It began with a flurry of tweets:
Seeing as this was Channel 4’s newsreader Cathy Newman, her tweets not only generated the mandatory Twitter outrage, but also sparked a flurry of news articles.
The general tone was that of the mosque involved making an own goal, missing the chance to convince Britain and Britons that it was part of the community. The slightly perplexed mosque issued an apology.
Then came the CCTV footage that showed that Cathy Newman wasn’t ushered out at all; she visited the mosque in error (this one wasn’t part of Visit My Mosque) and her camera crew was waiting at another mosque down the road. Furthermore, a bemused person at the mosque had mistakenly directed her to a nearby church. She had merely entered the mosque and left on her own again after receiving the erroneous (but well-meaning directions).
This would all be fine except for the fact that the mosque has since received death threats as a result.
Cathy Newman, for all intents and purposes an experienced (and usually, really good actually) journalist knew that her tweets were indirectly saying something significant, signalling something quite deliberate on that day, in the nervy post-Charlie Hebdo environment in Europe, at a time when the Muslim community is even more under the microscope than usual.
Her tweets confirmed suspicions that the whole Visit My Mosque initiative was a publicity stunt; that parts of the Muslim community live “apart” from British values and way of life. That was the signal in her tweets. She didn’t say so explicitly; neither did the news reports of her story. However, this did come to dominate coverage of the whole initiative.
She has since apologised for any “misunderstanding”. Her flimsy non-apology has not been questioned by the mainstream media at all, who knew full well what she was implying with her tweets. There is a pretense here, as if this was just a straight story of a misunderstanding. It overlooks the pressure on the Muslim community and to some extent the mixed pressures of the initiative itself; anything that promotes greater understanding between communities is a good thing, but I can’t help feeling a certain discomfort that the hastily arranged event was a bit of a well-meaning post-Charlie Hebdo scramble to reassure that yes, the Muslim community is part of us, one of us.
The entitlement with which Cathy tweeted and passed judgment sticks in my craw, and the subsequent news stories were a bit of a “gotcha!” moment, as if the mosques were caught out revealing their true selves.
But now that Cathy has been shown to have been blowing it all out of proportion and straight-up lying, she has been allowed a free pass.Why did she do this? There has been no acknowledgment of the unsettling anti-Muslim undercurrent to the whole affair.
And while everyone in the media closes ranks around one of their own, some of us are left wondering what Cathy has revealed about herself.