- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

NASCAR yesterday strongly objected to a planned series of news reports that targets race fans as potential sources of harassment of Muslim-Americans.

As part of a broad story about American attitudes toward Islam, NBC newsmagazine “Dateline” is placing Muslim and Arab-American volunteers in a variety of public places, including NASCAR races, and filming their experiences in an attempt to record discrimination or harassment.

“I think it’s outrageous for a news organization of NBC’s stature to go around and create news as opposed to reporting the news,” NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. “Every legitimate journalist should be offended by this.”

Arab-Americans were stationed in the crowd at last week’s NASCAR race in Martinsville, Va., and NBC is considering doing the same at Sunday’s race in Fort Worth, Texas.

NBC officials said NASCAR races were only one place where Muslims would be placed. They also said their story was inspired by a recent poll that showed 46 percent of Americans hold a negative view of Islam, seven percentage points higher than in the months immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“‘Dateline’ is looking into this story,” the network’s statement said. “It’s very early on in our news-gathering process, but be assured we will be visiting a number of locations across the country and are confident that our reporting team is pursuing this story in a fair manner.”

The network declined to comment further.

However, Laila Al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, said “Dateline” also plans to film at other sporting events, including football games, and will explore issues such as discrimination in housing and employment.

“They’re going to place people in a lot of situations, whether it’s an airport, a school, or buying a house,” she said.

Miss Al-Qatami said her organization provided ideas to NBC but was not involved in the decision to place people at NASCAR events.

In the past decade, NASCAR has become the second-most popular sport in the United States behind the National Football League. It has expanded beyond its traditional stronghold of the Southeast to all regions of the country and, in recent years, also tried to shed its good ol’ boy image.

Mr. Poston said the network likely chose NASCAR because of the sport’s popularity.

“We’re one of the most popular sports in America,” Mr. Poston said. “It comes with the territory.”

Mr. Poston said NASCAR does not think Muslims would be threatened at a race. He said there was no trouble at the race in Martinsville.

“I’m told there were no incidents at all and that they were treated just like any other fan,” Mr. Poston said.

Mr. Poston also said NASCAR complained to NBC about the story but that their relationship with the network, which televises races, would not be affected.

NBC is in the final year of a six-year, $2.8 billion contract to broadcast races, which they share with Fox. NBC dropped out of negotiations for a new contract last year, and NASCAR later signed a record $4.48 billion deal to have races shown on FOX, ESPN, TNT and the Speed Network.

It is not certain how many hate crimes against Muslims occur each year.

The FBI keeps hate-crimes statistics based on information from state and local law-enforcement agencies but breaks the violations down into general categories of racially motivated, religious bias, sexual orientation and bias against ethnicity or national origin.

However, the number of accusations of hate crimes has declined in recent years.

“While we do not keep statistics regarding how much ‘discrimination’ occurs, we can confirm that we receive fewer allegations of bias-motivated criminal activity now than we did in the time period shortly after 9/11,” Justice Department spokesman Eric Holland said yesterday. “The Justice Department is committed to aggressively investigating and prosecuting these bias crimes.”

• Jerry Seper contributed to this report.


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