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Ethnic profiling or good reporting? AM class

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  1. Megan Brincks
    November 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    I feel split as to whether or not news sources should have identified the suspect in the Fort Hood shooting as a Muslim. On one hand, it didn’t matter that he was. He was an American who did something bad. I don’t think the fact that he is Muslim affected his actions. However, if a news source was told that it was a terrorist attack, and it was possibly thought that he was a Muslim extremist, then his religion is newsworthy.

    If a Catholic walked into an abortion clinic and started blowing the place to pieces, his or her religion would be pertinent to the story. If the same person used violence in a way that was not related to his or her religion, it would not be appropriate to publish a specific religion.

    Without knowing the motives of a suspect, I don’t think it is proper to connect them with a group. When there is a relationship between a group and an action, then of course that is something that can be published. But until that motive is clearly determined, news sources should be extremely cautious about what they publish.

    Before editors allow a religion to be published in connection with a suspect, I think they should ask if it is necessary to the story. I think they should also try to put their own religion into the same story and see if it would make sense. If it doesn’t, it probably doesn’t need to be published.

    I was under the impression that the Associated Press says to only use religion when it is necessary to the story, similarly to race. However, under the “religion” section, they did not provide any guidelines for when and when not to use religious affiliation.

  2. Erin Starkebaum
    November 10, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    As Steve Buttry said in his breaking news seminar Friday, any information you get in the very beginning of a situation may be incorrect, even if it comes from top officials.

    Dr. Daniel Garrett from the University Health Center said that same thing about the H1N1 virus. The media caused a lot of extra panic because information was so unclear in the beginning, he said.
    That certainly was the case with the Fort Hood shooting. The first reports I heard were that a Muslim soldier had opened fire at the base and that three other soldiers were questioned in connection with the shootings but had since been released. I never heard the report that it was three Islamic gunmen in stolen military uniforms like Alan Mutter’s article said was the media’s initial storyline.

    I don’t recall exactly if I heard the gunmen was dead or if I just assumed that, but I remember being surprised to learn he was, in fact, alive.

    I think news organizations have to be very careful and very critical in the early hours of breaking news. They have to question their own systems and decide if they are going to sacrifice accuracy for being the first to report the information. They also need to be careful and do some checking of their own with what officials tell them because they don’t know any more than the media does early on in unexpected situations.
    I doubt the media would have put as much emphasis on religion if the gunmen had been Catholic or Protestant, but those religions don’t have recent history of being at war with the United States either. So of course the media is going to play it up big that he is a Muslim.

    Taking that angle does not help denounce any stereotypes, however, and the media should have carefully considered the backlash that many Muslims might face in light of their reports. I thought it was good the Dallas Morning News did a story right away Thursday night on local Muslims to make it known they did not support what the Nidal Malik Hasan had done.

    Reporters jumped on the same bandwagon after the Oklahoma City bombing and assumed too quickly Middle Eastern terrorists were to blame. I think since the U.S. has the mentality that everyone is out to get us, we rule out our fellow Americans as the culprits of any major violent out lashes.

    Unless you have good reason to report religion or race or ethnicity in firm connection with a crime and it’s not just speculation, I don’t think it should be reported. Not only does it make the falsely accused look bad, it makes the news organization look bad as well.

  3. Victoria Grdina
    November 11, 2009 at 12:03 am

    I think the newspaper should have left the fact that he was Muslim out of it, at least initially. There’s no proof that the motive behind his shooting spree was a religious one, and unless it was, his religion is irrelevant. Had he been almost any other religion, his religious affiliations wouldn’t have been mentioned at all. Adding this piece of information to the story sort of implies that is has some sort of significance in the story, when really it doesn’t.

    However, if it did turn out that one of the main reasons behind his shooting spree was based on his religion, it would be crucial to mention it because it plays a significant role. I think it’s OK to publish information like this when it actually adds something the story or is somehow useful; then it should be mentioned. While it’s important to avoid any kind of discrimination, it would be a mistake to leave out a piece of information that alters the story.

