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Ethnic profiling or good reporting? PM class

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  1. Samantha Millard
    November 11, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    I think that, at first, news sources should have left the fact that he was Muslim out of news stories until they know why he committed the crime. Later, if sources find out it was part of a terroristic attack, it is okay to publish his religion. In this case, I found it more relevant that he was a psychiatrist rather than being Muslim. I like the headline and picture combination on The Dallas Morning News that is shown on the column for the Maynard Institute. If no ties to terrorists or Islamic extremists are found, I do not think that news sources need to publish his religion.
    For example, most news outlets would not say that he was Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, or any other Christian religion because it is not pertinent to the story. I think that editors should ask themselves “Is the person’s religion, race, or ethnicity important to the crime that was committed?” Publish the person’s religion, race, or ethnicity if it is related to the crime that happened.
    The AP stylebook said about the same thing that I did, and to only use religion or race in stories when it is necessary to the story. For example, it was important to include that information for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. If a white man was going around killing only Mexican women, I think it is important to include the races of those people. If an atheist person went into a Catholic church or any other Christian church, it is relevant to include that information.
    The story about the Oklahoma City bombing coverage did not change my thinking. I still believe that editors need to ask themselves, “Is race or religion pertinent to the story?” Also, news sources need to be wary to publish race or religion right away, especially when nobody has been named a suspect or no one has even been arrested yet. I feel bad for the Muslims living in America after the Oklahoma City bombings. Because of the media, they were targeted and discriminated against. This should never happen, and news sources should be careful when using race or religion in a story.

  2. Alissa
    November 11, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    It was not OK to identify the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim before any links to Islamic extremists or terrorism were determined. I think, as Alan Mutter states, that news coverage included “ugly ethnic profiling”. When I first saw the story on my e-mail page an hour after the shooting happen, that was the first thought that passed through my mind. Why did the writer decide to write, “we are unsure if he is Muslim”? I thought it was inappropriate and unnecessary. If the gunman would have been Catholic or Baptist, the religion would have not been included. As breaking news develops, editors should asks themselves if the race or ethnicity is relevant to the crime. Now if the news outlet knew it was a terrorist act then his ethnicity would be appropriate to include.

    The Oklahoma City bombing news coverage convinces me that the media should be careful about linking race or ethnicity to a crime. The media assumed Ibrahim Ahmad bombed the building and focused on his ethnicity. Media are supposed to be objective. But when the media unnecessarily include race or ethnicity, it loses credibility and contribute to society’s embedded stereotypes.

  3. Courtney Pitts
    November 12, 2009 at 12:32 am

    At first, I would have said the Fort Hood reporting was sloppy, irresponsible and bias. However, the second column proves reports were balanced and news organizations tried to get to the bottom of the story as quickly as possible.

    Once, I read about the Oklahoma City bombing coverage I changed my mind.

    Honestly, I feel like the media gets mixed signals. Does the public want to know what’s going on the minute something happens? Do they want to know who police think committed the crime as soon as it occurs? Yes, I think they do.
    But then they complain that media outlets should wait to get facts straight when initial reports end up being incorrect. Well, news flash, a lot of initial reports end up being incorrect; The Fort Hood shooter was dead, then he was alive. There were four shooters, then there was one.

    But I’m not sure I would call this irresponsible reporting. After all, the news is reporting what police and officials say is going on.

    I think it was irresponsible for news organizations to refer to the Fort Hood shooter as a “Muslim soldier” and focus on his religion. His religion, in the beginning, was irrelevant. I don’t think the media would have mentioned if he was Catholic in this scenario.

    However, if a man was arrested for an abortion clinic bombing and he was a devout Catholic, news outlets would probably mention that in initial reports.

    I’m not a fan of racial and religious stereotypes, and I would prefer these details be left out until there’s a definitive reason for reporting them.

    I’m also not a fan of news outlets being held responsible for racial backlash. ABC, CBS, CNN – these organizations aren’t making anyone commit hate crimes like throwing stones at Muslim citizens. Stating that a shooter is Muslim isn’t code for “Burn down all the mosques in the western hemisphere!”

