Why Somalis don’t trust the Twin Cities news media

There are few relationships on the planet these days worse than the one between the Somali community in the Twin Cities and news organizations which don’t know how to cover it. There’s plenty of fallout following coverage in the last week of rumors/allegations that a Minneapolis mosque had something to do with the disappearance of young Somali men. On Thursday night, the Minnesota News Council sponsored a panel to try to repair the damage that the story, and other coverage of Somalis, has caused.

The panelists were:

Julia Opoti, editor of Mshale, the African newspaper

Duchesne Drew, Star Tribune’s assistant managing editor

Ruben Rosario, columnist for the Pioneer Press

Laura Yuen, reporter for MPR

Esme Murphy, WCCO reporter/anchor

Mohamed Hassan, president of the Somali Institute for Peace and Justice

Sahra Noor, director of language services and community health at Fairview/U of M Medical Center

Hassan Mohamud, William Mitchell College of Law

Dr. Abdirahman D. Mohamed, chief of staff, AXIS Medical Center

Hussein Samatar, executive director of African Development Center

“It’s a hole in our organization that we don’t have a lot of Somali people in the newsroom,” said Duchesne Drew of the Star Tribune, explaining his newspaper’s coverage of the story and rumors that the young Somalis have been recruited to fight in Somalia. “The story we had was an important one in helping the larger community explain what the issues are.”

Laura Yuen said her first exposure to the story was a news conference in December when some family members of the missing youth held a news conference to suggest the mosque had something to do with their disappearance. She says she had only two Somalis in her Rolodex then, and has more than 30 now.

Opoti said she wasn’t comfortable basing any story on rumors. She acknowledged the Minnesota media has to learn to get more engaged in the African community, suggesting the only time they “come to the community is when there’s a disaster or a crime.”

Hassan Mohamud said the mistrust between the media and the Somali community is growing, singling out a story on Minnesota Public Radio. “Coverage is not beneficial to the community; it is damaging,” he said. “(It) paints the most important institutions — which is the mosque — in the worst light. Mosques are everything for the Muslim community.” He said the broadcast damaged the community with coverage of Tuesday’s news conference. “They never showed the good in our community. They used military language about how we line up. Instead of talking about the positive statements that are made, they talked about my face… We cannot trust these people.”

Yuen said the story Mohamud referred to was a National Public Radio story that ran on Minnesota Public Radio. She said she hoped the national media, “which parachutes in and then takes off,” doesn’t hurt the relationship between the Somali community and the local media.

Without identifying him by name, Mohamud also made clear that Omar Jamal, often quoted by the Twin Cities media as a representative of the Somali community, does not represent the entire community.

The audience, made up mostly of Somalis, laughed when the Star Tribune’s Drew said Jamal’s name. “Omar returns phone calls,” he said, adding that while his name appears in the paper often, reporters often make many calls without success. “We’re not amateurs,” he said. “I hope next time, you guys return phone calls. We’re not not going to run a story because you don’t want to talk…. We tried very hard to get as broad a mix of voices as we could.”

Opoti said she has little faith in Jamal. She relayed her work on a story on Election Day in which a Senate campaign was alleged to have told Somali voters how to vote. “Whatever I was reading in the papers was not what I saw happening One of the challenges for me was people who were there but didn’t want to have their names used. It took me three or more days. I called Omar Jamal because he told several different numbers (of Somalis) to different papers. He refused to answer me and he’s never answered my call since then. If he’s going to b.s., then don’t take any quotes from him.”

Jamal did not attend the forum.

“I do feel some of the criticism here,” Esme Murphy said. “The problem with television is the TV cycle is very immediate.” She said television reporters often have only “an hour or two” to produce a story. She said TV “does not have the luxury” of devoting many people to stories as the Star Tribune or Minnesota Public Radio.

“I don’t think we should exchange quality for time,” Sahra Noor said.

“I’m afraid the issue is trust,” Mohamed Hassan said. “And it is just a cop out on our part to say we don’t have time. If your work is to bridge the community, inform the community, you should be able to make time to bridge the community so the new community seems welcomed. We don’t want to talk to you, of course, because we think you want to labor us as terrorists, but I think there’s still an opportunity to repair this.” Somalia is in chaos but not all of Somalia. Some of us are going back to visit family.

“If you return calls, your face is going to be on TV,” Rosario said. “As long as we don’t have people from your community entering the media business, we’re going to continue having these problems. I’ve seen a lot of stories about Somali citizens doing good, but they’re not on the front page.” He criticized the reporters, however. “That’s not journalism; that’s rumor.”

