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Rantz: Council candidate, Crosscut level despicable smear of Islamophobia

Redmond. (Kurt Clark, Creative Commons via Flickr)

In a sloppy, lazy puff piece in progressive news outlet Crosscut, a Redmond city council candidate was given carte blanche to smear opponents as Islamophobic. I was the only critic called out by name. It’s despicable, dishonest, and utterly shameful.

Varisha Khan currently hangs on to a razor thin lead over incumbent councilmember Hank Myers. If she wins, she’d be one of two Muslim women to be elected to statewide office. It would be a first.

Reporter Lilly-Ann Fowler offered a feature story on the importance of this election, focused on identity, rather than what the candidates stand for. And in doing so, Fowler also opted to disingenuously claim that Khan overcame anti-Muslim bigotry by me to potentially win. It’s a better story that way.

Fowler originally wrote:

With regard to faith, Kahn, who wears a hijab, said questions about Islam were a bigger factor at the beginning of her race. Khan said she attracted media attention from conservative blogs and radio programs like Jason Rantz Show on KTTH in Seattle. The conservative blog ‘Shift’ attempted to disparage Khan by comparing her to Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant and other socialists, like U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. The blog also referred to Khan as an extremist and anti-Semite. It cited Khan’s support of Linda Sarsour, a former leader of the Women’s March on Washington, who along with two others, stepped down after charges of anti-Semitism.

“My opponent went on those radio shows proudly,” Khan added. He “did not denounce the claims they were making about me. … The islamophobic narrative that was being spun around me was definitely very telling of the type of politics that was starting to play out in our race.”

The implication is that I criticized Kahn for being a Muslim — indeed, she “wears a hijab”! Fowler, of course, doesn’t quote anything I said, but she wants you to believe that I criticized her without merit.

The reason why Fowler doesn’t quote me is that I never mentioned Kahn’s religion. In fact, it’s why she doesn’t quote anything I said that was supposedly bigoted.

I did talk about Kahn; I spent an outrageous 22 seconds talking about her in an interview with Myers. I said: “[Kahn] appears not just to be a Socialist, or the very least Socialist friendly, she has the endorsement of Linda Sarsour, who’s an anti-Semite, who this candidate says is her personal hero. That is problematic… for me.” I went on to ask if Kahn is too extreme for Redmond or if the ideological demographics of the city have changed.

That’s it. (Kahn was invited on the show for equal time, but she ignored our request after reading it.)

Fowler acknowledged to me that she doesn’t think I mentioned Kahn’s religion (I didn’t), but that from Kahn’s perspective, she believes she wouldn’t be criticized like this if not for her Muslim faith.

The article also draws a direct connection between Islamophobia and conservatives, followed by a claim by Kahn that my talk show was bigoted.

These are offensively bad arguments.

I’m Jewish. I cover cases of anti-Semitism locally and nationally on a regular basis. I write about it, I talk about it, I Tweet about it.

Kahn bragged about Sarsour’s endorsement a month after Sarsour was booted from the Women’s March for her anti-Semitism. But the argument is that I wouldn’t bring that up if Kahn was an atheist, or Hindu, or Christian? A claim doesn’t get more bad faith than that. In fact, if I used this logic, the only reason they’re mad at me is because I’m Jewish. So, that makes Fowler and Kahn anti-Semitic, right?

Fowler exclusively cares about the perspective of a Muslim woman, not a Jewish man. Intersectionality demands the woke brigade treat Jews as privileged white people. It’s an ideological belief that has allowed anti-Semitism to take over parts of the progressive movement.

Fowler didn’t reach out to me before implying I’m a bigot. That would have been too hard, I guess, though she follows me on Twitter and knows how to reach me. (Both Fowler and Kahn have been invited on the show twice now, both ignoring the invites.)

When I reached out to her, she defended the puff piece and offered me a chance to submit a quote, which would get printed if her editor approved. The editor must not have approved because they didn’t print my quote. Instead, they made minor edits to better separate the connection between the claims of bigotry and my show. They kept in the Kahn quote.

I asked Fowler which other radio shows Kahn was referring to. Apparently, Kahn sent links to my show and John Carlson’s Show because we both interviewed Myers. Carlson writes a column for Crosscut, so Fowler didn’t mention him — perhaps not wanting to slime a colleague with baseless accusations.

Fowler, however, would happily smear me — the Jewish talk show host who called it “problematic” to brag about the endorsement of an anti-Semite.

Some Seattle journalists really, really don’t like Jews calling out anti-Semitism. Fowler appears to be one of them. She wouldn’t even give the context of my criticism of Khan and told me she didn’t realize I was Jewish.

Perhaps if Fowler spent five seconds doing some basic journalism — like reach out to the only person she tried to label a bigot — she would have been able to put out a fair piece. Or at least discover I’m a Jew, something that I say almost daily and a Star of David is literally in my Twitter bio (which she follows). Perhaps I should post photos of my Bar Mitzvah to really hammer it home? Or perhaps she didn’t think about my perspective because of her ideological blind spot, thinking conservatives must be bigoted.

But that wasn’t her agenda. Fowler has a narrative she wants to push: Muslim candidates have a hard time getting into office because of bigotry. Sometimes they absolutely do. But Fowler already believes it, so she doesn’t actually need facts to back that narrative up. She just needs a candidate willing to make baseless claims and Fowler’s okay smearing a Jew along the way.

Update, 2:35 pm:

After criticism, Fowler updated her smear and turned off the comments section in their hit piece. Fowler has chosen to keep up the quote by Kahn claiming I was one of the hosts making Islamophobic attacks. Fowler doubled down on her reporting, claiming she was just trying to give two Muslim women space to speak.

Fowler again, despite knowing I’m Jewish, told me “You really can’t see how a Muslim might take accusations of being an anti-Semite as being connected to her religion?” I didn’t call her an anti-Semite. It’s why Fowler won’t quote anything I’ve said to justify this smear (in fact, there still is not a single quote offered from Kahn’s critics. I said it was “problematic” that she is endorsed by anti-Semite Linda Sarsour.)

Fowler, who never reached out to me before labeling me a bigot, then asked “Where was [Kahn] to defend herself?” This is telling. Fowler thinks Kahn needs defending from bigoted attacks that never happened. But had Fowler acted like a reporter, she would have found out that Kahn ignored a request for an interview that was made a full 24 hours prior to my interview with her opponent.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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