  4. Derek Brandt
    November 12, 2009 at 10:54 am

    I don’t believe the fact that he was muslim should have influenced the news reporting for some of the reasons posted above. Reporting the soldier as a ‘muslim soldier’ was just inappropriate. If the gunman would have been catholic then his religion would have been the farthest thing from our minds. It just doesn’t apply to the story and does not serve as relevant information.

    When reporting a breaking news story, I believe that reporters need to look at facts and things they do know, not what could be true (and most times false) A breaking story does not give a reporter permission to post untrue facts to attract readers.

    The Oklahoma City story only solidified that we need to really be careful about what we report and who we get involved with stories. When reports run rampant and we use stereotypes to apprehend ‘suspects’, we lose a lot of what America is all about. This poor man was accused of something he didn’t do because of what he looked like and where his family originiated.

    Sometimes, reporters seem to be between a rock and a hard place. On one side, they need to report what they are told and report all the information, or most justified speculation, that they have. But on the other side, they need to be careful about what they throw onto the internet or into print. Sometimes, it seems like a lose-lose situation.

  5. Chelle
    November 12, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I agree with the opinions in the linked articles that it was not OK to identify the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim before there was any determined link. It would not have been handled the same way if he was Catholic or Baptist or Jewish, or anything else.

    Editors should ask whether there is any connection between a person’s race or religion to the story and should ask themselves what the consequences of running such an accusatory piece of information might be. One of the articles spoke about anti-Muslim violence that broke out, and another about the fact that many people now still will believe that it was a Muslim jihadist terrorist who took down those soldiers as a terrorist act. On the other hand, the article ‘Media resist’ it was reported that Hasan, the shooter, had been harassed about being a Muslim in the years after Sept. 11, 2001. In this case, him being Muslim clearly has something to do with the story, but not in the way that some newspapers reported it. But there is a difference between truth and fact. Maybe he acted out under stress and a psychological disorder such as PTSD because he had been harassed as a Muslim. Editors have to be careful to know how the information that someone is black, Muslim, etc. applies if it does relate to the story.

    This level of misunderstanding is not one that can be rectified in a simple correction run the next day, not that these news media even tried. The article about the coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing is a prime example of this. A man was even unjustly arrested because he was Muslim and they tied him to the crime on faulty evidence. The article ‘Ugly ethnic profiling’ said that some news publications did not even change their information about the Fort Hood shootings until days after the event.

    Also, I agree with what Derek pointed out (above my post) in his last paragraph that sometimes this is a lose-lose situation. It is really up to the editors and reporters how cautious they want to go about handling such information.

  6. Kevin Zelaya
    November 12, 2009 at 11:23 am

    When the story first broke, their was no reason to identify the shooter as Muslim because it was unnecessary information and his ties to terrorists were yet not known. There is no doubt in my mind that had the shooter been Catholic or Christian this wouldn’t have been given the same amount of coverage.

    Besides answering the “who, what, where and why,” of a story, editors and reporters should also look for motives and reasons for why people do what they do, this helps put things into context as opposed to just having a bunch of facts with complimentary quotes.

    It was very disappointing to hear that it took The New York Times four days to finally run a story clarifying that officials had all but ruled out the shooting as being terrorist related! Regarding the Oklahoma City bombing, it was very irresponsible to report the four Arabs’ names in a story as suspects when they hadn’t been charged with anything yet! The bombing coverage was very bias, it seemed reporters were trying to play up the terrorist angle, wanting that to be the cause behind it even when they lacked direct evidence to confirm this.

  7. Alain Nguyen
    November 12, 2009 at 11:51 am

    I am split on whether it was okay to identify the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim even before any links to Islamic extremists or terrorism were determined. At one end, I think it is irrelevant to the story that he is Muslim but at same it is relevant to the current situation of the U.S.’s current war and fear of homeland terrorist attacks. Also, the news was just stating a known fact: the shooter was a Muslim. I’m not sure about whether if it would be the same if the shooter was Catholic or Baptist because it would depend on the situation and whether the person was Catholic or Baptist have any relevant to the story. And the more I think about it, stating that the shooter was a Muslim was okay because it really is relevant to the situation that the U.S. is in right now. And like I said, the news was stating a fact.

