There’s an old journalism joke that goes, “Q: How do journalists count? A: One, two, trend.”
You can tell the joke is old since it implies that it takes at least three examples for a journalist to declare a “trend” and to write an article about it.
In the Twitter age, journalists who wait ’til they find three examples will get scooped, whatever that word means these days, which is why we now have trend stories based on a single-data point or worse.
A prime example is the Associated Press “Big Story” feature that ran with the headline, “Soldier Says She Faced Harassment Over Muslim Name.”
Sgt. 1st Class Naida Hosan is not a Muslim — she’s a Catholic. But her name sounded Islamic to fellow U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and they would taunt her, calling her “Sgt. Hussein” and asking what God she prayed to.
So before deploying to Afghanistan last year for her second war tour, she legally changed her name — to Naida Christian Nova.
This did not solve her problems.
Before we can get to the trend in the story, let’s talk about that headline and second sentence.
What exactly is a Muslim name? And what types of names sound “Islamic?” Some names certainly have religious connotations. If someone is named Christian that would certainly sound like a Christian name. Similarly, if a man is named Mohammed their name might sound “Islamic.” But Hussein is a relatively common Arabic name meaning “good,” “handsome” or “beautiful.”
Thus, there are Christians throughout the world named Hussein, including Barack Hussein Obama. Does the AP think the president’s name is Muslim and “sounds Islamic?”
The “Muslim name” angle is the necessary for the article, though, since it serves to establish the implied trend that members of the military are being discriminated against for having names that sound Islamic (i.e., a name that would be common in Arab cultures). The AP has stumbled upon a potentially significant religious story.
But if such harassment is occuring, why didn’t the AP make the effort to find Muslim soldiers with Arabic names who can verify the discrimination? Instead, their sole confirmation of extreme anti-Muslim bias is the biased anti-Christian activist Mikey Weinstein:
“When a Muslim soldier, sailor or airman stands up for themselves, they are the subject of vicious reprisal and retribution,” said Weinstein, who is Jewish. “What (Sgt. Nova) has gone through is horrible, but it is typical.”
If a journalist is going to harm their credibility by quoting Weinstein, the least they can do is follow up on his claims. Is it true that Muslims are typically subjected to “vicious reprisal and retribution”? Who knows? The AP published a 1,300 word article on Muslim discrimination without quoting a single Muslim.
Unfortunately, instead of following up on the discrimination angle the story merely presents a one-sided view of Sgt. Nova as a religious martyr-by-proxy. Even if you find her story credible (the military man in me really doesn’t, since I’m always skeptical of people who say, “I want to put all this behind me” while telling “all this” to the national news media), the trend of religious discrimination in the military is unsupported by the reporting.
Almost a decade ago the Army scrapped its relatively short-lived recruiting slogan “An Army of One.” They eventually realized it was a silly theme since a single soldier does not make an Army. The AP could learn a similar lesson from the Army’s mistake. No matter how compelling their story, a single soldier does not make a trend.