." Ditto for NBC's Ann Curry, reporting the same morning: "And the country's Muslim Brotherhood, banned for 60 years, said today that it will form a political party once democracy is established."

On Feb. 14, 2011, CBS's Erica Hill listed the Brotherhood among possible Mubarak successors, noting only that it was "currently outlawed in Egypt, yet in a recent poll received a 15-percent approval rating."

Obvious Evidence

If journalists doubt the real, violent nature of the Muslim Brotherhood, they need only look to their own creed and history to see the group's intentions and end goals.

"Allah is our objective, the Prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, jihad is our way, and dying in the way of Allah is our highest objective," reads the creed. Andrew C. McCarthy, a prosecutor in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings and an expert on the Muslim Brotherhood said that "The Brotherhood perceives itself, and is widely perceived, as guardian of the true Islam."

McCarthy also said that the Muslim Brotherhood "… survives and thrives throughout the Islamic world because its Salafist ideology admonishes Muslims to take Mohammed, Islam's warrior prophet, as their guide and to honor the principles of Islam's founders, the 'rightly guided caliphs'."

One of the Brotherhood's principles is the hatred of Jews and Israel. During World War II, the Brotherhood cooperated with the Third Reich, to the extent that the group was accused of war crimes. It hasn't moderated much in the ensuing 60 years.

The Brotherhood claims to have renounced violence and has been trying to present a moderate face to the world. On its website you can find a 2007 essay titled "The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood" by Robert S. Leiken, director of Immigration and National Security Programs at the Nixon Center. Leiken, who consulted many Brotherhood leaders in writing the piece, called the Brotherhood, "… the most controversial [Islamic organization], condemned by both conventional opinion in the West and radical opinion in the Middle East."

But as recently as Feb. 14, 2011, a spokesman for the group defended violence against Israel calling it "resistance." Brotherhood spokesman Mohammed Morsy appeared on CNN's "Parker Spitzer" claiming, "We do not use violence against anyone. What's going on on the Palestinian land is resistance. The resistance is acceptable by all mankind, and it's the right of people to resist imperialism."

And on Feb. 23, 2011, Najib Razak, prime minister of Malaysia, whose population is 60 percent Muslim, said the Brotherhood "shouldn't be part of the [Egyptian electoral] process as long as they don't reject violence and extremism." Razak also said Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, raised "some concerns, deep concerns."

Razak isn't alone in his concerns. Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, a Townhall columnist, and host on Secure Freedom Radio, told the Culture and Media Institute that the mainstream media's confused reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood harms U.S. security.

"The Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu, observed 5,000 years ago that you cannot defeat an enemy you cannot identify. That is no less true today. Unfortunately, the American mainstream media has for many years kept us from identifying our present enemy - namely, those who adhere to shariah, led by the Muslim Brotherhood - by obscuring that organization's shariah-rooted character and ambitions."

Experts on the Muslim Brotherhood and Middle East policy and even the Muslim Brotherhood itself make it very clear that the Brotherhood is intricately connected to Islam, the world's most popular and fastest growing religion today. However, for almost two decades, the networks have failed to consistently make the obvious connection between the Brotherhood and extremist Islam.


To analyze the way in which the network news has characterized the Muslim Brotherhood, The Culture and Media Institute studied ABC and CBS news transcripts from February 17, 2011 back to February 26, 1993, and NBC news transcripts as far back as January 1, 1997 (they were unavailable prior to that time).