    Stating the fact that the shooter was Muslim is one thing but making assumption that he was somehow connected to Islamic extremists before the fact is another. As an editor you have to be really careful when it comes to race and ethnicity. One would have to ask before publishing anything whether the subject’s race or ethnicity is relevant to the story? The important word here is “relevant” because if it does not then why publish it but if it is, then you should. According to AP, 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 am not surprise about the Oklahoma City coverage at all because there has always been and there will always be stereotypes and biases out there about certain race, ethnicity, religion, etc. but as a journalist you have to be able to know better and be extremely careful and ask questions before you decide to publish or report anything especially when it comes to one’s race, ethnicity, religion, etc.

  8. Steven Cain
    November 12, 2009 at 11:54 am

    It seems to me that the news stories were hasty in their statement that the shooter was Muslim. Publishing any information as fact without knowing that it is a fact is a very dangerous thing to do. However, if a link was proven between the shooter and Islamic extremists or terrorism it would certainly be information worthy of publication.
    If the shooter was Catholic or Baptist I believe it would not have been handled the same way. However, I would not be quick to place blame on the reporters for this. With Islamic extremists in the middle east and a United States still shaken from previous terrorist attacks brought to our nation it is not outside the realm of possibility. The assumed link between Islamic extremists and the Muslim faith is where I found this to really cross the line.
    Before race or ethnicity is involved in a story editors should ask what purpose the race or ethnicity has in the story. Is there a logical reason or will it simply serve to stir up racial prejudice in our nation? Why does the person’s ethnicity or race matter to the story?
    The Oklahoma story brings up many other issues. If experts or public officials say something is true can’t it be thought to be the truth? I think the important thing again is to decide if the information is really important to the story. In this case I believe it was important to the story and the reporters were justified in publishing this information. It seems to me that another important factor is the ability to take responsibility for your errors. If your publication does print those public officials’ assumptions and they turn out to be wrong I think it is more effective for the newspaper to simply take the blame, apologize and not point fingers at the unreliable source.

  9. Chelsea Coli
    November 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    I think that the reports on the Fort Hood shooter were too quick to point out that he was Muslim. I don’t believe that it had any relevance to the story until they found out his ties. When I first read the story I was a little confused as to why they were pointing out the possibility. It makes the paper seem like they are profiling the subject. Even if he is Muslim that doesn’t necessarily make him an enemy. No, I don’t believe that if the shooter was Catholic they would have added that into the story from the beginning. As breaking news happens an editor needs to ask what is important to the story. An editor needs to look at the facts and not assumptions. If there is a loose end or irrelevant fact, then it needs to be left out.
    The Oklahoma City bombing coverage just supported my opinion on adding ethnicity before it’s relevant. Although, as the article says, the bomb was similar to bombs that had been set off by Islamic terrorists which gave the FBI reason to suspect the connection, it was still wrong to jump to conclusions in such a widespread way. The connection was just a suspicion, not a fact at that point. It should not have played out the way it did.

  10. Alia Conley
    November 12, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    No, it was not okay for the media to identify the shooter as a Muslim when they weren’t sure if his attacks were done because of his religion or not. The media would not have done the same thing if the shooter were white, Catholic or Lutheran. News outlets should not have jumped the gun; they should have verified the facts before telling an incorrect story. The AP says to only identify race if the story deals with a conflict or emotions with race. When breaking news happens, editors should double-check all facts, especially when dealing with things that might be controversial, like race, gender, religion and age.

    However, as I was reading these articles, the question that popped up in my mind was, “To what extent can the media trust public officials who tell us about the situation?” In the American Journalism Review column, John R. MacArthur said, “Reporters can’t think without a cop telling them what to think.” This is true in some circumstances, because sometimes reporters just go with what police say, without taking what public officials say with a grain of salt.

