Noor Tagouri has reported from Pope Francis’ inaugural mass in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican.
She’s delved into the lives of runway models during New York Fashion Week, investigated sex trafficking in Washington D.C., and even spent a day with a Salem witch.
She’s gained the trust of not only America’s witch, but also vampire, communities.
All that separates her from her idol, CNN journalist Lisa Ling, are 195,000 Twitter followers, a primetime documentary series, and 27 years of experience.
And a 45-inch square of cloth.
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There has never been a hijabi journalist on commercial TV, but Tagouri is determined to be the first.
The 23-year-old associate journalist for CBS Radio in Washington D.C., clad tonight in a knee-length white tunic and black leggings and with her long brown hair wrapped in a gray hijab, is well on her way.
She enrolled at the University of Maryland when she was just 16, graduating in 2014 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. While her classmates were planning their senior years, she was writing and delivering a commencement speech, the youngest University of Maryland undergraduate ever to do so.
In Oct. 2012, while she was still a Maryland student, she scored a visit to the ABC 7 newsroom in Washington D.C. after “obsessively shadowing other journalists and reaching out to hundreds of journalists asking for the time of day.”
“Annoying people get shit done,” she told an audience of nearly 100 IUPUI students, staff, and Indianapolis community members who turned out to hear her speak on Feb. 16 as part of IUPUI’s Chancellor’s Diversity Lecture series.
A Facebook photo Tagouri posted of herself behind the ABC anchor desk with the caption “My dream” went viral, and Tagouri picked up thousands of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter followers. Since Tagouri’s name, Noor, means “light” in Arabic, her younger sister, Lina, came up with the hashtag “#LetNoorShine” for her social media campaign to become commercial TV’s first hijabi news anchor.
Today, Tagouri has more than 140,000 Facebook likes, nearly 208,000 Instagram followers, and 39,000 Twitter followers.
Who would guess she was once so insecure that she saved her Eid al-Adha gifts until after Christmas so her friends would think she received Christmas presents too?
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She’s breaking from the script.
A tear rolls down Tagouri’s cheek, interrupting her rehearsed presentation, as she speaks about the discrimination she’s encountered as a Muslim woman.
The petite brunette with an infectious grin and wide brown eyes doesn’t look like a terrorist.
Yet a woman who approached her while she was filming a story in Tennessee told Tagouri she was terrified of her.
“While I was wearing polka dot pants and a bright orange shirt, no less,” Tagouri said.
A man with a cowboy hat and a handlebar mustache in his profile photo left a Facebook comment on one of Tagouri’s stories: “If this girl wants to be respected in this country, she should take off her costume.”
After an interview on Washington D.C.’s Fox 5 about the Syrian refugee crisis, Tagouri said her interviewer, Jessie Jane Duff, “got up, dusted her dress off, and said, ‘Well, that was a good performance.’ ”
At her first broadcast internship at a local CBS station, she overheard a conversation between two network executives: “Who does this girl think she is?” one of them asked. “She’s not gettin’ nowhere.”
“I’ve grown a lot thicker skin than I used to have,” Tagouri said. “At first I was really sensitive to it and was like ‘I know they’re not talking about me—are they?”
Tagouri’s also faced challenges from unexpected sources. She shared the time she was blindsided by the Facebook post of a childhood friend’s mom, a woman whom she regarded as second mother:
“She posted on Facebook: ‘In Islam, you have to die for Allah. The God I worship died for me,’ ” Tagouri said.
“But Allah is the Arabic word for God, and it literally is not a different God!” she said. “I remember sitting at my desk and crying because I never would have thought she would do this.”
“And then every single one of my friends and their moms liked it, and I was like ‘Glad to know all of you guys are in the same boat,’ ” she said.
Even her allies in the industry have at times questioned her decision to wear the hijab on air.
Former CNN senior writer John DeDakis, a friend and idol, was one of the first people to tell Tagouri that she should take off her hijab to pursue journalism.
“He believed it would be a distraction,” she said. “He told me I should just take it off for the newscast and put it back on later.”
“I told him it didn’t really work that way.”
* * *
DeDakis, who would later become one of Tagouri’s professors at the University of Maryland, pulled her aside one day after class and asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Tagouri didn’t hesitate.
“I looked at him, and I said ‘I would die for this,’ ” she said.
You can find Tagouri on Facebook, Twitter (@NTagouri), and Instagram (@ntagouri). Her latest project, a Newsy original series entitled A Woman’s Job with Noor Tagouri, premieres March 8 on International Women’s Day.