What did Pope Tawadros say? When did he say it? (updated)

At the pivotal event announcing the fall of President Mohamed Morsi, a number of symbolic leaders stood with General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in a coalition backing this action, following days of massive public protests dominated by young, mostly secular Egyptians.

Yes, one of those leaders was Coptic Orthodox Tawadros II, who called the military takeover a “defining moment in the nation’s history.” Of course, Egypt’s grand imam, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, also took part in that press conference. So did the leader of the Constitution Party, Mohamed el-Baradei, Nobel Laureate Mohamed El Bareidi, Tamarod movement leader Mohamed Badr, former Morsi advisor Sekina Fouad and several others.

Anyone who has followed religion trends in Egypt for several decades knows that it was unusual for Tawadros to take such a public stand, knowing that Coptic Christians have always been a convenient scapegoat for mob violence in Egypt — no matter who is in power. Things were getting worse under Muslim Brotherhood control, but things were also bad under previous military strongmen.

The crucial point is that Tawadros did not stand alone, but as part of a coalition that included key Islamic players in tensions with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, with that in mind, read the following chunk of a gripping New York Times report from David D. Kirkpatrick:

A tense quiet settled over Cairo as the city braced for new protests by supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, after the Friday Prayer. The new government authorized the police to use lethal force if they felt endangered.

Many of those waiting outside the makeshift morgue talked of civil war. Some blamed members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority for supporting the military takeover. A few argued openly for a turn to violence.

“The solution might be an assassination list,” said Ahmed, 27, who like others refused to use his full name for fear of reprisals from the new authorities. “Shoot anyone in uniform. It doesn’t matter if the good is taken with the bad, because that is what happened to us last night.”

So some blamed the nation’s 10 percent Coptic minority, even though the coalition that — in that crucial press conference — endorsed the fall of Morsi was much broader than that. But the Coptic-blame game is a statement of fact on the street. Kirkpatrick handles other references to the views of this symbolic religious minority with similar caution:

[Read more...]

There’s more to Egypt’s pain than secularism vs. religion

YouTube Preview Image

Many GetReligion readers have, I am sure, spent some time today following the urgent news bulletins out of Egypt, where some of the largest protests in the history of the world have been taking place.

It’s hard to know, precisely, what is happening — because there are so many different groups involved in the coalition that is revolting against the nation’s first democratically elected leader.

As I write, this is the latest from The New York Times:

CAIRO – Egypt’s top generals on Monday gave President Mohamed Morsi 48 hours to respond to a wave of mass protests demanding his ouster, declaring that if he did not, then the military leaders themselves would impose their own “road map” to resolve the political crisis.

Most reports earlier in day pivoted, as usual, around one crucial, but still undefined word — Islamist. It’s clear that religion is playing a crucial role in these events, but mainstream journalists continue to struggle when it comes time to define the differences between the goals and the beliefs of the competing Muslim camps in Egypt.

For the most part, journalists are saying this is a battle between liberal secularists and the Islamists symbolized by the Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, these liberals — are they Muslims? What are the beliefs that define them and separate them from Morsi & Co.?

How about the military leaders — are they Muslims? They represent the old guard, which offered its own approach to Islam. What defined that version of Islam?

And Morsi, of course, leads a group that, only a month or two ago, was being called the “moderate” Islamist party — since the Salafi Muslims are to the president’s cultural and theological right. At some point, will the Salafists turn on Morsi? If so, what are the defining beliefs and policies that separate these two camps?

Then there are various religious minorities who play a crucial role in Egyptian life, led by the Coptic Orthodox Christians (who, with other Christians, make up about 10 percent of the population).

That’s a pretty complex landscape. Yet in the main Los Angeles Times story today, readers are — once again — told about a simple contest between secular liberals and Islamists, with the military (religious affiliations, unknown) looming in the background. Here is a key slice of that:

The battle for Egypt lies between these two poles, divided by sectarianism and driven by economic despair. These emotions were evident at anti-Morsi protests in Tahrir Square and the presidential palace, and amid prayer rugs and open Korans carried by Morsi loyalists in front of one of Cairo’s main mosques.

