Another painful story from He Who Shall No Longer Be Named. Really, I feel like a broken record that is beating a dead horse.
If you recall a post I wrote last Tuesday about a puff piece from the Los Angeles Times — a story that appeared to be just a rewritten press release — I made the point that reporters need to filter what their subjects say, not just parrot them.
Yeah, really went out on a limb there.
But I may have been asking too much still. In yesterday’s LAT the same reporter made an error so fundamental, and by extension so egregious, that I felt it necessary to again comment on one of his stories.
I write this for two reasons: so readers know of the error in the article titled “‘Islam in a nutshell’ explained at Episcopal church” and to remind other reporters not to make the same mistake.
The “Islam 101″ talk at All Saints Episcopal Church was led by Dr. Maher Hathout, senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Oddly, this story provides very little background on Hathout — there is plenty, and it’s not all rosy — and doesn’t really support why he is “a leading voice of Muslims in Southern California.”
Hathout is. But I was always taught to show, not just tell.
What stopped me in my tracks, though, was this line:
Hathout expressed horror at the discovery of explosives bound from Yemen to the United States, part of a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist plot. He said terrorism violates Islamic theology and could ultimately destroy Islam. By using it “to defend Islam, you sacrifice Islam,” he said.
At the same time, Hathout complained about the use of the term “Muslim terrorist.” No one ever says a “Christian terrorist” bombed an abortion clinic, he said, adding, “They will not give the religious adjective to that person.”
What’s wrong with that quote? It’s patently false.
Ever heard of Eric Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh? Neither Rudolph nor McVeigh were even close to being practicing Christians — I’d say both were pretty agnostic — but both were routinely referred to as Christian terrorists.
And then there were the Hutaree this past spring, though they weren’t anti-abortion extremists.
Why is it the reporter’s responsibility to fact-check someone else’s comment? Well, because that is one of the most basic functions that reporters serve. Just because the statement is in quotes doesn’t absolve the reporter of their duty to verify that what they are relaying is actually true.
This is one of the first things I teach the new Daily Bruin and student magazine interns at UCLA. I would certainly expect a reporter who shared a Pulitzer Prize to know it.
PHOTO: Via the message boards at DemocraticUnderground.com