Monday, November 09, 2009

Ugly ethnic profiling tarred Ft. Hood coverage

The news media succumbed to ugly ethnic and religious profiling in their coverage of the shooting last week at Fort Hood. Shame on them.

Media executives ought to closely review their coverage of the Fort Hood massacre to develop sufficient organizational discipline to avoid spreading in the future the sort of inflammatory information they irresponsibly aired and published as the tragic event unfolded.

The ethnically tinged tenor and tone of the coverage emerged rapidly on cable news in the minutes after the shooting occurred on Thursday. The initial story line was this:

At least three suspected Islamic gunmen wearing stolen military uniforms infiltrated America’s largest Army base and killed or wounded dozens of people in a coordinated terrorist attack. One gunman was killed and two others were wounded and taken into custody.

This entirely inaccurate narrative (except for the location of the shooting and, unfortunately, the magnitude of the carnage) emerged as frenzied cable newsers struggled to fill the air with instant analysis of an event for which they had almost no authoritative information.

In fairness, the cable commentators were misled by inaccurate tidbits provided by ill-informed members of the Texas congressional delegation, including the flat-out assertion of one congressman that the incident was an act of terrorism. Things weren’t helped, either, by the fact that the official Army spokesman took hours to tell the media that the lone gunman, who he initially said was killed, actually was still alive.

In the absence of clear and coherent information about the attacks, the cable babble was re-tweeted widely for hours not only on Twitter but also by presumably responsible news organizations that, in the absence of anything else to say, simply turned on Twitter feeds at their websites.

Thus, an already alarming event was cast in a far more sinister light than it should have been.

The most distressing consequence of the misguided early coverage is that the shootings were portrayed as an act of organized Islamic terrorism.

This spin was en easy leap from the ethnicity and religion of the suspect, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-born Muslim whose parents emigrated from Palestine. But it was as inflammatory as it was dead wrong.

Even after the early misinformation was cleared up, the Islamic terror angle lived on into the weekend, and there probably are still many Americans who believe to this moment that the event indeed was a terror attack.

The Muslim terror angle didn’t stop on cable TV. It infected second- and third-day stories in newspapers that had plenty of time to reflect on the facts of the case and should have known better than to contribute to the misguided narrative.

For no other apparent reasons that the suspect’s religion and ethnicity, the thrust of this article in the New York Times on Saturday – three days after the event – was that “officials were not prepared to say whether the attack was the act of a lone and troubled man or connected to terrorist groups, foreign or domestic.”

It was not until Sunday – four days after the event – that the Times finally ran a piece saying “investigations have tentatively concluded that it was not part of a terror plot.”

It was completely appropriate for the Times and other media to inquire into whether the shooting was motivated by something other than the assailant’s private demons. But ask yourself this:

Would the Times or any other responsible news organizations have pursued the Islamic-terror story line this vigorously for so many days if the shooter had been a white Christian of English extraction who was born in the United States?

If I were a Muslim or an Arab, I would be incensed and frightened by this irresponsible coverage. I am neither a Muslim nor an Arab but I am incensed and frightened, too.

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I watched the cable news coverage and do not remember hearing about three terrorist gunmen at all. There was some early discussion of more than one gunman, but that was put to rest by authorities. The coverage I saw (Fox, CNN) was careful not to jump to conclusions.

8:39 AM  
Blogger Newsosaur said...

With respect to the above comment, what I reported is exactly what was stated in the early going on cable news.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was an Islamic terrorist attack.

All the evidence supports this conclusion.

8:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Officials: U.S. Aware of Hasan Efforts to Contact al Qaeda...

Army Major Used 'Electronic Means' to Connect with Terrorists...

Actually the latest information indicates this was a terrorist act, just by a single individual who failed to organize with other terrorists. Political Correctness is a grave danger to our society, and one more reason main stream media is becoming irrelevant.