“Egypt is our country, the land of the Nile that carries us all, and it’s our duty to protect it without violence or committing assaults,” Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, whose Christian minority has been increasingly persecuted by Islamists, said on Twitter. “The blood of every Egyptian is precious, please participate, but respect others.”

And that is pretty much that.

The New York Times team, led by the omnipresent David D. Kirkpatrick, briefly attempted to hint at divisions INSIDE the Islamist world, cracks and schisms that clearly are threatening Morsi and the future of his government. Here is some crucial material more than halfway into the summary story earlier in the day:

[Read more...]

Unforced Episcopal errors from the Wall Street Journal

Even the best newspapers will drop a brick now and again. And today’s piece in the Wall Street Journal about the Episcopal wars in South Carolina is a real stinker.

I’ve been reading the Journal since the early 1980s when I went to New York to work as a floor clerk at the Commodities Exchange for Drexel Burnham Lambert. In those far off misty days of my misspent youth (the lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn, Reagan’s in the White House, God’s in His heaven, all was right with the world) I would start at the back of the paper every morning and work forward after I had finished with the futures prices.

As my life and interests took a different path (no more filthy lucre for me) I began to enjoy the paper’s forays into religion, art, literature and other highbrow genres. The Wall Street Journal has consistently done a fine job in covering these topics bringing a depth of knowledge and balance to its reporting — and is one of the best written, best edited English language newspapers in the business.

Hence my disappointment with today’s article entitled “Church Fight Heads to Court: South Carolina Episcopalian Factions Each File Suit After Split Over Social Issues”. The story gets just about everything of importance wrong. The lede misrepresents the underlying issue. It begins:

Episcopalians along the South Carolina coast are battling in court to determine which of two factions owns an estimated $500 million in church buildings, grounds and cemeteries, following an acrimonious split last year over social issues.

The leadership and about two-thirds of the members of the Diocese of South Carolina, based in Charleston, broke away from the national Episcopal Church last November over its blessing of same-sex unions, ordination of gay clergy and its liberal approach to other social and theological issues.

No, that is not what happened. In South Carolina the diocesan convention voted to withdraw from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church after the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church suspended the Bishop of South Carolina with the intent to depose him (remove him from the ministry). Yes, South Carolina has opposed the innovations of doctrine and discipline introduced over the past two generations — and I guess you could say, taking the long view, that social issues were subsidiary issues — but last year’s split was in response to specific actions taken by the leadership of the national church.

Farther down the article some of the details about the South Carolina fight are presented and the story gets the facts back on track.

In South Carolina, bad blood between the diocese and the national church has been building for about 15 years. It reached a breaking point last summer, when the bishop and other leaders of the diocese walked out of the triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, following the national church’s approval of policies on blessing same-sex unions. The walkout triggered a series of events, including the national church’s removal of the Rt. Rev. Lawrence as bishop, and subsequent lawsuits.

(A hint that the writer is not au courant with religion reporting is the “Rt. Rev. Lawrence” — proper style is to use the first name after the Rt Rev and then Bishop or Dr if you want an honorific before the last name.)

The story also collapses the time line of the Episcopal wars and is written as if the South Carolina lawsuit is new news when the latest lawsuit was filed about six weeks ago.

The schism in South Carolina is one of many that have erupted over the past decade between local Episcopal parishes and dioceses and their national church—particularly since the election of a gay bishop in 2003. Thousands of conservative members left their churches over such issues around the middle of last decade, a time some Southern churchgoers call “the Great Unpleasantness,” the same euphemism once used for the Civil War. Other mainline Protestant denominations also have struggled with issues related to homosexuality, with many congregations moving to leave the Presbyterian Church USA after its leadership voted to allow openly gay clergy.