    However, when it plays no significant role in the story, I think it only encourages prejudice among people, and can be offensive to many readers, especially those part of the group being named. The negative stereotype attached to Muslims comes from Muslim extremists, and should not be mistakenly attached to any or all Muslims. By noting the fact that this shooter happened to be a Muslim, some might feel it’s almost misrepresenting the religion. So unless it somehow alters the story, it’s not necessary, and is often trickier than it is worth.

    I also think something to be careful of is making sure that the facts being given are straight. This can be a sensitive area to report on already, so facts should be double-checked. It shouldn’t be assumed that someone is of a particular ethnic background, because someone could easily be of a different descent than their name or skin implies. Fudging something like this could be a disaster.

  4. Carly Shinn
    November 11, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    I don’t think it was right for media outlets to report the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim before any links to Islamic extremists or terrorism were determined. Unless race, ethnicity or religion are pertinent to a story, they should not be included. It is a difficult call for editors and reporters to make when breaking news like the Fort Hood shooting happens, but it seems better to wait until solid facts are given than to upset or offend an entire religious community.

    I understand the symbiotic relationship between the media and its viewers but I have a problem with media outlets that are quick to capitalize on the deep-seeded animosity some American’s have towards Islamic extremism (which in my opinion, happened in this case). On the other hand, what does that leave to report? Journalists would not be doing their job if they did not present up-to-the-minute news, theories and speculation from sources.

    I found it interesting how similar the Oklahoma City coverage was to Fort Hood’s. It goes to show that even when we should take lessons from the past, we don’t. I believe the dialogue that has spurred from this controversial topic is an important one for journalists, especially in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

  5. Lacey Mason
    November 11, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    It’s always unfortunate when misinformation is let out into the public. With so many millions of people absorbing the news, it’s almost impossible to control the misinformation once it gets out. It can be hours, days or weeks until everyone is informed with the correct story.

    Though I am astonished about the inaccuracies of the Fort Hood shooting in those first few hours, I can’t entirely blame the media outlets. Twitter, facebook, and the demand for instant news are relatively new. The media still hasn’t perfected, if perfection is even possible, the art of of providing news quickly. When they are fortunate enough to find information quickly, about the top news story, it seems vital to report it immediately. However, reporting news immediately puts them at risk of appearing like a fifth estate news outlet.

    The lead for Allan Mutter’s column was this, “The news media succumbed to ugly ethnic and religious profiling in their coverage of the shooting last week at Fort Hood. Shame on them.” I personally, don’t feel that the media succumbed to ugly ethnic and religious profiling. The perpetuating of stereotypes are almost unavoidable with news like this. The unfortunate truth is that a Muslim did kill innocent people. I think the the true issue here is addressing the prejudices that people have. I believe there need to be more stories in the news media about Muslims in America who are doing wonderful things. I am not the type to want to focus any attention on a particular race for any reason, however, I feel that the current situation needs to be balanced out. If all the news anyone hears reported regarding Muslims are when they kill innocent people it is going to be increasingly difficult to combat their the racist thinking.

    Also, I think there is an opportunity to shift the focus of what happened at Fort Hood. Though I do not think there is a legitimate excuse for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s actions, I think there is an alternative reasoning. Though the media can’t say that Hasan committed this act because of the stress the military has put on him, the story of “stress in the military” is worth looking into. Why should Hasan be expected to kill fellow Muslims? Would a Catholic be expected to kill a fellow Catholic? Should Hasan have been discharged? Should other soldiers or military personnel be discharged if they show similar passionate and irrational concerns as Hasan did?

    I was 8 years old when the Oklahoma City bombings occurred. I do remember hearing about them. I don’t remember the initial reports about the men being Muslim extremists though. In this situation, it sounds like law enforcement jumped to conclusions initially, not necessarily the news media. The received information and ran with it. They had time they needed to fill up. Hopefully, as these mistakes are made, they can be learned from. News organizations aren’t creating the news – they are providing it as a service to the people. If they are being told by reputable sources that something happened – then they have nothing else to go off of. Perhaps in the Fort Hood shootings, it should have been noted that some of the information had not yet been confirmed. I think it is alright to report this information though, even if it changes. What else do they have?

    I don’t want to say this. I am going to though because it is how I feel. I think it was appropriate to mention that the solider was Muslim. He was a solider who was Muslim, about to go over seas to fight other Muslims. I would have waited though to divulge this information until the story were further developed. When facts haven’t been checked, the facts that are available can be turned into something else – like this was.