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I disagree with you on strongest terms. An act of terrorism is defined as two or more acts of violence committed to change the policy of the U.S. government. Therefore, this is by definition an act of terrorism. That it was allegedly committed by someone who is a Muslim is troubling, but should not encourage us to find some other definition out of misguided sensitiviies.
Furthermore, I think the press is raising the right questions regarding whether Hasan got preferential treatment. He was promoted to major six months ago, a promotion that requires a security clearance. His colleagues at Walter Reed said he got a poor performance rating, so why was he promoted? And was he given a proper security review which would have discovered some of his activities, or was this washed over, too.
Yes, quite clearly this is a sensitive issue. The matter has not been helped by conflicting information disseminated by the Army and government officials, including whether he is alive or dead. But we have to address this issue warts and all if we are to have an Army that reflects the diversity of life in the United States today.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One person with his own private demons ... probably related to his trying to live with two entirely different belief systems.

And those two systems happened to be being increasingly radical in his Muslim beliefs and being a career U.S. serviceman.

Is that terrorist? Maybe not.

But his actions are certainly close.

1:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your comments are more of kid-gloves approach to dealing with this guy. He looks like a duck, walk like a duck, talks like a duck, kills like a duck! The guy is a freakin duck already.

Yelling the same slogan as terrorists before commiting a terroist act was a dead giveaway.

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See this is part of the problem. Yes the subject used "electronic means" (email) to contact an Imam associated with fervent anti-us preachings.

Um, that's not in an of itself contact with al Quaeda. The FBI knew about this but elected not to follow up, another indication that, well, it wasn't worth following up.

Fear mongering, whether it's from blogs or so-called "fair and balanced" cable channels, is the real grave danger to our society.

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alan asks: "Would the Times or any other responsible news organizations have pursued the Islamic-terror story line this vigorously for so many days if the shooter had been a white Christian of English extraction who was born in the United States?"

The answer? By definition -- No, it wouldn't have pursued an Islamic terror story if the shooter (oops, make that "alleged" shooter) was a white Christian born in the U.S..

What a silly question, Alan. Next time, think before you write such drivel.

I'll not make an excuse for cable TV and the imperative of the 24/7 news cycle, but -sheesh- I can't make an excuse for those too blind to see, either. Your post is emblematic of the (sickeningly) reflexive political correctness of too many news executives.

7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A few years back in 2004, I showed my house to two very well-groomed young men. They were Muslim (their mosque was maybe a mile away.)

After learning they were from Jordan, I engaged them in chit-chat about the upcoming political season.

They told me that GW Bush had spent one year in Israel before taking office in D.C. I asked how they came by that information (they *knew* it for fact). They replied they'd seen a picture.

I told them that this came as a complete surprise to me, since 1) GWBush had been reported as ever making only *one* trip abroad in his life; 2) being gone from the governor's office in Texas for a whole year would seemingly have been big news; and 3) I knew nothing about such.

But they insisted it was true. They'd seen the picture at their mosque.

This is a true story. My apologies to any who may be offended by what may appear to be 'profiling'.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Fear mongering (...) is the real grave danger to our society."


That's a major overstatement -- so much so that it seems to desire a white-wash of this truly ugly incident. (I won't stoop to calling it a tragedy; by all accounts, it was intentional murder.)

Do you really mean to imply that the first news reports, inaccurate as they were, were *motivated* to conjure fear? Oh, come on now.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you suppose finally at long last we really have an honest to God "Lone Nut Assassin." It takes someone who is sick way down deep to put bullet after bullet into unarmed fellow soldiers. Especially when you know, as an M.D. just what kind of carnage modern high velocity bullets wreak on the human body. To do it again and again...Hell On Earth in the one place a G.I. thought he would be safe...My blood type may be O.D. and my religion may be Infantry but The Declaration of Independence and The Bill of Rights are the source of our Freedom and they trump any religious or political affiliation. Arrgh!

7:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. I avidly read this blog for informed commentary about upheaval and opportunity in journalism and new media. For this kind of post, not so much.