“The mosques are accountable to the community, but the people accusing the mosques, they have to come up with evidence,” Mohamed Hassan, president of the Somali Institute for Peace and Justice, said.

“My cousin went to Kenya to visit family, he was held at this airport for two hours,” said Dr. Abdirahman D. Mohamed. “One of the questions asked was ‘have you been to a mosque?’ It’s like asking someone in this panel, ‘Have you been to a Starbucks?’ Is it a crime to go to a mosque?”

“You’ve tried to defame a mosque, the most sacred place for us,” he told the news media members. “We’re not trying to minimize your right to cover stories, but to be fair and objective so you earn back the trust in the community.”

If you have something you think is a story, feel free to call me at 651-290-1414 or drop me an e-mail. If I’m not aware of something you think is a story, I can’t write about it. There’s more to the Twin Cities media than the newspapers and TVs.

  • Carolynn

    If you want a story covered that is not a disaster or crime, the way you do that is to call the media. Just like we don’t have cops “walking the beat”, the media doesn’t have reporters “walking the beat”. To expect otherwise is naive. If people aren’t willing to talk to the press, it’s hard to cover a story. If a person calling themself the “spokesperson” isn’t, someone else needs to step forward and offer their thoughts. Silence = agreement. Also, most thinking poeple don’t believe everything they read, so don’t assume that the perception “out there” is all negative. As in most situations, getting to know the other person/thing/opinion is the best way to form an opinion, making assumptions or believing everything you read, is not.

  • Joanna

    I hope the dialogue that happened in this event among the press and members of the Somali community will continue so that relationships of trust can emerge. It will take an effort on the part of both groups to really listen and try to meet each other halfway. this might also mean more of a relationship between the “big” media outlets and the smaller, community press (Mshale, etc).

  • kennedy

    This story was initially about a group of young Somali men who unexpectedly left their families for Africa. I saw quotes from one family in the newspaper saying they felt their son was influenced.

    I don’t care what the community factions have to say. They seem to be more interested in furthering their own political aims than helping bring the families back together.

    This bickering is very sad.

  • Bob

    The fact that there aren’t more Somalis willing to come forward and interact with the media is no excuse for the media treating someone who is willing to talk to the media as being representative of an entire community.

  • A

    Omar Jamal is a media hound who calls the reporters, instead of waiting for them to call him. He also shows up at crime scenes and places himself in front of cameras. That is very convenient for most reporters because he says what they want him to say and adds lightning to the story. However, what he says is often times false and misleading and is aimed at those he has personal conflicts with.

    Things are changing though and now the media is waking up and realizing that OJ is agenda-driven and by quoting him they are not practicing good journalism.

  • ali osman

    Omar Jamal is a leader in the community and runs a advocacy center. I am shocked when you mention someone’s name when he is not even there. That in itself is a clear violation. I am Somalia and supporter of Omar Jamal, and I bet majority of the Somali support him. unlike where we come from, now we live in a society where there is a market of ideas. if you have something to say publish it. Opoti is upset because Omar Jama is not answering her calls, sorry but she has no right to dictate what the media should do. shame on her

  • ali osman

    I talked to many Somalis and they find this panel very odd. I did volunteer the advocacy center and seen media calling him. OJ is clearly the voice of reason for the community and no one can deny that nor can they take it away. OJ is the only person denying the radical group to hijack the will of the Somali community. He did make that very clear at the National Press Club and without him today the country woulkd have been under radical group. NOW the new president is bahaving well and also jioned the philosophy of Omar Jamal to defeat Al-Shabaab, he supports him. His causin was appointed Prime Minister in this new goverment.

    This is an expression of resentment against Omar Jamal from his rivalries of him well spoken and outreach. He spoke at the National Press Club, gave an interview to CNN and Bill O’ralley Fox news. why don’t you call them and ask them to stop Omar Jamal’s interviews. We the Somali community know that this is a contuation of the clannish mentality in Somalia and Omar Jamal come from the elite and ruling class from Somalia and by that also part of the majority clan in Somalia. we suppoprt the local media for their coverage on Somali population, even though we don’t agree sometimes but that is how the media mechine works. we cannot do anything about that, but as the community progresses, the better off we will be all of us in dealing with not only the media but all other aspects of the life in this strage country.

  • Bob Collins

    If you d on’t mind my asking, Ali. Did you go to the forum? Did you know about it?

    Your comment about the elite and ruling class is an interesting one. Theoretically, as you may know, the United States doesn’t have a ruling class/elite that by its existence declares one more legitimate than another.

