Political Promise

It’s a mess, but it’s not the media’s mess

In Uncategorized on September 13, 2010 at 11:15 am

We shouldn’t blame the media for reporting on the Koran-burning, argues Luke Sweeney.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few days, you’re almost certainly aware of the book-burning pastor in Florida who’s held the international media rapt. The Rev. Terry Jones, a Floridian priest at the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, a church with a congregation of just fifty, has achieved global attention with just a handful of signs reading “Islam is of the devil” (conveniently also the name of the book he’s plugging), two hundred copies of the Koran and a bonfire. But without the media’s focus on him and his event over the last two days, the bad reverend would probably still be sitting at home waiting for the outrage he hoped to provoke.

The consequences of Jones’ proposal have been huge – both President Obama and US Secretary of Defence Bob Gates called Rev. Jones and asked him to cancel the event, with Obama stating that holding the event would endanger the lives of American soldiers. Even Sarah Palin took a break from endorsing right-wing candidates for November’s midterms to call the event “insensitive and an unnecessary provocation”.

Despite President Obama’s appeal, protesters in Afghanistan shouted “Death to Obama” and threw stones at a German NATO base, while an effigy of the pastor was burned in Kabul. Rev. Jones’ actions have also caused  a death of a protester in Afghanistan after NATO troops inside the German base opened fire

The longer-term consequences of this could be even more dangerous. For every thousand people who see the pastor’s actions and rightly conclude he’s a crank, there will be one or two who think there’s something to the whole “Islam is of the devil” thing and decide to look further into it. As President Obama described it, this whole charade is also a “bonanza” for terrorist recruiters. There’s nothing like international press attention as a recruiting tool for extremists, both Christianist and Islamist.

There’s also the lesser side effect of reinforcing the belief in some Americans’ heads that all Muslims are terrorists, a meme that’s led to a huge amount of intolerance in the years since 9/11, not to mention providing yet another news story with makes Americans look like Christianist crusaders  – something that can only be bad for US relations with the Middle East. This has the potential consequence of undoing most of the careful outreach that the Obama administration has been carrying out to repair diplomatic relations after the end of the Bush era. However, if the media hadn’t lavished so many column inches on Rev. Jones over the last few days, could the hate directed at America and the loss of credibility in the Middle East have been averted? Probably.

But who can blame the media for reporting on something that seemed like news? This is especially true for the local media, for whom this was a big story even without Presidential involvement and global protests. Early September is hardly known as a time when there’s much going on, with TV news usually containing human interest stories and thinly veiled surveys in lieu of useful information. Florida’s Senate primaries were over two weeks ago and Congress is still in recess until Monday, so there’s not much political news to discuss. With five local newscasts to fill in Gainesville alone, anything to differentiate one network from the others will have been welcome and whoever picked up on this story first must have thought they’d hit the jackpot. There’s no way that the local media could or should have expected this to develop into a global issue.

The reaction created, first locally, then nationally, followed by the protests in Indonesia and Defence Secretary Bob Gates’ involvement, justified the story for the national and international media and turned it from just a publicity-seeking hate preacher to an international diplomatic incident. Arguing that they should have sat on their hands and ignored it (as some have over the last couple of days) seems naive. While it’s easy to say that without the media, this would never have become an issue, it’s much more difficult to argue at any point that they should have done something other than what they did – report on something that was newsworthy.

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  1. […] the media reaction to the Koran-burning and whether they’re to blame for the controversy. Take a look here. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← […]

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