The Marine, the Muslims and the school: a tale of spinning news

Some news stories are like Rorschach inkblot tests, with various people seeing them through different lenses. Unfortunately, some of those people are editors and reporters -- especially on hot-button issues like Islam, education and patriotism.

A major example this week is a row in La Plata, Md., where Marine veteran Kevin Wood angry over a history lesson about Islam. Wood asked for an alternative assignment for his daughter; the school said no, they argued, he got insulting, then he was banned from the campus.

This all got tangled, of course, in other issues: academic freedom, separation of church (or mosque) and state, equal treatment for all religions, etc. The right-tilt might have been predictably filled by Fox News. But in fact, the network didn't hyperventilate:

Kevin Wood told that he went to La Plata High School in La Plata, a town about 30 miles southeast of Washington, and challenged a history assignment requiring students to list the benefits of Islam. He said the meeting with the vice principal got heated; the school said he made a threat and banned the Iraq veteran from school property.
"[Wood] was threatening to cause a disruption or possible disruption at the school," a district spokesperson said.
Wood did not deny getting worked up over the issue, but said he was standing up for the Constitution and is against any religion being taught at the public school.

One Fox coup: citing a copy of the homework assignment asking, "How did Muslim conquerors treat those they conquered?" The "correct" answer, the station says, is, "With tolerance, kindness and respect." You can see how a Marine who'd fought in Iraq would get upset over that.

But Fox didn't get Wood on camera, and didn't say why. Fox did get him on phone, but only his wife went in front of the lens. Fox also erred in quoting Mrs. Wood -- "We cannot discuss our Ten Commandments in school but they can discuss Islam's Five Pillars?" -- without checking with the school.

The Blaze, though, rants on dad's behalf, starting with the headline: "Fed-Up Marine Dad Confronts School Officials Over Daughter’s Mandatory Islam Assignment — Here’s How They Responded." It continues:

Kevin Wood, a Marine Corps veteran who fought and lost friends in Iraq, says he complained to school officials at La Plata High School in Maryland after his daughter was given a mandatory homework assignment about the religion of Islam. However, his request for an alternate assignment was denied and he was reportedly banned from his daughter’s school entirely.
The assignment in question reportedly required 11th grade students to write a three-page essay about the “five pillars” of Islam, Mecca and Mohammed.
“I don’t agree with it,” Wood told Fox News in a phone interview. “You can’t study God or Christianity in school. You’ve got atheist suing schools for saying ‘God’ in the pledge and not being able to say prayers before football games, but we can force-feed our kids Islam.”

Makes him sound like a nice guy. But as you'll see, he said more than "I don’t agree with it."

United Press International really sounds nasty, with a headline, "Islamophobic ex-marine banned from daughter's high school for threatening teachers." At least, that's what shows on a Google search. But click the item, and you get a tamer head: "Father upset over Islam history lesson barred from school over threats."

Either way, UPI favors the school:

A former corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps has been banned from the campus of his daughter's high school, accused of threatening administrators in the course of a rant about the school's history curriculum.
On Thursday, La Plata High School administrators issued a no-trespass order for parent Kevin Wood, after the eight-year Marine threatened to come to the school on Monday and create an unspecified disruption if Islam and related topics were not removed from his daughter's 11th-grade history class.

The UPI story cites and links to the Fox News piece and one by SoMdNews, neither of which has an inflammatory headline. So who added "Islamophobic ex-marine"? Google? A UPI editor? Some SEO wonk?

The taproots for most of these articles seem to be the Fox and SoMd News versions. At more than a thousand words, the latter has the most on the flap. The outlet, a joint website of four newspapers, is both more and less enlightening than the others.

On the one hand, it's more direct in what Wood said: that he told the vice principal she could "take that Muslim-loving piece of paper and shove it up your white ***."  On the other, the newspaper says the school claimed that Wood "threatened to upset the school environment" -- but didn't press the school on what Wood said he was going to do.

SoMd also cites a school spokeswoman saying that the curriculum has students learn parts of Christianity when studying the Renaissance era, and Buddhism and Hinduism when learning about China and India.

Yahoo Parenting quotes Wood's wife that the husband had vowed to "bring down a sh*t storm on the school." However, she said, he was threatening only to muster an attorney and the media against the school.

But I have to give a bronze star to WUSA9, a Gannett station in Washington, D.C., -- and not only for getting Kevin Wood on camera today. Wood tells the station that if the school teaches Islam, it should teach about the deeds of modern jihadis. "They're just teaching, 'Oh, it's peaceful.' And it's not peaceful," he says.

I also liked how the station quoted a parent who sided with Wood, although it got two who had no problem with the school assignment. It also asked someone at the Council on American-Islamic Relations; she predictably says that violent Muslims aren't following true Islam and that reactions like Wood's are part of a "growing anti-Muslim sentiment" in America. (At least she didn't say "Islamophobia," like the UPI headline.)

And I respected how WUSA9 the station links to three photos of the actual assignment.

What a novel idea: letting us hear opposing comments, then read the assignment and judge for ourselves. It's miles better than putting an inkblot, so to speak, on journalism.

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