Media coverage of religious profiling

Media coverage of religious profiling May 30, 2013

So tmatt has us all doing this experiment of reading a daily paper. I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper in a very long time. I used to get both the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post. Fifteen years and 2,000 miles later, I get the Washington Post. The thing that has struck me the most about this go around is how very, very, very thin the papers are. When did that happen? Some days’ editions are barely there!

And then what about what I found on Saturday, when I went to check on my St. Louis Cardinals? Not sure if you can tell in the picture, but the standings listed under “National League” were actually for the American League. Under American League? Also the American League standings!

It led my husband and me into a discussion about how part of the demise of newspapers has to be related to not wanting to pay for such mistakes. At least on the internet, when you come across typos and mistakes, you’re not paying for them!

But what about this mistake, from a recent Washington Post item on one of the early Boston bombing suspects:

The “easy-going, good humored” Saudi Arabian student who briefly became an object of intense suspicion after the Boston bombings broke two months of silence this week, telling The Islamic Monthly that media attention since the attacks “double injured” him.

The date for the story is May 24. The bombings took place April 15, right? So what’s this “two months” we’re talking about? I know it’s not a big deal, but mistakes such as this do affect reader engagement and trust.

The story sums up this interview of Abdulrahman Alharbi by The Islamic Monthly, which barely gets into religion. But I did notice this part:

TIM: In one account that I read it said that somebody saw you running and then they tackled you.

AA: No, no one arrested me, no one tackled me, no. All the people were trying to escape from what happened because they realized that there was something dangerous in the finish line.

I didn’t read that account so much as watch it. Here’s CBS News’ Jim Miller saying as much:

Now, to be fair, both Miller and the anchor emphasize that caution is needed when discussing these reports. But I’d absolutely love a follow-up. Did a citizen tackle this guy or not? If not, as he says, why did the FBI question him? Why did law enforcement remove bags from his apartment? Were they doing religious profiling? Was there more to it?

John Miller wasn’t criticized for this reporting, far from it. And perhaps there was a later report that substantiated or backed off from this initial report. I know that certain stories, by necessity, just get dropped during major investigations such as this Boston bombing. But I’d like to know a lot more about why this Saudi national was targeted and what it means for how we handle law enforcement. I’m not even arguing for a particular approach — I’d just like to know more about either why the Feds went after this guy or whether they’re engaged in religious profiling.

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