Reporters may think they’re being objective and balanced when they first report and then write a story, but those of us who know the racket can spot a rigged stuss game every time. It’s not just a matter of what you put in and what you leave out, whom you talk to and whom you don’t bother to ask for comment.
It’s also the way the story is structured, and the little semiotic signals the writer (and/or editor) send to the reader that say this is what is important. This is whom you should believe.
For Exhibit A of this process, please consider the following story:
Across Nation, Mosque Projects Meet Opposition
Given that this is the New York Times, you know the paper disapproves of this phenomenon, just like its nasty little lifestyle-fascist mayor, Mike Bloomberg, a Boston-born billionaire who finagled his way around term limits in order keep a hold on Gracie Mansion. It’s Bloomberg who’s been helping to fast-track the Ground Zero mosque and therefore who, in part, is responsible for the national backlash the Times now chronicles:
In all of the recent conflicts, opponents have said their problem is Islam itself. They quote passages from the Koran and argue that even the most Americanized Muslim secretly wants to replace the Constitution with Islamic Shariah law.
These local skirmishes make clear that there is now widespread debate about whether the best way to uphold America’s democratic values is to allow Muslims the same religious freedom enjoyed by other Americans, or to pull away the welcome mat from a faith seen as a singular threat.
Threat? Where would anybody get that idea?
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Now comes a key component of the story — the first voice, which sets the tone for the story and colors and contextualizes everything that follows. And to whom does the reporter, Laurie Goodstein, choose to give that honored position?
“What’s different is the heat, the volume, the level of hostility,” said Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. “It’s one thing to oppose a mosque because traffic might increase, but it’s different when you say these mosques are going to be nurturing terrorist bombers, that Islam is invading, that civilization is being undermined by Muslims.”
You read that right: in a story about a nationwide backlash against mosque-building precisely because, given the historical evidence, many people have exactly that fear, the first voice we hear is that of a Muslim convert — and, this being the Times, an academic at that — to dismiss it.
There’s not much else to say about this utterly predictable, paint-by-Times-numbers boilerplate, except that of course it subscribes to the notion that Islam is just another religion, and thus dismisses any principled opposition to its geo-political aims as merely un-American bigotry.
Indeed, while the story desultorily quotes a few opponents, it quickly rushes to embrace — wait for it — an academic study to assure the public that up is down, black is white and war is peace:
A two-year study by a group of academics on American Muslims and terrorism concluded that contemporary mosques are actually a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism. The study was conducted by professors with Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the University of North Carolina. It disclosed that many mosque leaders had put significant effort into countering extremism by building youth programs, sponsoring antiviolence forums and scrutinizing teachers and texts.
Radicalization of alienated Muslim youths is a real threat, Mr. Bagby said. “But the youth we worry about,” he said, “are not the youth that come to the mosque.”
Case closed! As she heads toward her kicker, Goodstein manages to give ink to this howler —
A lot of Muslims came to the U.S. because they respect the Constitution,” [Camie Ayash, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro] said. “There’s no conflict with the U.S. Constitution in Shariah law. If there were, Muslims wouldn’t be living here.
— to get to these final thoughts:
Dr. Mansoor Mirza, the physician who owns the property, said he was trying to take the long view of the controversy.
“Every new group coming to this country — Jews, Catholics, Irish, Germans, Japanese — has gone through this,” Dr. Mirza said. “Now I think it’s our turn to pay the price, and eventually we will be coming out of this, too.”
So now you know. The big hole in the ground in lower Manhattan, still there after nearly a decade? Nothing to worry about at all.
Thanks, New York Times.