Don’t blame CNN for its commenters

This morning, a Sikh gurdwara was the scene of a horrible shooting. Police have confirmed that seven people, including a gunman, have died.

It is very difficult to do good reporting in the aftermath of a chaotic even such as this. As news broke of the shooting, information about the even was all over the place. I read about one to four gunmen, 30 shooting victims, hostage situations, explosions, chemical bombs, a shooter who had escaped and was heading to other houses of worship, etc.

As we continue to be reminded, it’s best to wait for confirmation before running with any of these reports.

But sometimes social media can mess things up, too. Someone using the  Twitter handle @danishism noted a comment that had been left on a CNN story:

actual CNN comments: “Sikh people are not Muslim, but Hindu. They can be easily mistaken for Muslim or Taliban.”

Yes, that was an “actual” CNN comment meaning, I presume from my experience in CNN comment threads, that it was left by a commenter. And CNN commenters are not known for being particularly erudite. After I wrote something for CNN, I got comments wishing me dead. I certainly don’t hold CNN responsible for this. It’s a free country and internet commenters — other than our unfailingly civil ones here at GetReligion — are not known for being polite or spelling well.  Have you ever read a Washington Post comment thread? Don’t do it if you want to feel anything mildly positive about your fellow man.

But who cares if some random person writes a comment such as this? And yet in this age of social media, a #CNNFail hashtag sprung up and dozens or hundreds of outraged people spread the idea that this “actual CNN comment” was uttered on-air by someone at CNN.

There are enough problems with the way the mainstream media handle religion news as it is. There’s no need to invent additional problems.

This is a fluid story and I hesitate to critique too much of what is out there right now. I haven’t seen any egregious errors and I think reporters should be given some time to get any necessary religion background right.

I do wonder, though, if we have any particularly good questions that we should seek answers for. I’ll throw mine out there — I wonder about Sikh days of worship. Did this Sikh community gather on a Sunday for a particular reason? Was attendance higher today for a reason?

Obviously once we know more about the shooter or shooters, we’ll need to piece together a motive. What other background information about Sikhs and Sikhism would be helpful? Here’s a very brief look at Sikhism from a couple years back that ran on CNN.com’s Belief Blog. Let us know if you see particularly good or bad coverage.

I looked for the comment online but, after wading through 1300 comments, couldn’t find it. I won’t hesitate to add that maybe a CNN journalist really did say that Sikhs are Hindu and easily mistaken for the Taliban. I’m reminded of how readers say I’m too credulous in defense of reporters. But if so, we should have evidence of it before we spread it across the world with social media. I’d like to see the clip and see it in context and make sure the quote is right.

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  • MJBubba

    When I see headlines like this one I have learned to wait for a day before reading; that way I avoid a lot of misinformation. The news business is also entertainment business, and the mad rush to put out a story leads to all sorts of missteps and misstatements. I would be deliberately un-concerned about this sort of statement, even if it does turn out that it came from a journalist.

    And regarding comments and the civility thereof, GetReligion is a delightfully thoughtful exchange of ideas and observations regarding the news media, with the emotional content deliberately dialed down and an emphasis on respectful conversation. Thanks very much for your work, y’all. This is a very nice little corner of the internet.

  • MaryAnn

    The article I read was so poorly done even for breaking news that I immediately came here because I knew you’d have something about it!

    The Milwaukee Fox 6 article I read said this all went down in a Sikh temple then gave absolutely no reference to a motive, not even to say that no motive is yet known. Of course, in its absence, commenters filled in their own wild guesses.

  • Mary

    A person being interviewed made a statement about being a Hindu/Sikh. The CNN person within minutes was trying to find out why the person said that since he didn’t think Sikh’s were also Hindu. They brought some one on a few minutes later to talk about Sikhism. He also brought up that Sikhs can and many times do worship every day, but in America tend to worship on weekends because of our western work schedules. I thought they did a good job on clearing things up quickly.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    I read the same article MaryAnn did, and what struck me was the terminology they used. Do Sikhs have priests and high priests? I don’t want to be too critical as I know the reporters were running under the whip, but I hope we get filled in better as the information comes in.

    I didn’t sweat too hard over the J-S not mentioning motive. Better to wait for the police report than make wild-[heinied] guesses that will come back to haunt them.

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    My mistake. I didn’t read the same article as MaryAnn. I was reading the Journal-Sentinel’s coverage. I should have read her post more closely.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I thought this AP report was a great first-day story.

