Peculiar Bias: How The Tennessean Became a Fellow Traveler with CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood

by Rebecca Bynum (November 2010)


On Sunday, October 24, 2010, The Tennessean launched an attack on the anti-jihad movement in America in a multi-part series entitled, “The Price of Fear” in which religion editor Bob Smietana alleged that those working against the unrestricted Islamization of the Western world are doing it for the money and specifically that Steven Emerson, a man of impeccable journalistic integrity, working in the extremely dangerous field of terror investigation for over 25 years, is raking in millions for himself. In fact, Emerson is simply shielding his employees by structuring his organization the way he does. Though this fact was explained to Smietana by numerous people several times prior to publication, Smietana nevertheless launched his reckless and irresponsible series with full editorial approval from The Tennessean, under the title, “Anti-Muslim crusaders make millions spreading fear.”

The Council on American Islamic Relations, established as a front for one of the most violent wings of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the ultimate annihilation of the Jews, immediately issued a press release calling for the IRS to investigate Emerson.

So how did the venerable old Nashville Tennessean, The Tennessean of John Siegenthaler and David Halberstam, find itself a fellow traveler with the Muslim Brotherhood in America? A closer look at the author of this series, Bob Smietana as well as the overall journalistic policy of The Tennessean, is in order. It must be noted that Mr. Smeitana, a seasoned reporter used to asking questions, refused to answer a single question or allow me to quote him directly from email correspondence for this article.


In addition to his work at The Tennessean, Bob Smietana's articles appear in such as left-leaning publications as Christianity Today, Christian Century, and the far-left Sojourners which routinely refers to Israel as an “apartheid state.” Sojourners founder, Reverend Jim Wallis, advocates the “Palestinian” Arab cause along other anti-Zionists such as with British Anglican priest Stephen Sizer, Wheaton College professor Gary Burge, United Methodist missionary Alex Awad, Evangelical Lutheran Church Holy Land bishop Mitre Raheb,  Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center and Presbyterian minister and former director of Middle East Studies at North Park University, Dr. Donald Wagner.

Smietana is a member of an obscure Lutheran sect on the far left wing of the evangelical churches called the Evangelical Covenant Church. Originally a member of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Attleboro, Massachusetts, Mr. Smietana is a graduate of the ECC's North Park University and Medill Graduate School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. Smietana then became the features editor for the Evangelical Covenant Church's magazine, Covenant Companion from 1999 until 2007 when he left to take his position at The Tennessean.  

The former director of North Park University's Middle East Studies department from 1995 until it was closed last year was Professor Donald Wagner who has written extensively in opposition to Zionism and Christian Zionism in particular (see his five part series on Christian Zionism, “Christians and Zion: British stirrings,” “Christian Zionists, Israel and the ' second coming',” “Bible and sword: US Christian Zionists discover Israel,” “The interregnum: Christian Zionism in the Clinton years” and “A heavenly match: Bush and the Christian Zionists.”) It is clear from his work that Dr. Wagner views the creation of Israel as a historic mistake and his attack on Christian Zionists is designed to undermine their influence among American policy makers with the ultimate goal of influencing America to withdraw her support for Israel.

Dr. Wagner is also active in the debate within the Presbyterian Church on the question of divestiture from Israel which sometimes verges toward open antisemitism. He is a founding member of the Institute for the Study of Christian Zionism (ISCZ), which was represented by Stephen Sizer at the antisemitic Jakarta Nakba conference in May 2008. Wagner also reviewed Sizer's controversial PhD thesis in 2004. Professor Wagner also cofounded Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding with Ray Bakke which promotes the ideas of the traditional dhimmi churches of the Middle East. These churches take the position that Israel and the Christian Zionists who support her are causing the problems they are having with the Muslim population which is influenced by the global resurgence of Islam. Muslim Arabs are increasingly asserting their identity as Muslims over their identity as Arabs and therefore are reasserting Christian dhimmitude. The churches have long supported Arab nationalism as a way to claim their equality with Muslim Arabs and so they tend to identify Israel as the cause of their strife. As Geoffrey Clarfield writes:

Arabic speaking Christians are leaving Gaza and the West Bank in increasing numbers. According to some estimates, fifty years ago, Arabic speaking Christians comprised 15% of the total population of these two areas. Now they comprise less than 2%. Fifty years ago the town of Bethlehem had a Christian majority. Now they comprise 20% of the population.


