Iranian-American Muslim fashion blogger Hoda Katebi gave a contentious live interview broadcast by WGN News on January 31, in which host Robin Baumgarten tells the University of Chicago graduate that she "doesn't sound American"—not because of her voice but because of her views. The interview went viral on social media after Katebi posted the clip on her political fashion blog, JooJoo Azad, on February 9.
"What an incredibly loaded statement to say to a visibly Muslim woman on live TV," Katebi wrote in a blog post titled "'You Do Not Sound American': A Live Interview on WGN-TV."
The five-minute interview was supposed to be a conversation with Katebi about her fashion book Tehran Streetstyle. But WGN hosts Baumgarten and Larry Potash turned it into an interrogation of Katebi's politics, and some of their questions had serious Islamophobic overtones.
The interview is galling from the start: the hosts introduce Katebi by laughing at her small-town Oklahoma background. Maybe they thought it was so self-evidently improbable for a Muslim to have grown up in deep red America that merely pointing it out would be funny, but they're really just parading their own preconceptions about where Muslims live.
Mom, I've made it -- someone turned me into a meme! Hahahah the internet gives me life, ya'll don't stop! 😂 pic.twitter.com/kQlDytTYmY
But the interview only gets worse from there. Shortly after a back-and-forth about whether or not Iranian women would be better off in the pre-revolutionary era, when they didn't wear hijabs, Potash changes the subject jarringly: "Let's talk nuclear weapons. Some of our viewers may say we can't trust Iran. What are your thoughts?"
As Katebi wrote on her blog:
The title they gave me on the show was "fashion blogger," yet here I am being asked about nuclear weapons. Would they ever bring on a white chef to their show and then ask him about Brexit or his thoughts on the rise of white supremacy?
When Katebi pushed back by criticizing U.S. foreign policy and its imperialism, Baumgartner interrupted her to say, "A lot of Americans might take offense to that. You're an American. You don't sound like an American when you talk like that."
Katebi laughed and said, "That's because I've read. And I think it's really important that we look beyond these simple narratives that we’re told, whether it’s about Muslim women or about the legacy of this country, knowing that this country literally was built on the backs of black slaves and after the genocide of indigenous people. And I think that there’s a lot we can be proud about, but we can’t let that blindside us to the reality of these situations.”
According to Katebi, the interview was never posted on WGN's website (Google searches turn up nothing), and she obtained it only after someone else bought it from a third party. You can watch the whole thing below.
UPDATE 2/14: In an emailed statement, a WGN spokesperson said: “WGN-TV anchor Robin Baumgarten spoke with Hoda Katebi this morning. Robin apologized to Hoda and they had a constructive dialogue about micro-aggressions. WGN, Robin and Hoda will be working together to use this as a teachable moment to encourage education and a deeper understanding of race, religion and identity struggles.”
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of the name of the WGN broadcaster who interviewed Katebi. It is Robin Baumgarten, not Robin Baumgartner.