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Quran Burning: The National Media’s Role in Turning Local Events into International Controversies

Florida Pastor Terry Jones threatened to burn copies of the Quran to protest the opening of a mosque on 9/11 in close proximity to Ground Zero. This has created an international reaction, in addition, it has caused a security issue among our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. But did it have to happen? And more importantly, was Pastor Jones the only responsible party?

Pastor Jones’s Quran burning on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 was a local story that was tied to a national controversy. The location and timing of the Mosque is an issue that many Americans are against. Let us first explore both sides of that issue for clarity, as the media has not provided a comprehensive picture of it.

The owners of the mosque have the Constitutional right to build a mosque anywhere any other religious building can be built, which is anywhere. The idea of putting the mosque so close to Ground Zero, and the decision to open it on the anniversary of 9/11, was not to inflame Americans, but to show that the majority of Muslims in America are moderates, and not the radical extremist jihadists who attacked America on 9/11. It was an attempt at a reconciliation of sorts, a way to battle stereotypes and misperceptions. After all, if Americans are okay with a mosque being built so close to Ground Zero, opening on the anniversary of 9/11, then surely we do not blame Islam for the attacks.

Or do we? The vast majority of New Yorkers who aren’t Muslims see this as an encroachment upon “holy ground” by the religion that attacked us. Most don’t question the Constitutional right, but the location and timing. So clearly the bulk of polled public opinion may infer that, subconsciously at least, Americans see Islam as an extremist religion, ignoring the fact that Christianity has its very own extremism.

One shining (or should I say burning?) example of Christian extremism is Pastor Jones’s burning of the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11. This was a local story, most likely first covered by a local news station affiliated with a major network. Now there’s a concept of “newsworthiness.” To that community, it was newsworthy. But there also a concept of the “24 hour news cycle”, “infotainment” and “corporate media.” These concepts determine that a story that can raise a reaction in the viewers are worth airing nationally, regardless of their national newsworthiness or their potential impact to inflame or polarize the American public, or the world. This Quran burning was a local incident. Once the national media picked it up, smelling a good, controversial “infotainment” story, it picked it up and ran with it. It also gave all kinds of other Christian extremists ideas to do the same thing, and forced the military to plead with a small local Pastor to stop.

The media, in reporting the news, was really making the news here. There was once a time when the news media could refuse to report on something it didn’t find “newsworthy.” A Governors press conference didn’t always make the papers if the Governor didn’t say anything newsworthy. That’s all different now. Sure, they still refuse to cover candidates for office that they don’t feel have a chance at winning, but if that candidate did something sensational, or controversial, they’d get covered. The mainstream corporately-owned news media has the same demands on it that a sitcom has on it. The news has to be interesting, or sensational or controversial, lest the viewer gets bored and changes the channel. If that happens enough, ad revenues go down, and the corporation loses money.

Pastor Jones should never have made it to the national media, and if he had, it should have been one blurb along the bottom ticker, not fodder for endless coverage and commentary.

As they say in the business; “It’s a slow news day…”

The media’s power to report the news, and the national media’s ability to create the news, cannot be understated. The failure of the news media to ask tough questions and do investigative journalism in the run-up to the Iraq War is the number one contributing factor as to why the public went along with the war in the first place. The news media’s inaccurate reporting of the situation in New Orleans after Katrina, as well as their swift dropping of the follow-up coverage afterwards, is still being unraveled in that city. They mention factories going overseas, but leave out trade-globalization treaties such as NAFTA, CAFTA and the policies of the World Trade Organization that made it much cheaper for large corporations to do so. The media is so unbalanced in their reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that there is more sympathy for the Palestinian people in Israeli newspapers than in American newspapers.

To sum up, Americans need to be their own journalists. Most people have access to the internet, and, while there are many biased news sources on the internet and many stories on the internet are culled from mainstream sources, by using sources with multiple and conflicting biases to read the same story, you should have a better sense of the true story. I will leave you with one source for international news, as unbiased as I could find:

Free Speech Radio News: http://www.fsrn.org

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