    But, if like the Fort Hood shooting, what the public official says is wrong, (that the shooter had died), then what are reporters supposed to do? Are we supposed to cross police caution tape and investigate murders ourselves? Do reporters also need to be police officers, detectives and public officials, in order to get the correct, raw information needed for an accurate story?

    I think reporters need to question authority and talk to many sources to verify an answer. When a reporter does this and a newspaper reports the wrong thing because of what a public official said, then the following article should clearly state that the public official was incorrect, not the hard-working journalist.

    • Alia Conley
      November 12, 2009 at 1:02 pm

      Sorry, I just saw an error and I don’t know how to delete my post. It should be OK in the first sentence, not okay.

  11. Ruth Angelina
    November 12, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    It was not OK to identify the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim even before any links to Islamic extremists or terrorism were determined. It could have been just another crazy person who wanted to bring attention upon himself and that would have been extremely unfair to the Muslims. I have no doubt that it would have been handled in a different manner if he was Catholic or Baptist. I think if he was a Catholic or Baptist, I believe the media would have focused on the fact that he was an army psychiatrist who opened fire to his own colleagues.

    As breaking news develops, editors should first of all ask the suspect’s possible motives. Editors should still ask the truth and accuracy in all the facts that are presented upon them despite the short period of time they have because inaccurate facts will do them much more harm than good.

    According to AP, identification by race is only pertinent in two cases. One is when an unusual feat or appointment of a particular race happens. The other is when it provides the reader with substantial insight into the story. This means AP advices that religion should not be included in the Fort Hood shooting because the identification of the shooter as a Muslim before the confirmation of its link to Islamic extremists or terrorism provided readers with false insights to the story.

    The Oklahoma City coverage swayed my thinking a little when CNN’s executive vice president Ed Turner said that they were just reporting everything that he police and FBI told them and that they were not in the business of keeping secrets from our viewers. I also agree with Emerson’s assessment that the reporting was fair because it is important that the press operate with the freedom of speculation and the freedom to be wrong.
    But I still think that identifying the shooter as a Muslim before confirming its relevancy to the story is extremely unfair and therefore, should not have been mentioned.

  12. Andrew Robeson
    November 12, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    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?

    No it was not OK to identify the Fort Hood shooter as Muslim in initial coverage. There were many other aspects of the story that could have been developed in the first day. The fact that a woman shot him, yet women are not allowed in combat for our country. Or how about that a psychologist, someone who is supposed to help people, was the shooter? But no, the news coverage immediately went to the fact that he was Muslim. One close friend of mine, of Arabic descent, immediately predicted where news coverage of the story would go after hearing the shooter’s name. “This isn’t good,” he told me, remembering how his family was treated after 9/11.

    In fact the shooter had Fort Hood did have some ties to radicalism, but no one knew that the first day. However, he acted alone. He was a domestic terrorist, not someone interested in “jihad.” The American media greatly mishandled this story, just as they mishandled coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing. When the media emphasizes that the shooter is Muslim, non-Muslim American immediately convict Muslim Americans across America as if they all committed the crime.

    The Muslim aspect of the story should not have come into play until it was learned he screamed “Allah Akbar” before opening fire. Or until it was learned he attended a mosque with two of the 9/11 terrorists. The American media cannot be constrained that long though. Once they hear the word Muslim they are off to the races. It is sad that such blatant discrimination is allowed to occur in our media, but it does. There would have been no mention of religion if a white, Catholic man had done this shooting.