  • ali Osman

    about OJ having an agenda, excuse me….tell me those guys don’t have an agenda. why are they crying over OJ work and services to the community. let us see, ive them the microphone and wait what they say,……..what is wrong in life having an agenda…it is inherent in human nature to have a vision and agenda and Omar Jamal is not an exception here. we live in a State where former wrestler was at one point elected as a governor and don’t get me started his relationship with the Media. Someone alluded the fact that Omar Jamal is a dangerious in the community, and I bet they are more dangerious and just looking for an attention. The Somali Doctor is famous in the community for his clannish medical prectice in the community. That is against medical ethics only if he knows anything about ethics.

  • ali osman

    Bob collin….I was not there, but someone sent me the youtube version of the panel discussion. any by the way US has a ruling elite and we call them Bushes and clintonions. have and have nots… i suggest you to go and spend couple of night in north of minneapolis and then go to suburbs and tell me the differences. O.K this country come a long way to elect a black man and we know that Minnesota lynched three black men in Deluth. you cannot run away from your history my friend. don’t lecture me the minnesota nice story..been there and seen it all.

  • ali osman

    one more worhy of note…I personally seen Omar Jamal beging the community to speak out, and in doing so it helps the cause but it is their choice. I hope they will speak out. if they don’t by the way that is Omar Jamal’s fault…Excuse me… I know youare better than that. Omar Jamal published articles in both strib and pioneer press editorial pages, now that is again because they don’t write…give me a break. Omar Jamal has proven more than once a leadership thart expands beyond Minnesota. I hope he continues doing so.

  • mohamed farah

    I think this is very sad. Omar Jamal is simply an advocate, and never claimed that he is elected or leader of the community. The Somali community evertywhere is grateful to him and we owe him a lot. This is simply an attempt to shut down the only voice community has in Minnesota. Some don’t know what they are doing and simply driven by thier clannish hatred, and some white folks are enjoying this and would like to shut down Omar Jamal. This will never work. Leave him alone to do his job. The Media themselves said that when they call him, he returns their phone call. So where did A get from the idea he calls them. This is all nonsense and waste of time and energy. Instead talking about Omar Jamal, let us focus on the real issues here. I will tell you this there are majority silent community here who are watching this, and make no mistake about it we support Omar Jamal.

  • mohamed farah

    a word to Bob collin…I just read your comments on the media having no rights to call someone representive of the community because they are speaking out.

    (Bob notes: Please read the post again. I made no such comment. Now someone at the forum might’ve made the comment and I was passing along the discussion as it took place. The forum was open to anyone to participate.)

    This is Ridiculous my friend. I am a bit dumbfounded that Fox news blog was more informed about the community than MPR blogger.

    who would ever thought that !

    Omar Jamal an advocate, and by the way for your information he will be on the UK T.V channel for interview sometime soon, and Bob Collin they will call him the governor of the State of Minnesota…what a shock. Of course they will call him Somali activist and head of an advocate center from minnesota. It is simply a common sense. does that mean he is the representative of all the somali community here in MN, of course not.

    Just like the sticker I saw the other day a car in front of me read ” Bush is not my President.” woooow what does that mean ?

  • asha abdi

    I thank those who put together the panel, and piece of advise that not to get caught up in the middle of this somali clan warfare. I and many other Somali ladies think it would have been nice if Omar Jamal to have been there since his name was there. Some would like to have me believe that the whole purpose was to attack Omar Jamal.

    Media has been doing a great work, and I disagree with them most of the time. I will never talk to the media, but what is wrong if Omar Jamal talks to them. Bob Collins and others what would be the problem if omar Jamal represent us here in Minnesota. in case you do things like this invite him or don’t allow his name to come up. he might turn it down but just let him know the event. Omar Jamal represents a real story of the community to the media. the only major disagreement is that he beleives some of us are more radical than others. He is agaisnt Somali radical group, and they are doing thier best to discredit him. simple. he is winning here and they are winning back home.

    good luck and good bye

  • Bob Collins

    I honestly don’t know what some of the recent comments are talking about.

    Why are you asking me to defend the comments of Somali people who participated in the panel? Why are you asking me to defend comments from media members with whom I’m not associated?

    Why are you asking me to defend the forum. I didn’t organize it, invite the panelists, or invite the public. MPR had nothing to do with it. I had nothing to do with it.

    As for “I will never talk to the media.” That’s fine with me. I think what we heard from the media on the panel is if you don’t want to talk to the media, don’t be complaining when your point of view isn’t heard.

