Last week Iranian-American Muslim fashion blogger Hoda Katebi posted video of a five-minute interview she’d done on January 31 with WGN News. It had been pitched to her as a segment about her fashion book, Tehran Streetstyle, but turned into an interrogation of the 23-year-old’s politics by anchors Larry Potash and Robin Baumgarten—and some of their questions and comments had Islamophobic overtones, including Baumgarten’s suggestion that Katebi didn’t “sound American.”
Katebi claims she arranged a second interview with Potash and Baumgarten (scheduled to air tonight and Friday morning) about “what went wrong” in January. But she says WGN changed the terms of that interview because it “didn’t trust her.”
“I was going to break down that interview with Larry and Robin and place it within the larger anti-Muslim and Islamophobia sentiment happening in this country,” Katebi tells the Reader.
On Wednesday morning, the day after the Reader published a story about Katebi’s response to the WGN segment, Baumgarten called her to apologize. Katebi, a University of Chicago graduate, describes it as a “very sincere apology” that she readily accepted. “It was big of her. I don’t think the interview was malicious necessarily—it comes mostly from a place of ignorance.”
WGN News news director Jennifer Lyons was also on the call, according to Katebi, and asked about how the station could make amends. Katebi claims that she and Lyons negotiated a five-minute on-air segment and a longer online video that would be published on WGN’s website and social media as well as on Katebi’s political fashion blog, JooJoo Azad.
So last week I was told, on live TV, that I "don't sound American" because I refused to let the hosts turn a conversation about my book and work into a conversation about Iran's supposed nuclear weapons. I published the clip, and some thoughts, here–https://t.co/BQa2j0hNTJ
— Hoda Katebi (@hodakatebi) February 11, 2018
Katebi said she texted Lyons to confirm, and the next day Lyons called back with bad news—in Katebi’s words, “the entire script was changed” by WGN. She was offered not an on-air interview with both anchors but only the chance to appear in an online piece about microaggressions, in a brief edited segment with Baumgarten. Katebi refused. “I would only agree to an interview that was an unedited or live, because I feel I was obviously harmed on their show,” she says. “I don’t trust them to have final editorial cut over my words.”
“I also thought Larry should be a part of it, because he seems responsible for the shift in tone in the interview and still has not had contact with me since,” said Katebi. “He didn’t even shake my hand—I shook Robin’s hand and he didn’t shake my hand. I felt actual hostility on his part.”
Katebi spoke again with Lyons this afternoon, to see if WGN had decided to backtrack and agree to what she says were its original terms. Katebi claims the producer said she “didn’t trust” her, and that they were doing the microaggressions segment without her.
“I appreciate Robin’s apology, but I am disappointed in the channel as a whole for changing what they had originally offered, then literally telling me they don’t trust me—when I was the person who was harmed,” Katebi says.
When reached for comment, a WGN spokesperson e-mailed a statement: “We are committed to fostering education and a deeper understanding of race, religion and identity struggles. This is an important issue and we will continue to focus on this in our reporting. Both Robin and Larry have contacted Hoda personally and have apologized. WGN-TV management has also spoken with Hoda several times and has invited her twice to participate in a follow up interview.”
See the original January 31 interview with Katebi below: