When someone calls the president a Muslim

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I host “The Morning Briefing,” a daily three-hour news magazine covering politics and policy on Sirius XM Satellite radio’s P.O.T.U.S. channel (as in Politics Of The United States).

On Friday the 13th, retired Air Force Col. Dick Brauer Jr. said this during an interview on the program: “The key thing is that, our president being a Muslim, and he is a Muslim because his father … “

I terminated the interview at that point, citing it as a misstatement of fact, noting “we’re not going to let you put falsehoods on the air.”

{mosads}I said more, and I believe I need to further clarify what went through my mind, and why I did what I did. Debates via Twitter are a bit wanting in nuance and measured perspective, and I want to provide that perspective.

At the outset, let me note that as someone who covers the news, I am uncomfortable with being part of the news. I like to keep my opinion to myself, and let the work speak for itself. A part of me is grateful, of course, that I am not in the news for something salacious or criminal. In that case, I’d probably be hiding, and not sitting here at the campfire with you. But I digress.

The response, by the way, has been overwhelmingly positive, for which I am grateful both on a personal and societal level. It’s nice to have your work praised, and my reading of the feedback reassures me that many engaged Americans prefer a discussion to a diatribe.

It is my belief, which I feel I share with my teammates on the show (and the P.O.T.U.S. channel, for that matter), that we daily deliver a product that informs and engages the listener. We do our best to ensure that a representative collection of guests and contributors speak to the issues in a responsible way. Our goal is not to change minds; rather, we aim to be a dependable resource for people who seek fair coverage of the political debate in Washington.

I have been alternately accused of shilling for President Obama, and being in the pocket of righ-wing interests. As long as the partisans are firing from both sides, I feel like we’re doing our job. And if you ask any of the representatives, senators, ambassadors or policy experts who have appeared on the program, I believe they’ll tell you they got a fair shake. President Clinton likely doesn’t remember our sit-down, so don’t ask him. But I’ll assure you, it was balanced.

Some of the feedback — from both fans of the program and from people who have never heard the show but read about it in The Washington Post — has been undeserved.

First, there was nothing especially brave about what I did. Brave is a word you use for journalists who wear flak jackets to cover wars, or hold their breath when they start the car in the morning or face jail because they won’t back down from some powerful interest trying to quash a story.

Second, thanks for saying that “The Morning Briefing” deals with “just the facts, ma’am.” But I know I am not The Keeper of Truth. We do try our best to keep the facts straight on the air, but I’ll be honest: I am not informed enough to know that everything any guest says is true. We can and do aim for the highest standard, and whenever necessary make corrections.

Now to the further explanation of last Friday’s excision.

Brauer was on the program to provide his perspective on the president’s request for the authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Brauer has a distinguished record of military service. The organization he represents, Special Operations Speaks (SOS), has been extremely critical of Obama’s foreign policy, and has from time to time veered into the rhetorical right-wing ditch. It was our hope that we could draw on his experience and expertise to add important perspective to the always-important debate over the decision we make, as a country, to send our young people into harm’s way.

Then he called the president a Muslim, and I took him off the air.

To be clear, calling someone a Muslim is not, per se, an insult. It clearly can be a simple statement of fact. To call Obama a Muslim, however, is just as clearly a misstatement of fact.

And it is more than that.

In the context of the broader discussion of a strategy to engage the ISIS terror threat, that label carries with it an implicit association with, and sympathy for, the group. For the colonel call the president a Muslim was to say he sympathizes with the enemy. That not only made it a misstatement, but a personal attack. It also, in my opinion, said subliminally that anyone who is a Muslim must also feel a kinship with ISIS; that, too, is a canard.

Was all of this in my head when I ended the conversation on the air? Well, yes, in some inchoate word cloud in my brain. But I felt the inappropriateness, and I acted. I have been doing radio for nearly 40 years, and I have a pretty experienced gut, so I went with it.

Let’s address a few specific criticisms of how things went down:

Why did you let this guy on the air in the first place?

As I said, “The Morning Briefing” staff (to which I refer affectionately as “Team Farley”) is devoted to offering broad perspectives. We thought we could engage Brauer in a way that would shed light on the issue. I could not get him to go there, so that’s my fault.

What would you have done if a guest said “President George W. Bush lied about the war”?

That would be a statement of opinion, or conclusion, based on facts, not on its face the truth, or a misstatement of a fact. I would probe further. At least until the guest said the administration was behind the 9-11 attack. At that point, adios.

I would have asked him to explain why he believes Obama is a Muslim. Why didn’t you?

His belief does not make it true, and as I noted, perpetuating a falsehood that is also a personal attack and an attack on a religion is not worthy of the airtime.

He has a right to have an opinion. What about the First Amendment?

He does have the right to an opinion. He also has a right to express that opinion. We do not have an obligation to air his opinion.

I do not know that what happened on the show Friday will change anything in the grand scheme of things. It was disappointing in that we lost another chance to talk about how and when we make the call to send in the troops. As a father of a son who served in Iraq, I feel certain a lot of Americans want to be heard on that issue.

So I guess we’ll work on that as we get back on the air each morning. Hope you’ll listen.

Farley is managing editor and host of “The Morning Briefing” and “The Midday Briefing” on P.O.T.U.S., Sirius XM’s 24-hour politics channel.

Tags Dick Brauer Jr. Radio Sirius XM Tim Farley

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