    I don’t know Omar Jamal. I’ve never talked to Omar Jamal. I don’t care who other media consider the “leader” of the Somali community is.

    Personally, *I* don’t consider anybody a spokesman for an entire community. I felt that way when Jesse Jackson was used as a “spokesman” for the African American community.

    There’s no such thing as a spokesman for any community and I don’t tell the stories of spokesmen anyway. If YOU’VE got something you think I should relay about YOUR life, I’m glad to do so.

    If you need an intermediary to do that, trust me, I’m not interested. That’s second-hand information and all you have to do is read this thread to see how incredibly inaccurate and useless second-hand information is.

    One of the unfortunate aspects of the forum — and the title of this post — is that it suggests that the sole responsibility for the poor portrayal of the Somali “community” is the media. That’s nonsense. The Somali community is at war with itself and the media simply ignores it rather than wade through all the muck of infighting to try to figure out who knows what and what everybody is talking about. It’s not a healthy situation, but I can’t say I blame them.

    I’m sorry to be so blunt about that, but that’s how it looks from an old white guy looking in. The next forum that someone organizes on this topic should be Somalis talking to Somalis.

  • asha abdi

    Bob thanks for you being blunt…but Jesse was a spokesperson so was Mrtin Luther King and Malcolm X. because they spoke out against all odds. segregation and racism. I do respect your comments. I don’t want to speak to the media and don’t trust them. I wonder if you think Obama is the spokesperson not only this whole country, but also African American too. that is why this election was a historical one. I don’t care if my views are covered, but those who speak out whether I like it or not are spokespersons of the community. Because simply they are speaking out. please consider the statement below:

    “We hate some persons because we do not know them; and will not know them because we hate them.”

    – Charles Caleb Colton

  • Bob Collins

    Jesse jackson was a spokesman ONLY for the people who wanted Jesse jackson to represent them. That’s different from how “spokesmen” are used by the media.

    There, Jesse jackson was used as a spokesman for the African American community. That’s quite presumptuous of the media to assume that.

    It’s the same with Omar Jamal. He may — and does — have a perspective that is shared by many Somalis. But that doesn’t make him a spokesman for the Somali community; it makes him a spokesman for the people who want Omar Jamal to speak for them.

    It’s a very important distinction which we in the media fail far too often to make.

    Obama is a spokesman for the country by virtue of his election as president. Is he a spokesman for African Americans. No, I don’t believe so. I don’t believe the African American community is a monolithic one.

    Spokespersons are spokespersons only for themselves or for those who designate them as spokespersons. They are nothing more than that.

    Your quote is an interesting one. You don’t talk to the media and yo udon’t trust them, and you point out through your quote that hatred comes because people don’t know each other.

    The media is not doing its part to resolve that hate. And neither are you. You’re waiting for someone else to change.

  • sadia jama

    what is going on

  • http://www.mshale.com Julia Opoti

    I just noticed the comments above today.

    I am sure that there are many in the Somali community who support and agree with Omar Jamal. That is fine, that was not my complaint.

    At the panel I cited a particular incident where it was evident to me that Jamal was lying. The incident was voting at the Brian Coyle Center where in a span of three days Jamal claimed different numbers of “disenfranchised voters”. First, he said a handful of voters were told to vote for Al Franken, then he changed the number to 500. He made these claims to some members of the press who went ahead and published his claims. His evidence? A video from a camera phone that did not prove anything.

    Jamal also claimed to have filed a suit with Hennepin County, and when I called them they had no records of such a claim.

    I put him on the spot, he hung up on me, and like I said has not returned my calls. It is for these reasons that I cannot trust him as a source.

    I am not interested in getting caught up in Somali politics, but as a reporter I am interested in telling the truth. It’s that simple.

  • Wadani

    First, the media is profit-driven and never the favor of anybody but itself. It broadcasts anything that seems profitable for ‘em. So, if you think the media is out there for you to support you or build a good image for you, simply unlearn it.

    Secondly, the media, in order to look trustworthy they present so called experts and leaders that nobody knows where they get the credits they claim. In the case Omar Jamal, he is not a Somali leader nor an expert, but an ignorant expert wannabe, and he read prewritten and dictated words from Glenn Beck and other media outlets. Am sorry but it’s just the truth.

    Thirdly, if Somalis want their real stories to be heard; they need to get their own media and never trust the corporate media. Only this way, they can tell their side of the stories.

    Fourth, it’s the Somali community’s responsibility to speak for themselves, and they should speak up and defend their rights for dignity.