In a resolution passed last month, Cambridge’s City Council publicly denounced the right-wing media organization Breitbart.com for spreading what it called “anti-Muslim libel” after the outlet published an article asserting that a City councillor has ties to the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Breitbart’s November article, entitled “Hamas on the Charles,” claims that City Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen is connected to Hamas through his work as a founding director of the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy organization.
The council’s December 7 resolution, proposed by Councillor Dennis J. Carlone, characterized Breitbart as an “illegitimate tabloid” that should be disregarded.
“Breitbart.com has a history of outrageous and sensationalized journalism designed for shock value but which has no proven basis in truth whatsoever,” the resolution reads.
Mazen, who was first elected to the Council in 2013 and was re-elected as the top vote recipient in 2015, has sought to refute many of the article’s claims.
“We’re speaking out against something that is inherently bad journalism and unbelievable in a very real and literal sense,” Mazen said.
Sam Westrop, one of the authors of the Breitbart article, said he does not believe his article is libelous.
“For it to be libel, something would have to be untrue and unfortunately everything we’ve written is true,” said Westrop, who is the research director of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a group that frequently criticizes Islamist extremism. “This unprecedented attack on media criticism of a public official is highly unusual.”
In response to the December resolution, Breitbart published a second article written by another author titled “War: Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council Censures Breitbart News.” The article claims the resolution is an “affront to the First Amendment” and defends the site’s original story as factual.
Mark V. Tushnet ’67, a Harvard Law School professor specializing in constitutional law, wrote in an email that he “doubt[s] that the city council's resolution could be fairly called even an affront to First Amendment values.” Mazen also said he does not believe the resolution is a “free speech matter”; nor does Westrop, who said “no one has removed the article or stopped us from speaking.”
John E. Robbins, Executive Director of the Massachusetts branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the article was worrisome to the group, of which Mazen is a member.
“If anything, the article is really demonstrative and emblematic of how those who perpetuate Islamophobia specifically and decisively try to smear or disrupt the work of Muslims who are doing things in the public sphere that would otherwise seem anodyne,” Robbins said, citing Mazen’s work creating affordable housing for low-income residents in Cambridge.
—Staff writer Samuel Vasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @svasquez14.
—Staff writer Joshua Florence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaFlorence1
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