  6. Christa Masters
    November 11, 2009 at 9:39 pm

    If I were editing the Ft. Hood coverage, I would have not identified Nidal Malik Hasan’s religion or race because if it had been a Catholic or Methodist suspect it would be irrelevant. In this case, religion is not a playing factor on his description especially since Muslims can be of any race. After reading his name, I’ve already assumed that he was Islamic. The media irresponsibly identified his religion and may have caused people to believe that the massacre was an act of terrorism. Even though I know the truth to the Ft. Hood shooting, subconsciously I feel it was an act of terrorism because a person who I look up to told me that it was an act of terrorism after she read it in the newspaper.
    Even a week after the shooting, there could be backlash from the media’s carelessness. After reading the Oklahoma City coverage, I learned about the consequences of running a person’s ethnicity when it doesn’t add value to a story. Therefore in the back of my mind I feel like race or ethnicity should be used sparingly because innocent people could be suffering from these careless decisions. Once the media described the Oklahoma City bombing suspects as Middle Eastern, a Muslim woman was too afraid to seek medical attention for her miscarriage because people were throwing stones at her house.
    According to AP, race can be used only if it is pertinent information in a story. Although with religion there are no specific guidelines, one should consider the consequences of the decision to publish it or not. Once breaking news develops editors should consider if this was a vicious act between religions or not. For example if the Catholics were shooting at the Muslims for a religious reason, the suspects should be identified as Catholics. The same goes for race; if this was a violent act between blacks and whites then race should be considered in describing the suspects. Another instant that I think is pertinent to a story is if the police are still searching for the suspect then race can narrow down the search.

  7. Becky Gailey
    November 12, 2009 at 12:09 am

    I do not think the media should have identified the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim before any links to Islamic extremist groups were found. Alan Mutter asked a pivotal question when he wrote, “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 to this is obviously no. If there was an obvious connection to an extremist group, the media should report religion or race. Without this connection, the media does nothing more than promote racial tension. The media cannot be completely blamed because the Texas congressional congregation fed them false information and the military waited hours to issue a report; however, the media should have immediately clarified that the shooter was not an Islamic terrorist after the military’s report instead of fanning rumors of radicalism.
    The AP Style Book says race should not be included in an article, and I think religion should be treated the same way. The media would not have reported that the shooter was Baptist, so they should not have mentioned that the shooter was Muslim. Before including race or religion in a story, editors should ask if it is crucial to the story. This is much easier with race than religion because listing suspects’ religions will not help the public identify them.
    The Oklahoma City bombing coverage only reinforced my opinion that religion should be included in a story only when not including religious affiliation would hinder readers’ understanding of the issue. Stories about Arab-Americans who experienced racial hate after the bombing, such as the pregnant woman who could not seek medical help because people were throwing stones at her house, clearly demonstrate that the media affect people’s lives. The media can destroy people’s lives, especially when it comes to religion, so they need to choose their words wisely.

  8. Bethany Trueblood
    November 12, 2009 at 12:19 am

    The day after the shooting happened I saw a headline in the Omaha World Herald that identified a Muslim shooter. I had heard some things about the story before, and what I heard was that the shooter was a psychiatrist- I had not heard he was also a Muslim. When I read that headline I immediately thought it in appropriate for the headline to say Muslim; the more important piece of information about the shooter was that he worked for the military and was a psychiatrist who helped soldiers deal with Post Traumatic Stress, which I thought to be an interesting and ironic fact. His ethnicity could have been mentioned later, or not at all until more facts were revealed about him and his motives. With recent events, many people immediately think terrorist when they hear Muslim. Perhaps his actions really were caused by the harassment he’s received for being a Muslim and had nothing to do with his faith. I don’t believe this story would have been handled the same way if he were white and a Catholic. I think it’s because Muslims are associated with killing for their faith and Catholics are not. Also, the recent bombings and terrorist attacks are easily called to mind when people think of Muslims.

    When breaking news develops, editors need to ask what the most important facts are: Is a person’s ethnicity most important right now, or is it more important to know what just took place? Facts about ethnicity and motives can wait until they’ve been thoroughly checked for fairness and accuracy.