  • http://forgottencenotaph.blogspot.com J. Lahondere

    This is one of the only sites where I am happy that comments aren’t all blocked. For the longest time NYtimes.com didn’t allow commenting on their articles, but they do now. In my experience every time a site focused on journalism allows comments, the comments are a cesspool of hatred and stupidity. They really are quite disheartening and I wish serious news organizations did not allow every little article to become open forums for anyone to spew their half-baked opinions. Sometimes formality is nice. I really do appreciate the comments on GetReligion, though.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    By the way, this isn’t even close to the unverified quote that has outraged the world over on social media, but here’s CNN doing some analysis on Sikhs with their own Belief Blog’s Eric Marrapodi. I thought he was doing great work on the fly but some people are upset that he used the word “unfairly.”

    I would be shocked if he meant by that word that violence is ever justified against anyone.

  • Jerry

    Mollie, count me as one who considers the word unfairly be seriously misapplied because it implies that targeting all Muslims for the acts of terrorists is fair and the only problem was a mistake in the target. It was totally the wrong word to use. “ignorantly” would be better but I presume even better words could be found.

  • JoeMerl

    A few random thoughts:

    1.) I imagine the commenter was actually trying to make a salient point: after 9/11 there were a few cases of Sikhs attacked by people who thought they were Muslims. The commenter presumably meant to suggest that as a motive.

    2.) To play Devil’s advocate, the commenter may have intended to avoid insulting Islam by listing “Muslim” and “Taliban” as separate belief systems.

    3.) If I have my religious information right, the comment is inaccurate; Sikhism grew out of Hinduism (with Islamic influences, like monotheism), but are considered to be a separate religion. It’s sort of interesting, then, that people are insulted on behalf of Muslims but not for the Sikhs, even though they’re more central to the original comment.

    4.) “Sue CNN for racial profiling.” Ugh. My brain.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I just noticed that in the AP report linked above, it says that there are 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S. But the Pew report that came out last month said that something like only 180,000 Asians are Sikh. Does that mean that there are 320,000 non-Asians who are Sikh? What do you think?

  • Will

    The NY Daily News headline says that the suspect has a “9/11 tattoo”. The body of the story notes reports that he had a “9/11 memorial” tattooed, and authorities are looking for another individual with a “9/11 tattoo”.

    I can not resist noting that the Daily News has been fomenting hatred and fear of Moslems for at least three decades. Hope they’re happy.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Will,

    That’s quite a charge. Can you provide links? Also, what exactly does it have to do with the situation here?

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    re 11: An interesting comment on the Pew numbers from a Sikh perspective may be found here. The source Wikipedia uses gives a 250K US Sikh population. My gut reaction is that the 500K number is a typical pulled-from-the-air number without any statistical provenance. The Pew report doesn’t give an actual number: you have to back-calculate it from the number of Asians in the country, or from the number of Indians in the country, and that’s a oft-questionable way to get a final number.

  • John M.

    Why exactly is it controversial to note that Sikhs can be mistaken for Muslims? A Sikh man here in the Phoenix area was gunned down in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 for that very reason.

    -John

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    John M.,

    I think the concern is the over-emphasis on it. The non-stop mentioning of some outlying confusion. Also, how that information is presented. Some language choices have made it seem as if Muslims “deserve” to be targeted for violence while Sikhs don’t.

  • kiwanda

    Although photos have now emerged of the Cross tattoo on the arm of one of the participants in the events at the Sikh temple, I’ve seen little discussion in the media of the obviously great role that Faith played in his life, as it does in the lives of so many Americans. How did Faith guide him and help him achieve his dreams? What were the well-springs of his Faith, and how was his Faith sustained on his life’s journey? As so often, the media is all but silent on this dimension of an American’s life.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    kiwanda,
    I think the tattoo you refer to is a Nazi symbol and I think the media are doing a good job of beginning to sift through his anti-Semitic and racist views.

  • northcoast

    I was curious about the above posts concerning the number of Sikhs in this country. The Wikipedia page for “Sikh” lists 500k, with more in Canada and in the UK. The source for the 500k figure seems to be the BBC News report of the Milwaukee shooting. The number appears in a sidebar without reference to a source.

    A photograph of a tattooed Wade Michael Page is shown here: http://www.businessinsider.com/who-is-wade-michael-page-2012-8

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    northcoast — the Wikipedia citing of a BBC news report reminds me of how “wrong facts” gain traction:

    http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2012/08/03/wrong_facts_revisited_114989.html


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