Don't blame CNN for its commenters

This morning, a Sikh gurdwara was the scene of a horrible shooting. Police have confirmed that seven people, including a gunman, have died. It is very difficult to do good reporting in the aftermath of a chaotic even such as this. As news broke of the shooting, information about the even was all over the place. I read about one to four gunmen, 30 shooting victims, hostage situations, explosions, chemical bombs, a shooter who had escaped and was heading to other houses of worship, etc.

As we continue to be reminded, it's best to wait for confirmation before running with any of these reports.

But sometimes social media can mess things up, too. Someone using the  Twitter handle @danishism noted a comment that had been left on a CNN story:

actual CNN comments: "Sikh people are not Muslim, but Hindu. They can be easily mistaken for Muslim or Taliban."

Yes, that was an "actual" CNN comment meaning, I presume from my experience in CNN comment threads, that it was left by a commenter. And CNN commenters are not known for being particularly erudite. After I wrote something for CNN, I got comments wishing me dead. I certainly don't hold CNN responsible for this. It's a free country and internet commenters -- other than our unfailingly civil ones here at GetReligion -- are not known for being polite or spelling well.  Have you ever read a Washington Post comment thread? Don't do it if you want to feel anything mildly positive about your fellow man.

But who cares if some random person writes a comment such as this? And yet in this age of social media, a #CNNFail hashtag sprung up and dozens or hundreds of outraged people spread the idea that this "actual CNN comment" was uttered on-air by someone at CNN.

There are enough problems with the way the mainstream media handle religion news as it is. There's no need to invent additional problems.

This is a fluid story and I hesitate to critique too much of what is out there right now. I haven't seen any egregious errors and I think reporters should be given some time to get any necessary religion background right.

I do wonder, though, if we have any particularly good questions that we should seek answers for. I'll throw mine out there -- I wonder about Sikh days of worship. Did this Sikh community gather on a Sunday for a particular reason? Was attendance higher today for a reason?

Obviously once we know more about the shooter or shooters, we'll need to piece together a motive. What other background information about Sikhs and Sikhism would be helpful? Here's a very brief look at Sikhism from a couple years back that ran on CNN.com's Belief Blog. Let us know if you see particularly good or bad coverage.

I looked for the comment online but, after wading through 1300 comments, couldn't find it. I won't hesitate to add that maybe a CNN journalist really did say that Sikhs are Hindu and easily mistaken for the Taliban. I'm reminded of how readers say I'm too credulous in defense of reporters. But if so, we should have evidence of it before we spread it across the world with social media. I'd like to see the clip and see it in context and make sure the quote is right.

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