  9. Laura Maricle
    November 12, 2009 at 1:11 am

    It was appropriate to identify the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim because of the U.S.’s current war and fear of homeland terrorist attacks. It isn’t appropriate to assume the shooter was linked to Islamic extremists, however. News outlets should report what facts are known, but not make assumptions. If the shooter would have been Catholic, his religious affiliation would not have mattered, but the U.S. isn’t in a war with Catholic extremists.
    Before editors include a person’s race or religion in a story, they should ask themselves, “What is the relevance of this person’s race or religion? Does it have an impact on the story?.” At Fort Hood, the shooter’s race and religious affiliation did have an impact on the story. If the shooter’s religion wasn’t clarified, his name would have led to assumptions and questions by news consumers, who want to know if he is linked to Islamic extremists. Since he was not, news outlets should have stated his religion, but not made assumptions that lead to reporting false information.
    Associated Press Style says race should be included in biographical and announcement stories and when it provides substantial insight into conflicting emotions, like a demonstration, or conflicts across racial lines. I don’t find these standards to justify using his race and religion in news reports.
    The story about the Oklahoma City bombing is unfortunate, but it doesn’t change my mind. The Oklahoma City bombing was before 9/11, and we live in a different world today that provides different context for news stories.

  10. Pat Radigan
    November 12, 2009 at 6:49 am

    The truth of this matter, in my opinion, is that whether or not it may incite unwanted religious backlash to those of the Muslim faith, I believe the media was correct in identifying the shooter at Ft. Hood as a Muslim. I say that not because it proved to have anything to do with his motives, but because the media’s primary purpose is to provide the public with information they seek, and this story line is something people wanted to know about. With the conspicuous name of the shooter, many would be questioning his faith and ethnicity regardless of whether or not it was expressly stated, so I think it wasn’t out of line to identify him as a Muslim.

    I will concede that the same question of the suspect’s religion would not come up had he been Christian or Jewish, but I think that is justified. To my knowledge, none of the men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon were Christian so I don’t think it would be appropriate to bring it up if he were of a religion other than Muslim. I don’t think it’s out of line to identify the religion of someone who has perpetrated an act of violence like this, when that religion is the same as the violent factions our country is facing around the world. I think the only circumstances in which the media went too far was the situations in which they implied that being a Muslim was a motive behind this shooting. To this point, they don’t know whether or not his religion was a motive so I think it is out of line to make it seem that way, but I don’t think its inappropriate to identify his religion objectively.

    Finally, I think the Oklahoma bombing and the Ft. Hood shooting do not address similar situations in relation to race and ethnicity because in the Oklahoma bombing, a suspect was not immediately apprehended on the scene and the racial speculation was due in part to the fact officials didn’t know who to blame until well after the event. The Ft. Hood case is different because although reports were unclear initially, officials knew the entire time who the shooter was, and that he was a Muslim. It does not give the media the right to start discussing the possibility of a Middle Eastern terrorist plot, like they did in the Oklahoma City case, but I do think it makes it appropriate for them to label the shooter as a Muslim.

  11. Andrew J. McClure
    November 12, 2009 at 8:47 am

    The Fort Hood shootings were a tragedy, but when it was learned that the shooter was Muslim, the scale of the tragedy became even greater. For the last 20 years, the United States has been quick to blame people of Middle Eastern descent for “acts of terrorism” in the U.S.

    The examples of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City showcases how quick a person’s faith can be questioned, above other characteristics.

    In the event of the Fort Hood shooting, there was little information coming out of Texas. Multiple news outlets have agreed that they were given little information and early reports varied in description, from multiple shooters to the number of dead.

    But the ethical principles of journalism should extend to reporters and writers at all times. If information may not be correct, why use it? The potential damage to the newspaper or broadcast station could end multiple careers.
    And in this case, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had his religion used in a way that appeared to try and understand his actions.

    The Omaha World-Herald ran an article that talked about a “Muslim shooter.” The relevance of his religion is not important. Yes, he is Muslim. But religion should not be the identifying factor to him. The fact that he was a trained doctor is much more relevant when describing him.

    If he had practiced any other religion, it would not have been in question, which creates a large double standard for Muslims.