The split between liberal and conservative Episcopalians has been around for almost 40 years and has witnessed dozens of lawsuits between congregations and diocese. Beginning in 2006 the national church headquarters entered the fray spending upwards of $24 million (this in addition to the fees paid out by the dioceses and parishes). Nor did the fight begin in 2003  — GetReligion‘s tmatt has written extensively on this point and I need not restate the accurate Anglican timeline here. [Read more...]

Got News? President of Egypt calls Jews apes and pigs

YouTube Preview ImageThe Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel reported on a video from 2010 that was released by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaking against Jews as “the descendants of apes and pigs.” (Transcript here.) It took some time before the U.S. media developed interest. The comments were reported by the Jerusalem Post on January 4. By January 11, Forbes columnist Richard Behar wrote a piece headlined “News Flash: Jews Are ‘Apes And Pigs.’ So Why Is Egypt’s Morsi The Elephant In America’s Newsrooms?” He wrote:

Last Friday, the sitting president of Egypt – the world’s 15th most populous nation — was exposed for calling Jews “apes and pigs.” And he did it in a TV interview (in Arabic) in 2010, less than two years before he took office.

Needless to say, this was HUGE NEWS for American mass media! Only it wasn’t. (Knock, knock, New YorkTimes? Anybody home?) In fact, to be fair to the paper of record, not a single major outlet has covered it. Not AP or Reuters. Not CBS News or CNN. Not Time magazine or U.S. News & World Report. Not the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, or USA Today. Etcetera. And therein lies a story, which this column can only begin to skin open here.

Behar goes into quite a bit of detail about Morsi’s comments and how they weren’t covered by media outlets. For instance, after the news broke, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spent an hour with Morsi in Cairo in what the network billed as an exclusive interview. He never asked about it. And people without such access to Morsi didn’t even mention it.

Is my own Jewishness clouding my own news judgment here? For a reality check, I turned to Gene Foreman, one of the most respected editors in the newspaper business over the past half-century. (He also happens to be a Methodist, not that such things should matter in judging whether anything is newsworthy.) Foreman is the author of The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Pursuit of News – a 2009 book described as “a GPS for sound decision-making.” And his wisdom is invaluable for any fledgling reporters out there: Gene’s accomplishments include 25 years managing the newsroom of the Philadelphia Inquirer — during the time the paper won 18 Pulitzer Prizes.

“I think you are onto something here,” Foreman reassures me after reviewing the Jerusalem Post’s front-page story about the Morsi Tapes. “On the face of it, this is newsworthy. These were interviews that Morsi made a couple of years ago, but they reveal his thinking — the attitude of a key player in the Middle East. It’s legitimate to ask the reporters who are covering the Middle East beat whether they knew about this story in the Post — and if they did know about it, why have they not pursued it on their own?”

I’ve been trying. So far nobody wants to talk with me about it on the record. And the off-record things they tell me just don’t add up. At least not yet.

[Read more...]

‘Moderate’ Muslim Brotherhood’s Egyptian power grab

Protests broke out in Egypt in recent days over President Mohamed Morsi’s unilateral decree assuming widespread powers that may not be challenged or questioned. The Associated Press carried a list of some of those powers, beginning with:

- All laws and decisions by the president are final, cannot be appealed, overturned or halted by the courts or other bodies. This applies to decisions he has made since taking office in June and any he makes until a new constitution is approved and a new parliament is elected, expected in the spring at the earliest.

- No judicial body can dissolve the upper house of parliament or the assembly writing the new constitution. Both are dominated by the Brotherhood and other Islamists and several cases demanding their disbanding were before the courts, which previously dissolved the lower house of parliament.

Cairo’s English-language paper Al Ahram reports that “the decree also protects the Shura Council (the upper, consultative house of parliament) and the Islamist-led Constituent Assembly (tasked with drafting a new constitution) against dissolution by court order.” Al Ahram is a great source for news right now if you’re interested in what’s going on in Egypt. It was there I learned that the chairman of the Shura Council said Morsi went too far with his declaration. He’s a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Faith and Justice Party, so his disagreement was something of a surprise.

