Blogging While Coptic

NYT blogger asks if Weekly Standard writer was unduly influenced by religion

Samira Ibrahim / AP
March 8, 2013

A New York Times blogger became ensnared in controversy yesterday after asking a Weekly Standard author whether he was a Coptic Christian and if this played a factor in his reporting on anti-American and anti-Semitic activist Samira Ibrahim.

Weekly Standard writer Samuel Tadros broke the story of Ibrahim’s support for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Bulgarian bus bombing attack of 2012, resulting in the State Department’s decision to "defer" its plan to honor Ibrahim with a women’s courage award.

But Times reporter Robert Mackey speculated on Twitter that Tadros’s religious background, which Mackey believed was Coptic Christian, might have played a role in his reporting.

"Is it correct to say you're from Egypt's Coptic Christian community? If so, does that inform your criticism of Islamists?" Mackey asked Tadros.

Mackey was quickly flooded with Tweets saying his question was out of line.

"Please explain your theory for how being Coptic might make one critical of a non-Islamist (Samira) who celebrates 9/11," wrote Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"Your question was framed in a way often used by people to marginalize members of ethnic, religious and racial minorities," wrote the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

Mackey responded that he was not trying to diminish Tadros’s story, but merely point out that some reporters are influenced by their religious views.

"[H]ave we reached a point where questions about our perspectives can only be racist? My background does influence my take," asked Mackey.

Mackey added that because of his own "Northern Irish (Catholic but with some Protestant) heritage" that he "perhaps mistakenly thought that was an inoffensive question."

"Yes, maybe my N.Irish background makes me too ready to ask questions about perspective others find offensive," he conceded.

Mackey has drawn parallels between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and "the Troubles" on his New York Times blog, suggesting that a one-state solution, which would likely result in the end of Israel as a Jewish state, is a viable option because it worked in Northern Ireland.

When Tadros’s story broke, Ibrahim claimed her Twitter account was hacked on multiple occasions to make it appear that she was praising the terrorist attacks and favorably quoting Adolf Hitler.

But after State Department deferred the award, Ibrahim wrote on Twitter:

I refuse to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America regarding my previous anti-Zionist statements under pressure from American government therefore they withdrew the award.