Koran conflagration, redux

In what Mother Jones called "the best journalism-job want ad ever," a Sarasota Herald-Tribune editor pitched an investigative reporter job by writing (language warning):

For those unaware of Florida's reputation, it's arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery.

I thought of that when I came across this Religion News Service story about the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan calling the burning of a Koran at a small Florida church "abhorrent." And yes, it turns out that Pastor Terry Jones oversaw the burning of the Koran.

Media coverage of this event has been fine. You can read the original Religion News Service report here. I think Agence France Presse was one of the first to report the news. An NPR blog made note of the AFP report. USA Today's Faith & Reason blog did also.

The RNS report is the most comprehensive, explaining why Jones doesn't think he went back on his word about not burning a copy of the book:

The controversial Florida pastor who halted plans to burn a Quran on the 9/11 anniversary last year oversaw the burning of the Islamic holy book on Sunday (March 20) after it was found "guilty" during a "trial" at his church.

"We had a court process," said Pastor Terry Jones, who acted as judge, in a phone interview. "We tried to set it up as fair as possible, which you can imagine, of course, is very difficult."

Jones said about 30 people attended the mock trial at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville.

Jones considered the "International Judge the Quran Day" to be a fairer way of addressing the Islamic holy book, and denied breaking earlier promises not to burn a Quran.

If the jury had reached a different conclusion, Jones said he would have issued an apology for his accusations that the Quran promotes violence.

"We still don't feel that we broke our word -- that was in relationship to International Burn a Quran Day," he said, referring to his previous plan to burn a pile of Qurans on the 9/11 anniversary to protest plans for an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. "We would not establish another International Burn a Quran Day."

What I find so fascinating about this whole story is not that some Floridian is overseeing a trial of a book. By Florida standards, that might be tame news. What I find fascinating is the disparity in media coverage of the non-burning vs. the burning of the Koran.

Do you remember the crazed days of August and September last year? I was hoping for a nice relaxing few weeks of light religion news. Then the media developed a frenetic, obsessive and ultimately short-lived interest in stories about the plans to convert a building damaged in the 9/11 terror attacks into an Islamic Center and Jones' plan to burn a Koran.

In fact, Jones' attempted Koran-burning was voted by religion writers to be the top religion story (along with the proposed mosque near Ground Zero). I think every broadcaster within three time zones had a truck sitting outside Jones' church in the lead-up to the non-burning.

But then he goes ahead and burns a copy of the Koran and we've got maybe two original stories on the matter? I'm not exactly complaining. In fact, I'm not complaining. I think that some coverage of the act is warranted. I think the coverage we had back in late summer was embarrassing -- both in terms of quality and quantity. But I am wondering what it says about reporting and what we consider a major story.

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