The NYT has assigned Neil MacFarquhar to cover a new national beat: Islam. The TimesWatch topic index on MacFarquhar turns up instances in which MacFarquhar refused to label groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorist outfits, writing instead that the groups have been “‘labeled’ so by Israel and the U.S.,” or calling individual members “Palestinian opponent[s] to [Israeli] occupation.” MacFarquhar tells the San Francisco Chronicle:
It’s a new beat for the Times: an immigration story, with a lot of immigrants from Muslim countries; a … story about the difficulties they have integrating in the U.S.; a civil rights story, with a lot them facing difficulties in the wake of 9/11; and a cultural story, with Muslim artists coming from around the world. It’s a nice mix. It’s not designed to be a terrorism or theological beat. It’s more about people.
Will this be anything other than a space for groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations to air their various grievances? Or will it be more like the “conservative beat” the NYT created in 2004 — a sort of condescending look at an outside group the NYT doesn’t really understand.