I heard much of the early coverage and while the number of gunmen was guessed to be higher than one, I don't recall anything about "three suspected Islamic gunmen wearing stolen uniforms." But okay, the number was wrong and I suppose it's great that Maj. Hassan's uniform was not stolen?

But I wonder if the tone of the early coverage you heard had anything to do with reports from survivors that that the uniformed gentleman shouted "Allahu Akbar" while gunning down unarmed American soldiers and civilians.

Me, I'm concerned about succumbing to that.

No worries for your point of view, though; much of the media and some of the top military leadership has since done everything in its power to find a motive in any source other than the radical Islamist ideology that preaches hatred of infidels, an ideology that a reasonable person could conclude is one that Hassan followed, based on public reports.

Would the Times or any other responsible news organizations have pursued the Islamic-terror story line this vigorously for so many days if the shooter had been a white Christian of English extraction who was born in the United States?

No. Because a white Christan who murdered people very likely would not be an Islamist terrorist.

(ahem)

If your point is that the media picks up a ball and runs with it, skim through the the 434,000 google results for "George Tiller" and the 3 million or so for "Scott Roeder" and see if you can find a few lines about how the Christian pro-life movement enabled the latter's murder of the former.

-Christopher Fotos

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The FBI knew about this but elected not to follow up, another indication that, well, it wasn't worth following up.

Are you serious?

The murder of 15 people shows that it very much was worth following up.

No wonder people are deserting newspapers, if this is the attitude of journalists.

9:42 PM  
Anonymous poch said...

Just another attempt at sensationalism on their part right?

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Jim Donnelly said...

Wow. This blog is supposed to be commentary on newsgathering, right? I hope the larger issue is the one we discuss in my editorial office so often is that one of the practice's primary tenets has been flushed down the toilet, as demonstrated with this story, and many others (balloon boy, anyone?) When I entered the business, the standard was, "Get it first. But first, get it right." Now, the mindset is, don't worry, we can always update it. No wonder this sort of swill, which does our society no favors, gets blithely disseminated.

6:21 AM  
Blogger John said...

Alan,

I'm a faithful reader and big fan, but this post commits the same sins you are complaining about. It is full of broad, harshly critical comments without a single quote or transcript excerpt to back them up, except two links to New York Times stories that we published in subsequent days when more information became available. I'm not condoning unsubstantiated conclusions. But those who criticize should be specific. Thanks.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Gregor J. Rothfuss said...

Reporting like this is why american media is a total joke and deserves to disappear. Untrained monkeys could do better.

9:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I wonder if the tone of the early coverage you heard had anything to do with reports from survivors that that the uniformed gentleman shouted "Allahu Akbar" while gunning down unarmed American soldiers and civilians.

"Allahu akbar" is just something soldiers yell before they have tea. It's nothing really.

Alan's tendentious post gives a great window into the disastrous P.C. that grips the mainstream media which, not coincidentally, also condemns it to untrustworthiness.

The murderer in this instance was an Islamist radical, as we all now know. He did act alone, but he was no less a terrorist than a Palestinian who blows himself up in an Israeli pizza parlor.

If Alan had a bit more capacity for self-reflection, maybe he would realize that it's stuff like this--the utter inability of liberal reporters to name our enemy--that is hastening the demise of newspapers. Do you think for one minute if white supremacist literature had been found in Hassan's house that he wouldn't be immediately labeled a right-wing kook under the influence of Rush Limbaugh?

A little introspection would show that the problem with today's newspapers is that their information is old, biased, shallow and inaccurate. A quick comparison with serious military-expert blogs like Strategy Page and Bill Roggio's Counterrorism blog demonstrates the utter fecklessness of mainstream coverage of terrorism, both here and abroad.

The more people are exposed to alternative sources such as these, the more they turn away from the garbage they are fed by the MSM "elites."

--Fresh Air

12:36 PM  

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