Covering the Quran burning

Afghan protesters shout slogans during a protest in Kabul September 6, 2010. Several hundred Afghans chanting Death to America rallied outside a mosque in the Afghan capital on Monday to protest an American church's plans to burn the Quran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. REUTERS/Mohammad Ishaq (AFGHANISTAN - Tags: RELIGION POLITICS)

I hadn't really been following the news about the congregation in Florida that plans to burn a Quran. Gen. David Petraeus weighed in against the plan and it's receiving a lot of coverage in countries with predominately Muslim populations. This picture is of a protest in Kabul. In fact, it's downright surprising how much coverage this story has received considering that this is a tiny congregation. Of course, in the day and age of Westoboro-media-paloozas, I shouldn't be surprised ... First Things has a post on the topic that's really about whether we make claims for God that are our own, but the way it began made me wonder about the media coverage:

Although it is only September, I think it is safe to say that the "Burn a Koran" day is the pseudo-event of the year. Despite being completely insignificant, the fifty member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida has managed--thanks to the media--to get worldwide exposure for their book-burning. Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, even weighed in, saying, "It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."

I have two lines of questions for GetReligion readers. First, do you think that the coverage this church has received has been fair? Why or why not?

And my other question is whether you think it's appropriate that this church has received this much coverage. And why do you think it's received so much coverage?

I asked a veteran Godbeat reporter for his thoughts. He hasn't covered the topic . . . yet. But he had some excellent thoughts. Here's a snippet:

Even if every [mainstream media outlet] ignored them, their words and images would be promulgated by friends and enemies via the Internet. You know Jones will have his burning on YouTube, where it will be widely passed around by Taliban, al Quaeda, etc.

Best we actual journalists can try to do is to provide context, dispel ignorance.

I think it's true -- this is news, whether you like it or not. A topic should rarely -- if ever -- be censored by the media. The question is really about how we cover it. In that light, I just saw this "breaking" report from CBS News, which begins:

Terry Jones, the controversial pastor behind the recent call to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11, runs a church that spends most of its money on administrative expenses and operates a furniture business out his church in Gainesville, FL.

According to the 2006 tax return---the most recent tax return available on by Jones' church, the Dove World Outreach Center, "program services" accounted for 30.5 percent of the church's expenses, while "Administrative costs" accounted for 69.5 percent.

Interesting how quickly the media have investigated the folks behind this tiny church in Florida, particularly in light of the coverage of the mosque project near ground zero, also facing financial trouble. Not that financial angles are what I'd encourage reporters to explore.

So how do you think these stories could best be covered? Are there appropriate and inappropriate angles? What are your examples of best and worst coverage?

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