Morsi, a long-time Muslim Brotherhood activist and the first Islamist elected as head of an Arab state, says not to worry, that the decrees are totally temporary. Somehow the non-Islamists of Egypt aren’t convinced. I’m just wondering if dictators always insisted that their power-taking was temporary or if that’s just a 20th-century innovation.

Morsi’s timing for the power grab wasn’t totally off. He just brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, leading to plaudits from a variety of leaders. Morsi has enjoyed significant support from the United States, ever since he ran against even stricter Islamists.

Which leads me a larger journalism question. I wonder if journalists have been led off their game a bit because Morsi is supported by the United States and/or because the Muslim Brotherhood is viewed less strict in tone an substance than certain Islamist elements in Egypt. I first noticed this earlier in the year when some media types described the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate.” I noticed that others were resisting that description, even while acknowledging that the Muslim Brotherhood was less strict.

The New York Times has covered the Egypt story thoroughly throughout the year and I appreciate the way reporter David Kirkpatrick has focused on specific examples to define the Muslim Brotherhood’s particular niche within Egyptian Islamism. I had wanted to highlight this Q&A the paper ran between readers and reporters after a brief interview of Morsi was published in September. Kirkpatrick’s answers really show his reportorial style. It’s clear he has a good grasp of the Muslim Brotherhood perspective, as evidenced in this weekend’s story about judge’s revolting:

What set off the battle was the year-end deadline for the Constitutional Assembly chosen last spring to draft a new constitution. There had been rumors that the Supreme Constitutional Court was poised to dissolve the assembly in a ruling next Sunday. Top courts had already dissolved both an earlier Constitutional Assembly and the Parliament. All three bodies were dominated by Islamists, who have prevailed in elections, and many of the top judges harbor deep fears of an Islamist takeover.

As the deadlines loomed in recent weeks, the assembly’s Islamist leaders began to rush the debates. The assembly had already beaten back the efforts of ultraconservative Salafis to significantly expand the role of Islam in government. But in the last two weeks, many members of the non-Islamist minority began complaining of strong-arming and quit the assembly, slowing its deliberations and hurting its credibility.

Mr. Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, said he issued his decree to give the assembly a two-month extension and protect it from judicial dissolution, so that its members could work out compromises and avoid the formation of yet another assembly. His supporters accuse many in the assembly’s non-Islamist minority of deliberately dragging their feet in order to obstruct the path to a constitutional democracy because they cannot accept their electoral defeat.

“They are afraid of democracy, really,” Essam el-Erian, vice chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said in an interview this month. “They only debate to block the way, to stop the constitutional process.”

Mr. Morsi’s critics say he could have found a less confrontational tactic to achieve his goal. But in denouncing his decree on Saturday, the Judges Club and some others in the secular opposition, including Mr. Moussa, called for a new assembly less dominated by Islamists.

If interested in an alternate view about which party has trouble with the difficulties of democracy, read this EUObserver analysis from Koert Debeuf. Reuters had more over a week ago about the Christian and liberal opposition within the Constitutional Assembly, leading to resignations. While only 10 percent of the population, stories this weekend seemed to give short shrift to the Copts in Egypt who have voiced significant concern about their fate under growing Islamist power.

What do you think about media coverage of the situation in Egypt, both from this weekend and throughout the year? Do you think media outlets have had blinders on about the Brotherhood or the ease with which Islamism blends with democracy? Have you seen any other good coverage worth highlighting?

Benghazi terrorist hiding in plain sight

I know readers prefer us to harsh on stories rather than praise them, but I don’t care. I have to just highlight a great story from David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times. Now, most of what makes the story interesting is outside this blog’s bailiwick. The piece is headlined “Suspect in Libya Attack, in Plain Sight, Scoffs at U.S.” At a time when the White House is being criticized for its handling of events in Libya, the story is probably going to be a bit politically challenging.

