Following on Doug's questions about differences in media coverage of the murders of Dr. George Tiller and Army recruiter Pvt. William Long, it's been interesting to see how different political groups are talking about the two murders. While most Americans (or at least most of those who have heard of both murders) are saddened by both brutal killings, it seems that some political groups care more about one or the other. One of the most recent tangential issues to get people talking is the disparity between President Barack Obama's statement on the Tiller murder, which was delivered within a couple hours of his death, and the lack of a statement about the Long murder.
I was wondering if Obama's lack of a commensurate statement weren't related to the fact that Long's accused murderer, Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad, is Muslim. Obama is preparing for a big speech to the Muslim world. I have yet to see any media explore that possibility or whether the religion of Long's accused murderer has led to this disparity. The administration in general has responded differently to the two murders. While federal marshals were sent to guard certain abortion clinics, I didn't hear of any uptick in federal protection of recruiting centers. (Admittedly, this could be related to my decreased news consumption these past few weeks.) Again, while this might be pure politics, this might also be related to a religious issue of some kind. It might be related to navigating some sensitive religious issues overseas. It seems odd to not see this discussed at all by the media.
However, here's a really good story by ABC's Jake Tapper -- a political reporter with a healthy interest in how religion affects political news -- and Sunlen Miller. He has covered Obama for years and noticed the dramatic shift in how the president now discusses his ties to Islam. It's written in the less formal style of a blog post but it gets the goods:
The other day we heard a comment from a White House aide that never would have been uttered during the primaries or general election campaign.
During a conference call in preparation for President Obama's trip to Cairo, Egypt, where he will address the Muslim world, deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Denis McDonough said "the President himself experienced Islam on three continents before he was able to -- or before he's been able to visit, really, the heart of the Islamic world -- you know, growing up in Indonesia, having a Muslim father -- obviously Muslim Americans (are) a key part of Illinois and Chicago."
Given widespread unease and prejudice against Muslims among Americans, especially in the wake of 9/11, the Obama campaign was perhaps understandably very sensitive during the primaries and general election to downplay the candidate's Muslim roots.
The candidate was even offended when referred to by his initials "BHO," because he considered the use of his middle name, "Hussein," an attempt to frighten voters.
With insane rumors suggesting he was some sort of Muslim Manchurian candidate, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and his campaign did everything they could to emphasize his Christianity and de-emphasize the fact that his father, Barack Obama Sr., was born Muslim.
The candidate's comment at a Boca Raton, Florida, town hall meeting on May 22, 2008, was typical: "My father was basically agnostic, as far as I can tell, and I didn't know him," he said.
In September 2008, candidate Obama told a Pennsylvania crowd, "I know that I'm not your typical presidential candidate and I just want to be honest with you. I know that the temptation is to say, 'You know what? The guy hasn't been there that long in Washington. You know, he's got a funny name. You know, we're not sure about him.' And that's what the Republicans when they say this isn't about issues, it's about personalities, what they're really saying is, 'We're going to try to scare people about Barack. So we're going to say that, you know, maybe he's got Muslim connections.'...Just making stuff up."
Well, now those Muslim connections aren't "made up" so much as highlighted by the White House. Such a dramatic shift isn't surprising -- this is what politicians do -- but it is interesting and it's nice to see at least one mainstream outlet notice it. It might also be nice to see some analysis of the change. I won't hold my breath, however.