Many Palestinian Christian religious leaders will tell you that the reason Christians are leaving Gaza and the West Bank in growing numbers is because of the conflict between Israelis and the Arabs and that they see no hope of a political solution. This is belied by surveys which suggest that up to 48% of Palestinian Christians believe that their leaders are compromised and fear to publicly admit that there has been growing and almost systematic persecution of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank by the predominantly Muslim authorities in the PA.

Donald Wagner often speaks at Sabeel conferences with Arab Christians in opposition to the “Israeli occupation” portrayed as the root cause of the Christian Arab decline. Professor Wagner has likened Israel to a “killer vine” taking over the land and choking out the flowers and vegetables (the Christians and Muslims) of Palestine. As stated earlier, Mr. Smietana refused to answer questions concerning his relationship with Dr. Wagner or his tenure at Covenant Companion. However, Professor Wagner told us that Smietana was “a pleasure to work with” and “had a heart for the major issues of our day, including peace and justice questions related to poverty, the Middle East, and other hot issues.”  

In fact, Smietana interviewed Wagner right after the 9/11 terror attacks of 2001 in which the professor exclaimed, “As soon as the bombings took place, we felt a need to get around our Middle-Eastern students because we began to pick up that there were some ugly comments here and there. We did a teach-in that night – we combined a bunch of classes and gave an historical perspective, and others made comments to put things in context.” Coming immediately after the carnage, talk about “context” skirts very close to apologizing for terrorists. [Update: During a speech at New York State University in Buffalo, NY, Wagner was quoted as saying Israili soldiers dressed up as Phalangist militiamen in order to take part on the Sabra and Shatilla massacre of 1982. A claim that can only be described as blood libel. Wagner also called for Palestinians to quit negotiating with Israelis and to “resist.”]

We can safely assume then, that Smietana's lengthy exposure to anti-Zionism and anti-Christian Zionism in particular, combined to give expression in his attack on the anti-jihad cause. In this context, we use the word jihad as the struggle to advance the cause of Islam by both peaceful and violent means. Anti-anti-jihad is much like the anti-anti-communism of the last century; the sentiments espoused are not necessarily pro-jihad yet their actions do more to advance the cause of Islamic expansion than Muslims themselves could possibly do through their own propaganda efforts. Simply put, Bob Smietana has made The Tennessean a party to the pro-jihad, Islamic expansionist movement both in the United States and world-wide.

These two biases, anti-Zionism and anti-anti-jihad often appear together in articles written by self-identified members of the far-left like Daily Kos, but even the leftist Huntington Post publishes Islam critical articles by authors such as Sam HarrisIrshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The list of left-leaning anti-jihadists is a long one and I brought this fact to Mr. Smietana's attention on numerous occasions. It includes such people as Orianna Fallaci, Pym Fortuyn, Theo Van Gogh, Bruce Bawer, Pat Condell, Caroline Fourest, Paul Berman, Ibn Warraq and Hugh Fitzgerald all of whom understand (or understood) the threat to civilization caused by unchecked Islamic expansion. By attempting to portray the anti-jihad movement as the sole province of Christian Zionists, Smietana was being intellectually dishonest and deliberately misleading.

By publishing this series, The Tennessean chose to show its disdain for the ordinary Christians of Tennessee by scoffing at their concerns over Muslim immigration and terrorism. In the comments section of Smietana's Tennessean anti-anti-jihad series, one “DisabledVeteran” wrote:

While most of us know American Muslims who are nice people, when we look at Muslims in foreign lands it can be a scary thing. For example, try building a Christian Church in Saudi Arabia and see what happens. Try openly converting people to Christianity in Iran. Muslims in foreign countries kill Christians and burn down churches on a regular basis. Muslims in Sudan make slaves of Christians by the hundreds of thousands. Muslims in France riot on a large scale. Muslims in England demand their own legal system. Muslims in Israel marry girls under the age of nine. Muslims stone women to death. What would an Islamic America look like? Perhaps one only needs to look at what Islamic Iran or Islamic Turkey looks like. Yes, people are scared of Islam. Yes, many Americans do not want to see an Islamic America. Those sentiments, given Islam's history in the mid-East and Africa, are understandable.