But I want to highlight how the reporter weaves religion into the story without seeming clumsy or heavy-handed. Up top we learn that Ahmed Abu Khattala, one of the ringleaders of the attack, recently hung out in a crowded luxury hotel, sipping mango juice on the patio and mocking the American government and Libya’s fledgling army. We learn he hasn’t even been questioned about his involvement in the attack. The real story, the reporter suggests, involves all the self-formed militias that provide the only source of social order in the country:

A few, like the militia group Ansar al-Shariah that is linked to Mr. Abu Khattala and that officials in Washington and Tripoli agree was behind the attack, have embraced an extremist ideology hostile to the West and nursed ambitions to extend it over Libya. But also troubling to the United States is the evident tolerance shown by other militias allied with the government, which have so far declined to take any action against suspects in the Benghazi attack.

Although Mr. Abu Khattala said he was not a member of Al Qaeda, he declared he would be proud to be associated with Al Qaeda’s puritanical zeal for Islamic law. And he said that the United States had its own foreign policy to blame for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Why is the United States always trying to impose its ideology on everyone else?” he asked. “Why is it always trying to use force to implement its agendas?”

We get an interesting discussion of some of the political maneuvering in the United States. Then we learn of Abu Khattala’s “spin” — he says, “contradicting the accounts of many witnesses” that it really was just a peaceful protest against a video and that the guards inexplicably fired upon them, provoking them. He goes on to say that they found all the explosives and guns with silencers in the American compound after they took it. While witnesses say he led the fighters, he says he was just breaking up a traffic jam. He says he didn’t notice that the compound had been set ablaze.

But you can tell that even though the reporter doesn’t necessarily buy Abu Khattala’s story, he asks questions in response to it:

He pointedly declined to condemn the idea that the demolition of a diplomatic mission was an appropriate response to such a video. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said.

We get some more foreign policy discussion from Abu Khattala:

He also said he opposed democracy as contrary to Islamic law, and he called those who supported secular constitutions “apostates,” using the terminology Islamist radicals apply to fellow Muslims who are said to disqualify themselves from the faith by collaborating with corrupt governments.

He argued that Islamists like those in the Muslim Brotherhood who embraced elections committed a “mix up” of Western and Islamic systems. And he acknowledged that his opposition to elections had been a point of dispute between his followers and the other Libyan militia leaders, most of whom had protected and celebrated the vote…

Witnesses, Benghazi residents and Western news reports, including those in The New York Times, have described Mr. Abu Khattala as a leader of Ansar al-Shariah, whose trucks and fighters were seen attacking the mission. Mr. Abu Khattala praised the group’s members as “good people with good goals, which are trying to implement Islamic law,” and he insisted their network of popular support was vastly underestimated by other brigade leaders who said the group had fewer than 200 fighters.

“It is bigger than a brigade,” he said. “It is a movement.” …

During the revolt, the brigade was accused of killing a top general who had defected to the rebels, Abdul Fattah Younes. Mr. Abu Khatalla acknowledged that the general had died in the brigade headquarters, but declined to discuss it further.

Almost all Libyans are Muslims, alcohol is banned, polygamy is legal, almost every woman wears an Islamic head-covering. But all of that still fell short, he said, of true Islamic law.

It’s obviously not the most important point of the story — indeed these last graphs are the very end — but they are helpful at understanding some of the distinctions in Libya. Sure, everyone’s Muslim, but their conception of Islamic law differs significantly. Showing us some of those distinctions is most helpful as we try to make sense of the muddle there.

Sometimes we’ll look at stories dealing with political Islam and say we wished there were more religious details there. Here we have a story that handled it with an economy of words and it’s worth noting. A great example to follow.

Libya map via Shutterstock.

Blaming Islamists for a journalist’s kidnapping

YouTube Preview ImageWhen I first read that journalist Austin Tice had gone missing from Syria after August 11, I was worried about how the story would play out. The good news is that we have an update and he appears to be alive. But the plot really thickens from there.