  13. Jared Hanner
    November 12, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    I don’t think it was appropriate to identify the shooter as a Muslim. In the very beginning it was not important what religion the shooter practiced. The only concrete news anyone had was that there had been a shooting at Ft. Hood and that people were dead. The incident would have been completely different had the shooter been Christian or Jewish. If that had been the case, the shooter would have been called crazy, and no one would have instantly assumed he was a terrorist. That was my families first assumption. I visited by parents the day of the shooting and while talking about it with my father, he brought up the fact that the media was saying the shooter had converted to Islam, in that sort of “nudge nudge” way. His implication was that this was a terrorist attack.
    As news develops editors must be very careful about giving away information about race or ethnicity. This case, as well as the Oklahoma City case, is a good example of what can happen when information about race and ethnicity are provided in stories. In the Ft. Hood case, the suspect was indeed Muslim, while in the Oklahoma City bombings, the suspect was a white male. Both stories can produce a backlash against the Muslim community and reinforce stereotypes of how Muslims behave.
    I don’t think the use of race in this story would have been acceptable according to the AP, at least not in the very first reports out of Ft. Hood. Too little information was being received and too much of that information was inaccurate. The stories the next day, when more correct information was available, were justified in using the man’s religious views but also needed context as to what had shaped his views and how they had lead him to kill people.

  14. alambernj
    November 12, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    It was not OK to identify the gunman as Muslim, but because of the fear-mongering 24-news networks, it happened. When are news outlets going to learn that getting the story right is far more important than making assumptions to fill a time slot? If the man was a white and christian, which Timothy McVeigh was, nothing would have been said.
    When I read the Oklahoma City bombing story, I was appalled that they detained a Jordan man for questioning. It seems today if you’re a white christian, you’re a devil worshiper and if you’re any other color, you’re a terrorist.
    Unfortunately today, if anyone commits a crime with a Muslim-sounding name, terrorist speculations start immediately.

  15. Sara Nelson
    November 12, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    I think it was inappropriate for the media to identify the Fort Hood shooter as a Muslim in the initial breaking news reports because at that time they had no proof that his religion had anything to do with the crime. Many television broadcasters identified the gunman as a Muslim before identifying him as a soldier or a psychiatrist, which I found were more crucial information when the story first broke. The religion of the gunman would not have been mentioned if he would have been Catholic or Baptist. Editors need to be careful anytime they identify a suspect or person of interest by their ethnicity or religion because these generalizations can be harmful to an entire community. They should ask themselves, do they have proof that the ethnicity or religion of the person of interest has anything to do with the story. Editors should also consider who it might offend or harm, as it affected the Muslim Americans who were harassed after the media falsely reported that the Oklahoma City bombing was linked with Middle Eastern terrorist attacks. The media should not speculate without proper information or proof. When it comes to breaking news, chances are that the initials reports are the story are not fully accurate and journalist must be careful to not report speculation. The AP suggests that only under certain circumstance is it important to identify a person by their ethnicity, and I do not think that the initial reports on the Fort Hood shooting were one of these circumstances. I think that journalists only speculated that his religion had something to do with his actions and therefore saw it newsworthy. The Oklahoma City bombing story reinforced my opinion, it is important to not make early speculations about race or religion playing the part in a breaking news story involving a serious crime. The Fort Hood shooting and the Oklahoma City bombing were horrific tragedies that are responsible for the loss of many lives, and the media needs to be cautious about pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

  16. Erin Grant
    November 12, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    What does AP say about this? Did the story about the Oklahoma City coverage change your thinking at all

    I do not think it was OK to identify the Fort Hood shooter as a muslim. It comes off as racist and honestly his religious affiliation had nothing to do with the story. That information can offend many readers and it was not necessary to comment on it.

    Honestly I do think this probably would have been handled differently. They used Muslim as a physical description of the man. Someone who is catholic or baptist the public tends to assume they are white. How this is and was portrayed is offensive and insignificant to the story.

    Editors should ask the reporter if the religious affiliation of the suspect or person involved is important to the story. If the writer was to leave that information out, would it change the meaning of the story?

    AP says not to identify religious affiliation unless under certain circumstances where religion is necessary. Religion is always a controversial subject and you don’t want to add more of that to a story if the story doesn’t have much anyway.

    The Oklahoma City bombing just reinforced my opinion. You should never make early speculations about religion until more information on the story has been released or unless religious affiliation plays a major role in the action of that story.

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