There is evidence that The Tennessean is not acting unknowingly, but has exhibited a pattern of apologetics for Islamic expansion including the deliberate suppression of certain stories. On Thursday, October 21, Nashville's newest mosque center (The Islamic Center of Tennessee) held an open house hosted by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State on the topic of “Islamophobia.” There was a considerable amount of confrontation over both Islam and the favorable stand taken by the AU on allowing Muslims children separate prayer rooms in public schools from the audience. These confrontations went completely unreported by both The Tennessean and WKRN Nashville's ABC affiliate, though all of it was recorded by both organizations. 

Afterwards, Mr. Smietana was confronted by Thomas Allen on the fact that The Tennessean was informed, but did not report on the instance where Professor Awadh Binhazim, Muslim Chaplain at Vanderbilt University and a director of the Islamic Center of Tennessee, reiterated the fact that under Islamic law, death is mandated for homosexuals and that he had no choice as a Muslim but to accept Islamic teaching on the matter. However, he stated that there were no countries in the world fully instituting Islamic law (see the video here). Nor did The Tennessean report on Yvonne Ridley's speech at Vanderbilt in which she stated she thought that the homosexuals who were caught and prosecuted for homosexuality in the Muslim world “must have wanted to get caught.”  To the question as to why The Tennessean did not report such inflammatory rhetoric by Muslims when such statements if made by Christians would have caused an uproar, Smietana replied, “I don't have the choice of what I cover or don't cover.” The Tennessean also removed reference to the Binhazim incident from the one op-ed piece they have published of mine without consulting with me. One can only conclude that editorial board at The Tennessean's has systematically suppressed this inflammatory story.

When I pressed him on this matter by email correspondence, Smietana brought up the fact the homosexuals were dealt with harshly by the Christian world in times past as exemplified by England's Buggery Act of 1533 and remained illegal in some states until 2002. So the fact that homosexuals had been executed in the Christian world at sometime in the distant past was all Mr. Smietana needed to excuse the fact that homosexuals are being executed by the thousands for their very existence as homosexuals in the Muslim world today. Over 4,000 homosexuals have been executed in Iran since 1979.

Furthermore, Mr. Smietana seemed to take the word of Professor Awadh Binhazim, who when questioned by him at the open house on the 21st, assured Smietana that just like in Leviticus, the Qur'an teaches death for homosexuals, but that that teaching does not apply today. The fact that it definitely does apply today and is part of the penal code in six Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, the center of Sunni Islam, and Iran, the center of Shi'a Islam, and therefore Binhazim was lying to him by maintaining the opposite didn't seem to make an impression.  Smietana's conversation with Binhazim was also recounted by Smietana during his live chat about the article. Neither Binhazim nor Smietana would comment further on this conversation for the record and Smietana refused to allow me to quote from his email directly.

Bob Smietana did, however, interview one questioner at the open house, Azmi Mukahal, and portrayed him as a moderate Muslim who forgives all Americans their ignorance of Islam. “Bless their hearts,” is how Smietana's interview begins. Unfortunately for Smietana, Mukahal had just minutes earlier and before about 50 witnesses, delivered a long, rambling anti-American diatribe about how America prefers to deal with dictatorships in the Middle East and does nothing to promote democracy. (No one asked him what he thinks America is doing trying to institute democracy in both Iraq and Afghanistan at the cost of trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.) He also excused terrorism by stating that for young people in the Middle East, the only way to express themselves is to join the extremists. A cursor check of Mukahal's facebook page revealed that one of his “friends” sports a picture of the Hamas flag as his facebook picture, but Smietana, in his rush to find a moderate Muslim, didn't even check that far.

By exhibiting anti-Zionist, philo-Islamic bias on this level, one would have to conclude that Smietana is unfit to cover Jewish issues, Islamic issues or any issue concerning Christian Zionists and therefore should be removed as religion editor for The Tennessean. Since The Tennessean shows no sign of doing this, but every sign of supporting this anti-Zionist, philo-Islamic line, therefore some kind of boycott of their advertisers might be in order. The ordinary Christians and Jews of Tennessee are wise enough to perceive systematic bias (see here, here and here) when they see it and should let The Tennessean know they will not support a newspaper that sneers so openly at their legitimate concerns, or treats their most cherished beliefs with such disdain.

(A special thanks goes to NER senior editor Jerry Gordon for his invaluable contribution to this article. This article was also sent to Tennessean editor, Mark Silverman prior to publication. He did not respond.)


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Rebecca Bynum contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.


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