Tice has been captured but it’s unclear by whom. A couple of days ago, a video clip appeared that showed Tice being forced to march in rugged terrain and recite a Muslim prayer. Gasping and frightened, he says “Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus,” as he rests his head onto the arm of a captor. You can watch the clip above.

To learn more about what’s so weird about this story, I recommend David Kirkpatrick’s very helpful write-up in the New York Times of what we know — and don’t know — about Tice’s situation. Headlined “Video Seems to Show American Journalist Being Held by Islamists in Syria,” we learn:

The 47-second video, with the headline “Austin Tice Still Alive,” shows frightening scenes of masked gunmen jerking Mr. Tice along a trail through low hills. One captor holds what looks to be a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Mr. Tice kneels, and the men force him to repeat in clumsy Arabic the prayer that Muslims traditionally recite before dying. Mr. Tice then says in English, “Oh, Jesus. Oh, Jesus,” sounding breathless and frightened. Then he lowers his head, and the video ends with him, unhurt, resting his head on the arm of a captor.

Several analysts said that the video appeared to be staged and that it lacked the customary form and polish of jihadist videos. The men hid their faces, and no group was identified claiming responsibility for Mr. Tice’s capture or the video, which was originally posted on YouTube by an unknown user instead of on a jihadist Web site, as militant groups prefer.

In the video, the call-and-response of “God is great” seems unpracticed and out of sync. The captors are dressed in freshly pressed Afghan dress never seen before among Syrian rebels. And it was unusual for Islamist militants to force Mr. Tice, a non-Muslim, to recite a Muslim prayer for a video.

Now, it would definitely help if these “analysts” were better sourced. The clear implication of these anonymous claims is that the Syrian government is holding Tice and trying to make it appear as if their enemies are. But we have no idea who these analysts are, much less what their expertise or affiliations are. I don’t really have any reason to doubt these claims, and I actually trust Kirkpatrick more than I do many other reporters, but some more substantiation would be wise, I think. Here’s more on the implication:

The Facebook posting declared, “The American journalist Austin Tice is with the Nusra Front gangs and al Qaida in Syria,” a well-known group of Islamist Syrian opposition fighters. But the group releases its own videos through its own channels, and if this clip had been produced by a militant opposition group, it was unclear why it was being disseminated on pro-Assad Web sites.

Also, I would like a bit more explanation about whether it is unusual for Islamist militants to force Muslim prayers for video. It seems that forced conversions and forced prayers aren’t unheard of when it comes to journalists kidnapped by Muslim extremists, to give a few examples that pop randomly into my head here, here and here.

But all that said, some helpful context to a complex and scary situation involving a brave reporter who is in some serious trouble in Syria. And a good use of the word “seems” in the headline. It introduces the doubt without saying more than is known.

Sometimes there is less to a religion angle than first appears — or, at least, that the religion angle is more complex.

Missing the forest for the YouTube video

Much of the media spent yesterday not getting to the bottom of how the American Ambassador to Libya was assassinated on the anniversary of September 11 terror attacks but, rather, suggesting Mitt Romney was wrong to criticize the Obama administration for how it was handling protests against America.

But Godbeat reporters did a better job than many of their colleagues. In some cases, we saw great work, which I’ll get to. Before I get to that, a note of concern. Basically, any time there is breaking news involving violence, many unsubstantiated claims make their way into reports. Frequently these claims just aren’t true. (For just one example, compare this and this, one of which can not be true.) Probably the biggest problem we saw with that, Godbeat-wise, in this story was the claim that the assassination of the U.S. ambassador and murder of three of his colleagues were in response to the creation of an unbelievably bizarre anti-Islam film.

