Obama administration shows respect to American Arab journalists

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Obama administration shows respect to American Arab journalists
By Ray Hanania —
Although there is much to debate about the ability of President Barack Obama to bring peace to the Middle East, there is no doubt that he is doing more than any of his predecessors to recognize the importance of American Arab journalists. In the nearly two years since his election, Obama has slowly and steadily opened the White House to access to Arab World and American Arab journalists, a group that has been missing in action in most past White House Middle East peace events.

Although American Arabs were invited to witness the historic signing of the now failed Oslo Peace Accords in 1993 by former President Bill Clinton, not invited were American Arab journalists.

Now, American Arab journalists are joining Arab World journalists in obtaining access to firsthand news from the White House, not only in coverage of Iraq but also in coverage of day-to-day news.

The White House has accepted an Arab journalist to be the pool reporter during the restoration of peace talks after a two-year lull between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Although the selection of Yasmeen Alamiri from the Saudi Press Agency to lead the press pool coverage of the Abbas-Netanyahu meeting, the news reports are, for the first time, those pool reports are being made available directly to the American Arab Press. (Read the pool reports at the American Arab News Wire at http://aams.blogspot.com).

Officials at the U.S. State Department have also reached out to the American Arab media to provide thought leaders from the U.S. Government to discuss American policy spin.

Mainstream American media might scoff at the idea of journalists celebrating being put on the government’s PR spin list, but the fact that the government feels it is important now, for the first time, to spin the American Arab media is a significant shift in U.S. Government strategy.

There are more than 103 American Arab newspapers and magazines in the United States today according to an inventory kept by the National Arab American Journalists Association (www.NAAJA-US.com). There are nearly 300 American Arabs in professional journalism, with half working in the mainstream American media and the other half working in the ethnic American Arab media.

American Arabs in the mainstream media, though, are usually assigned to non-Middle Eastern beats and topics, a fact that contradicts the experience of other ethnic journalists like Hispanics and African Americans who are often tapped to cover their own ethnic communities.

American Arab journalists in the ethnic media specifically write about Middle Eastern topics, although as much as 75 percent of the writing is op-ed or opinion commentary content rather than objective news or enterprises feature writing.

These publications reach deeper into one of the most ignored ethnic constituencies in America, Arabs and Muslims, than any other mainstream publication. American Arabs and Muslims do subscribe to, read and watch mainstream American media. But when reporting comes to Middle East topics or Islamic topics, the level of skepticism is higher than the average American.

American Arab publications also have a strong connection to the Arab world media. More often today than a decade before, Arab World reporters and producers are seeking out American Arab journalists in both the ethnic and mainstream media to assist them in identifying sources and stories.

The internet has played a significant role in leveling the playing field between American Arab media and the mainstream American media. More and more, American Arab journalists are also being engaged as commentators on mainstream media panels, interview and news programs. They are being tapped and quoted as resources to round out mainstream media stories.

At some point, American Arab journalists will find their place alongside mainstream American journalists, and their impact in forcing a balanced coverage of Middle East and Islamic topics will continue to grow.

(Ray Hanania is the 2010 winner of the Sigma Delta Chi award from column writing and was named Best Ethnic American Columnist by the New America Media in 2007. He hosts a weekday morning Chicago radio show and can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.

"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."

Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).

Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.

The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.

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Visit this link to read Ray's column archive at the ArabNews,com ArabNews.com/taxonomy/term/10906
Ray Hanania