Media Says Trump Travel Ban to Blame for Muslim Olympian Detained Under Obama Admin

Ibtihaj Muhammad / AP
February 15, 2017

Several mainstream media outlets hyped the story last week of a Muslim-American Olympian who was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in December 2016, connecting it to President Donald Trump’s travel ban despite him not being president when the detainment took place.

Many media outlets that reported the story failed to identify the date of Ibtihaj Muhammad's detainment, which was during Barack Obama’s presidency, the Washington Examiner reported Monday. But major publications either suggested or definitively claimed that Trump's controversial executive order, which temporarily bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. over terrorism concerns, was to blame for the detainment of Muhammad, the first female Muslim-American to win an Olympic medal for the U.S.

"Olympic athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad was detained because of President Trump's travel ban," a headline from Time Magazine's Motto website claimed. Other outlets including the Hill, the Daily Mail and the Independent falsely reported that Muhammad’s detention came after Trump's travel ban. Stories published by Sports Illustrated and ESPN also connected Trump's executive action to what happened to Muhammad. 

Muhammad originally told Popsugar in a Feb. 7 interview that she was detained "for two hours just a few weeks ago," suggesting it was done out of prejudice.

"I don't know why. I can't tell you why it happened to me, but I know that I'm Muslim," Muhammad told Popsugar. "I have an Arabic name. And even though I represent Team USA and I have that Olympic hardware, it doesn't change how you look and how people perceive you."

Muhammad, a U.S. citizen born in New Jersey, has since clarified several parts of the story, including the date of the incident, which she made clear was in December four days after her initial interview. President Trump was sworn into office on Jan. 20 and signed the executive order in question on Jan. 27.

A Customs official with direct knowledge of the detainment disputed Muhammad's characterization of the incident as involving bigotry and stereotyping.

"She comes and goes many times. She travels quite extensively. She has never been stopped before," the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Examiner. "She wasn't targeted. The checks are totally random; random checks that we all might be subject to."

The official also confirmed that Customs detained Muhammad in December, when Barack Obama was still in the White House.

"This all happened in December, which was well before any executive order," the Customs official said, "which is a totally separate incident."

The Examiner noted that Muhammad has been an outspoken critic of Trump, particularly his travel ban, and that her initial remarks on the incident were vague and left room for confusion over what happened.