That belief — which sounds like it is completely untrue — led much of the feeding frenzy to uncover the makers and participants in the video. Now, the video may have played the role of pretext in recent anti-U.S. protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. But the plot is much thicker than this easy explanation would allow. In the case of Libya, this is looking like it was a coordinated attack on the occasion of the anniversary of the 9/11 terror bombings. It might be worth keeping in mind, if one is a savvy religion reporter, that in just the past few days we’ve seen a wave of bombings that killed 92 people in 13 Iraqi cities, a car bomb that killed 11 in Pakistan, a rocket attack in Afghanistan, an assassination attempt on the Yemeni defense minister (that killed 12), an assassination attempt on the Somali president (that killed 8), a suicide attack on a police station in Istanbul … and various other attacks.

That religion story — about the coordinated attack and other attacks — will be much more difficult to report and figure out, particularly from reporters who sit stateside, but it’s unarguably a much more important story that deserves far more coverage. Also, I would certainly hope that the media would be much more interested in figuring out the security breaches that took place in Egypt and Libya than with writing more words on Terry Jones or mysterious filmmakers. Media tend to have narrative frameworks they adopt and report stories to fit that narrative. It can be a dangerous approach.

In this frightening analysis of what happened in Cairo — which suggests the “movie” is pretext at best and that the crowds may have been sent to the embassy as part of a Salafi power play against the Muslim Brotherhood — Middle East expert Lee Smith adds:

The importance [the movie and Jones' putative involvement] been given in press reports is a telltale sign that the American media are more eager to find fault with fringe American provocateurs than Islamist extremists and killers. The reality is that violent demonstrations in the Muslim world against Western insensitivity to Muslim feelings are rarely held for the reasons publicly stated. More often than not, they’re about political leverage, not civilizational conflict.

But back to the coverage of the video, which was … extensive. Super extremely extensive. I want to highlight a few of the better pieces. On The Media thoroughly analyzed how the “movie” (if it can be called that) seemed to dub in every single reference to religion during post-production. Multiple outlets interviewed people who were in the film and their reports confirm that the offending lines were added in post production. CNN has a great story on that. As for the identity of “Sam Bacile,” who had claimed various identities and was involved with the film, many reporters exposed flaws in his story. Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported that Bacile’s claim to be an Israeli Jew was strenuously disputed.

Everything about the film and its publication was scrutinized. David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times gave an excellent run-down of the origins of the movie, including, “It is unclear whether a full movie even exists.”

In another part of the Times site, a blogger explained a Coptic angle:

One of the reasons that the anti-Islam film trailer so enraged conservative Muslims in Egypt was that reports in the Egyptian media suggested that it was the work of Morris Sadek, an Egyptian-born Coptic Christian ally of Terry Jones, the Florida pastor known for Koran-burning. So far, however, all that is known for certain is that Mr. Sadek played a small role in publicizing the video, by passing on a link to the English-language trailer in a rambling blog post, an e-mail and a message to his Twitter followers, who numbered less than 80 as of this morning. Mainstream Copts have denounced him as a fringe figure who does not represent their community.

For a sense of how marginal a figure he appears to be, see this video of Mr. Sadek, wearing a cowboy hat and brandishing a cross, a Bible and an American flag during an anti-Islam protest outside the National Press Club in Washington on Sept. 10, 2010. The clip shows Mr. Sadek and five or six other protesters denouncing President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and chanting: “Muslims burn our Bible in Egypt!”

That same blogger explained that ignorance of the United States’ expansive protections for speech and religious expression played a role in a small protest in Tunisia.

By the end of the day, the Associated Press, which had multiple reports on the filmmaker, seemed to have figured out the mystery. And it was a really good and totally weird mystery.

So good work, Godbeat folks. Of course, the fact that the movie played either no role or the role of pretext in the 9/11 attacks means that this may have been over-covered a tad. OK, way over-covered. I hope we see even a fraction of the same enthusiasm for uncovering every detail of how the attack in Libya happened — a major victory for whoever did it — and what is going on in the streets of Egypt, Tunisia and, now, Yemen, as we do Terry Jones and Nakoula Nakoula.

Forest video image via Shutterstock.