    Editors must be careful when publishing information about people suspected in crimes. Although Hasan’s religion may seem significant to readers, the news is that he shot and killed soldiers on a military base. And that is what reporters must focus their stories on.

    This case, while difficult to completely comprehend, shows that newspapers must continue to strive to do their job of reporting the news, rather than provide speculation on a person’s motives.

  12. Kat Ladwig
    November 12, 2009 at 8:58 am

    I do not think that the shooter in the Ft. Hood shooting should have been identified right away. Possibly later on in the coverage if it is clear that the intent for the shootings was based on his religious views. It is possible that he was just someone who snapped, and that his actions had nothing to do with the fact he was a Muslim. I do not think it is appropriate to assume the intent of the person prematurely. False reporting can make an organization’s credibility tarnished, and readers remember that.

    The most crucial and therefore difficult question to ask is “is this information vital to the story?” It is difficult because, as our class is proving my point, everyone has their own opinion on the matter. I think before information like that is released, a meeting should be held by the editor to discuss this very topic.

    The one point I wanted to make about this scenario especially, is that the information about religion in the Ft. Hood shooting is much more relevant to the story in comparison to the Oklahoma City case. Oklahoma City was before 9/11 and therefore, news outlets did not have as much of a reason to assume the possible racial or religious motive. In today’s society, some non-Muslim Americans may be more weary when they see a person who looks Muslim.

    In conclusion, I do not think the information on religion should have been released in the breaking news or until the motive of the shooter was more clear. If it were released however, I think it has more relevance in today’s society than back when the Oklahoma City case occurred.

  13. Taylor Kessner
    November 12, 2009 at 9:12 am

    You could argue that news organizations made a mistake in mentioning the suspect of the Fort Hood shooting, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was a follower of the Islamic faith. To some degree I think that media organizations did. But the fact of the matter is, people are going to make the connection on their own. As we discussed in class, all it takes is a glance at Hasan’s name before you ask the faith question yourself.
    I think it’s OK to mention faith if it’s pertinent, but organizations need to be careful how they tell it. Calling him a Muslim shooter is careless. You don’t have to identify him solely by his faith. More interesting to me, is the fact that he was a military psychiatrist, but that fact seemed to play second fiddle to his faith in most stories.
    This story would have played out a lot differently if he were of a Christian denomination. We live in a time where America is in a perpetual state of Arab-phobia, and that bleeds into the news as well.
    I think news outlets should report what police and other officials have to say as an initial response, but I also think its possible to report that news without diving face first in the information and claiming it as fact. A news organization is free to take initial information, including speculation on race and religion, but they should disconnect themselves with the attitudes and responses of individuals outside the media until claims that religion or anything else can be proven pertinent. They need to remain objective.
    I couldn’t find anywhere in the AP Stylebook about religious profiling, but the section on race, which I think is also a potential danger for journalists, gives rules that help govern whether race is pertinent to a story. I imagine religion isn’t much different.
    Reading the post on the Oklahoma City bombing, didn’t change my thoughts. I think the media should have tried to remain skeptic about the information they received, rather than speculating. It’s the same with the Fort Hood shooting. I think there is a way to report race or religion while still remaining skeptical and open to fact checking.

  14. Michael Todd
    November 12, 2009 at 9:16 am

    When news organizations were clamoring to report what happened at Fort Hood, in some cases they took rash action and made assumptions where not there wasn’t enough information to provide a full report. When it was mentioned that the shooter or shooters were Muslim, it only confirmed what most, I would guess, were thinking.

    Still, while I think perpetuates stereotypes to say that his Islamic faith had anything to do with the crime, it’s up to the news organizations to report that he was Muslim. That can be taken by the public whatever way it sees fit.

    In the new media age, all too often, the news jumps to conclusions where the public might anyway. So I think the news’ responsibility is to give the public whatever factual information is available, like Hasan’s status as a Muslim and a psychiatrist. Only after the news has been out and corroborated should “second-day” features about ties to extremist groups be reported. That might have taken three or four days in this case.

    With the Oklahoma City bombing, it only gives credence to the fallable human nature. It’s nothing new that the news has been picking up on shreds of information to report racially charged hearsay, and it likely will continue to do so.

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