OPINION: Restraint, dignity are not forms of weakness

Shams Mustafa

Earlier this month, CNN’s Brian Stelter discussed “telling the truth” in the Dix Media Ethics Lecture. He mentioned the well-known ethical key points: Do no harm, seek the truth, triple check before sharing, stay on the outside but remain in a good view of the inside, protect sources, stay open minded, take time to reflect and keep standards high.  

But there was one thing he should have added: How to respond to haters.

Twitter was riddled with inflammatory comments that included memes and insults from CNN critics during the events. None of them were criticizing any of his points, they were making fun of him or calling him “fake news.”  It was more like a school fight than professional criticism.

Although I am not a fan of CNN, I admired the way he responded to these attacks. He didn’t express anger or objections to the hateful comments. He either explained his point of view or didn’t pay attention to the ugly words. Respect is a moral value, but we also embrace it as a journalism ethic.

I tweeted in the event the eight key points he discussed when one of these CNN critics turned their ire on me: “You appear to be dressed like a slave. #BreakTheConditioning #MakeWomenNotHaveToCoverThemselvesAgain #MAGA.”

I have always thought “the best defense is a good offense.” I used to be annoyed and angry when someone offends my religion or race. This time, I replied with a light heart instead.

The conversation between us didn’t last for long. He referred to my religion as evil and a form of oppression, and said he is waiting for me to block him. On the contrary, I recommended he read more about Islam before judging. I added, “If your intentions are to make me angry then good luck in trying.” I added a link to a song called “Generous Peace” by Kareem Salama.

That was enough for him. He blocked me.  

Living in the age of President Donald Trump where bigotry and hostility rules, hate has become the norm for too many who are angry and ignorant.

They lack the art of criticizing with respect, modeling some prominent TV pundits. Fox News’ Laura Ingraham wanted to show her disagreement on LeBron James political statements about President Donald Trump. Instead of discussing it as a valid point, she rained a shower of insults. “Keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone once said, ‘shut up and dribble,’” she said.

James’ reply went viral. In a news conference ahead of today’s NBA All-Star game in Los Angeles he said, “I get to sit up here and talk about social injustice, equality and why a woman on a certain network decided to tell me to ‘shut up and dribble,'” James said. “So, thank you, whatever her name is. I don’t even know her name,” ABCNews reported.

In the world of commentary, we fight all the time. It’s easy to insult – I can do it in two different languages – but an insightful person controls their anger and chooses their battles. The Society of Professional Journalists should consider adding the word ‘with respect’ to the code of ethics.

Responding with restraint and dignity is not a form of weaknesses. As the former First Lady Michelle Obama said at the democratic national convention in 2016, “When they go low, we go high.” Certainly, the air up there is cleaner to breathe.

Shams Mustafa is a guest columnist. Contact her at [email protected].