I’m watching as the news media backpedal this week after their fascination with the twisty-turny tale of the Gainesville preacher who planned to burn the Koran and apparently played us all for fools. The Huffington Post leads the sudden rush of reflexivity, posting this. Did the news media make fools of themselves? Perhaps. Was this a story that should have never garnered as much prominence as it did? No, and this is where I disagree with Linkins at HuffPo. Here’s why:
Has the coverage of the Park51 non-event been ludicrous and full of misinformation? Absolutely. But I would argue that the coverage of an Islamic community center that will be in some proximity to ground zero reveals more about our prejudices and assumptions as a nation than many are willing to admit. That this has even been an issue, that anyone would disagree with the any group exercising their constitutionally-protected right to practice their faith simply because it is near (not AT) the World Trade Center site, tells us how we view that group.
In short (and I’m being short because it’s a busy day and it’s also hard to write with a kiddo hanging on me), I come from the position that what the media covers reveals our dominant cultural values and beliefs, which, unfortunately in the U.S., are that Islam is a violent faith not to be trusted. Therefore, it will always already be premised in news coverage as a source of a problem to be remedied. What this means is, Muslims are cast as cultural outsiders, unwelcome in our society. This belief is maintained- with slight, gradual variations over time- when the news media continue to portray Muslims as problems, or the premise of problems and conflict. Furthermore, the problems or conflicts associated with one individual Muslim or Muslim group, or more precisely, 19 Muslims who fly planes into key buildings in the U.S., become extrapolated onto all Muslims.
This is why the the coverage of Park51 is so problematic. It furthers the idea that all Muslims were responsible for 9/11, not just an extremist fringe group called al Qaeda. However, I would argue (and have been working on this argument in paper that sits dormant right now) that the reverse holds true for white extremist groups, such as the fundamentalist Christian groups in the U.S. that too often receive a pass by the mass media. This is exactly the reason why I think this nutcase in Florida deserves every bit of the scrutiny coming his way. My only problem with is that the coverage wasn’t critical enough, that journalists relied too much on the gospel of objectivity as the story unfolded.
So no, it wasn’t ridiculous that the U.S. president, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and other high-ranking officials called this fool up to ask him to cease and desist. Negotiating with terrorists, they were not. Nipping a problem in the bud, perhaps. But more importantly, they were doing what I think the U.S. news media should do as a rule: confronting and marginalizing the dangerous lunacy of the extremist fringe in this country that poses as much a security threat domestically as any foreign group. Thank goodness for skaters in Amarillo, right???