Siblani talks about Arab stereotypes

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Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News, in Dearborn, Mich., visited the department as part of the Hearst Visiting Professionals Program. Siblani, along with Professor Betsy Rau, was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame earlier this year. Here, Betsy and Osama are pictured in the hallway of Moore Hall's fourth floor.

Osama Siblani, publisher of The Arab American News, wants students to dig deeper and get the whole story before they rush to judgment about ethnic groups, particularly Arab Americans.

“There is no balanced portrait of the Arab community,” he said. “It is unfortunate that our mass media is such a shallow media.”

Siblani visited CMU as part of the Hearst Visiting Professionals Program, and told students the stereotypes spurred him to start his newspaper in 1984, The Arab American News, in Dearborn, Mich.

"It seems like in our country there is a torture gate,” he said. “You have to get kicked around before you can go through.”

The media portrays the Arab as wealthy, corrupt, filthy and having lots of women, Siblani said. 

“These are distorted images,” he said.

Siblani said Americans have a tendency to believe everything the media reports without getting all sides of the story.

“The sound bite is a killer in our society,” he said. “We can’t resolve complicated issues with sound bites.”

Siblani told students our society needs more in-depth reporting and more balanced coverage.

“The best decisions we make are decisions with a clear mind and understanding, without stereotypes,” he said.

He spoke about the unwanted attention he and his paper received on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He said his office staff fielded lots of nasty and threatening calls. Some callers left death threats on his answering machine. He said he was concerned for the safety of the Arab community.

Tom Brokaw interviewed him about the calls and comments he was receiving. This is what he said in response to the events:

“I want to tell the American people I am Osama Siblani, not Osama bin Laden, and I love this country,” Siblani said.

After his interview, he said he received many positive messages and calls.

“When we are educated and being told the truth, things change,” Siblani said.

Siblani started The Arab American News to make a difference in his community, but also to change views around the world. He said his paper is a place the mass media can go to seek information and opinions.

“Either we build walls around our nation, or we have to knock down the walls and learn to understand each other,” he said.

He told students they can shape world views by changing the way news is covered.

“Before you make judgment, do in-depth research and check your sources,” Siblani said. “We need to know what is going on around us. We need to know who is who in the world.”

Siblani calls himself an activist journalist. He told students they need to have passion when they are writing.

“Journalists should only write if they have it in their guts,” he said. “I want you to live the story. Look at all aspects of the story.”

The flood of information that is available on the Internet is a problem, Siblani said. He talked about a link to a story he received, how he checked out the number of times the story appeared in his Internet search, and his decision to run the story. It turns out the names in the story were real, but the facts were fabricated. He said he received a great deal of criticism for his decision to publish the story, but he had no way of knowing the story was false.

“You have to be careful,” he said. “Check your sources, make sure they are trustworthy.”

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