Ugly ethnic profiling tarred Ft. Hood coverage
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.