Muslims-Americans concerned over new CNN hire amid network's management shake-up

Muslims-Americans concerned over new CNN hire amid network's management shake-up
CNN's new boss has been making major changes to the network, including the hiring of former NYPD official John Miller, who earlier this year falsely claimed that the NYPD had not conducted post-9/11 domestic surveillance against Muslim New Yorkers.
4 min read
Washington, D.C.
12 September, 2022
The police surveillance of New York's Muslim community has been well documented. [Getty]

With Chris Licht taking over the US news channel CNN, a new protocol is already apparent - from the departures of its more outspoken journalists to controversial new hires like former New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller, who earlier this year falsely claimed that the NYPD had not conducted post-9/11 domestic surveillance against Muslim New Yorkers.

"John will help deliver on CNN's commitment to tackle complex issues while presenting audiences with independent, objective news and meaningful analysis across platforms," Chris Licht, CNN's new chairman and CEO, said in a press release Tuesday. "As both a brilliant journalist and experienced, compelling subject matter expert, he brings to the network an incredible breadth of knowledge."

Licht's announcement of the new hire was immediately met with criticism from civil rights advocates, who are questioning how Miller can provide fair news coverage given his long background in law enforcement, and, possibly just as important, his recent denial of the NYPD's well-documented and widespread domestic surveillance programme of Muslim New Yorkers. 

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"I think it's an incredibly disappointing decision to hire someone like John Miller," Ahmed Mohamed, legal director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-New York, told The New Arab

"John Miller played a leading role in destroying the lives of Muslim New Yorkers. He shouldn't have a similar role at CNN. It's a similar role in marginalising Muslim communities," he said, referring to the often biased media coverage of Muslims. 

"Surveillance played a large part in portraying Muslims as something evil," he said. "For many Americans, TV is the only way they know about Muslims."

In 2012, the Associated Press won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting for its coverage of the NYPD's secret surveillance of Muslims, which included spying at mosques, hookah bars and other gathering spots of New York's Muslim community. 

The programme was discontinued in 2014, in large part because of the negative public exposure, as well as the fact that the NYPD was unsuccessful in catching any terrorists through these tactics, which were ultimately found to be illegal, as people were targeted based on their ethnicity and religion.

The NYPD has faced several lawsuits related to this surveillance.

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Muslim Advocates, a plaintiff in one of these lawsuits, which was settled in 2018, issued a public statement this week by Senior Policy Counsel Sumayyah Waheed, who condemned CNN's new hire.

"It is a cruel joke that CNN would hire a man who flat-out lied about the NYPD’s pervasive, unconstitutional surveillance of Muslims to be a chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst. The NYPD used cameras, informants and undercover cops to spy on Muslims in their mosques, workplaces and even school field trips," she said. 

"We have no faith that as chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst at CNN, Miller won't continue to propagandize on behalf of law enforcement and dismiss clear discrimination against Muslims and other marginalized communities," she emphasised.

Referring to the network's apparent right-wing direction under new management, she said, "This shameful hire, and the larger context of CNN's questionable attempts to change course after the Warner Bros. Discovery merger, also calls into serious question whether the network can be seen as an honest source of news and analysis."

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Waheed's reference to the merger brings up the larger context of CNN's seemingly rapid right-wing push. 

Examples of this trend have been noted by critics with the recent cancellation of the popular show Reliable Sources hosted by Brian Stelter; the departure of White House correspondent John Harwood, who hours before the announcement of his last day on the job had referred to Trump as a "dishonest demagogue"; and CNN's new policy of requiring reporters not to use the commonly used term "the big lie" in reference to former President Donald Trump's claims that the 2020 election was stolen. 

It is unclear if any of this criticism of John Miller's hiring will have an impact on CNN's coverage.

What is notable, however, is that media coverage of civil rights activists raising concerns about the new hire has so far been minimal and mainly confined to left-wing news outlets and YouTube channels.

The same has been true for coverage of the network's recent rightward shift under the management of Licht, whose supporters have described him as a centrist who is less political than his predecessor. It appears that most news coverage relating to the hiring of Miller simply announces his new position and refers to him as an intelligence expert. 

For now, civil rights advocates will be closely watching what comes next. Mohamed, CAIR's New York legal director said, "We'll have to see what some of the negative repercussions are. All we can do is speak truth to power and let the chips fall where they may."