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Ethnic profiling or good reporting on deadline?

Fort Hood Shooting Suspect

Fort Hood shooting suspect

As the Fort Hood shootings story unfolded last week, many details that were reported initially proved to be incorrect. At one point, some news outlets reported that three suspected Islamic gunmen were responsible for the massacre. As the story developed, news outlets were quick to identify the shooter as a Muslim. Charlie Gibson, on ABC News, for instance called him A Muslim soldier in his first reference. Alan Mutter, a former editor and now a media consultant and professor, called the coverage “ugly ethnic profiling.” Richard Prince, in a column for the Maynard Institute, said much of the news media was careful in its reporting – but not everyone. Read both Mutter and Prince in the links I’ve included.

Now read this report about the news coverage after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Then give me your carefully considered comments in the comments section below. Was it OK to identify the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim even before any links to Islamic extremists or terrorism were determined? Would it have been handled the same way if he was Catholic or Baptist? As breaking news develops, what kinds of questions should editors ask before race or ethnicity is included in a story? What does AP say about this? Did the story about the Oklahoma City coverage change your thinking at all?

Your comments are due at the start of class on Thursday, Nov. 12.

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  1. Rachael Ruybalid
    November 10, 2009 at 11:59 am

    I think it was wrong to include the information that the Fort Hood shooter was Muslim. For one, anyone could tell he was most likely Muslim from his name and two, it did nothing but create suspicion among Americans.
    If he had been Catholic or Protestant, media outlets would not have released his religion. The media knew that releasing that information would make the story bigger and people would keep watching the news to find out more about the “terrorist attack.” The story was already huge with 12 people being killed and 31 people injured. People would still watch and listen to the news regardless of whether or not the shooter was Muslim. The media did not need to release his religion to get people to watch their show.
    Like we talked about in class, I think editors should avoid putting someone’s race or religion in the paper unless it is vital to the story( hate crime etc…) or they have other information to release along with the subject’s race/religion.
    The Oklahoma City coverage didn’t really surprise me at all. People have been making an issue of race and religion from the very beginning of time. It’s in human nature to make assumptions and to be biased on different subjects.A mark of a great reporter/editor, is being able to ignore society’s prejudices and simply tell the truth the way it is, without adding colorful details to get their audience worked up.

  2. Elizabeth Venrick
    November 11, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    I think it was unethical and not important to include that the Fort Hood shooter was Muslim. It was irrelevant to the story and like we discussed in class, you wouldn’t include one’s religious preference if it was Catholic or Lutheran.
    Just by his name and picture one could assume he was of a different background, but either way, it wasn’t important to the story and motive behind the shooting.
    Although it is wrong to include one’s race and/or religious preference when reporting, I don’t think it will fade from journalism anytime soon. Unfortunately, information like that catches reader’s attention and they focus on that more so than the actual story itself.
    I was not surprised with the Oklahoma City coverage. Like Rachael said, people have been making an issue of race and religion and anything “different” for quite some time. It is the editor’s and reporter’s job however to ignore certain biases and opinions and report the facts. When it comes to big news stories that impact a lot of people, reporters should do a better job of getting straight facts.

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