The New York Times reports that Shirley Sotloff, whose son Steven Joel Sotloff is a freelance journalist being held by ISIS, says in a video message to her son's captors:
“As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over,” Ms. Sotloff, a teacher from Miami, says in the video. She explains that she has been studying Islam since his capture, and then urges ISIS’ leader to follow the path of his religion’s founder: “I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected People of the Book” — a reference to Christians and Jews.
She adds that in her study she has learned that Islam teaches that “no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others.”
“Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government,” she continues. “He is an innocent journalist.”
Note that the story does add that "People of the Book" is ”a reference to Christians and Jews." This is good. In some other media reports online, "Book" has a lower-case "b." What, precisely, is this "Book"?
However, look for mention of Steven Sotloff's specific religion in the Times article -- or in coverage of Shirley Sotloff's video in the Miami Herald, the UK Mirror and other mainstream news outlets -- and you won't find it.
At first glance, the omission of Sotloff's faith might seem like a classic "religion ghost" -- a case in which the media fails to "get" the importance of the religion angle to the story. But is it? Or is it an intentional effort on the part of the mainstream media to protect the kidnapped journalist?
An odd alteration to a New York Times story suggests the latter. The lengthy profile of Sotloff that the paper sent out through its wire service originally included reference's to the faith of Sotloff's mother and grandparents. Sotloff's faith heritage was implied in the lede, and the details were fleshed out in a paragraph that followed a quotation from his college roommate Josh Polsky. That information does not now appear in the Times online version of the story -- and, unusually for the Times, no note was appended to the piece to indicate that any edits or corrections had been made.
I found out about the original version through a website that republished it in the form in which it was syndicated in the National Post. But if you look at the current version of the story on the National Post's website, it is the same one that now appears on the Times' site.
Tmatt tells me that he researched media coverage of slain journalist James Foley and found that it appears that the mainstream media did not mention Foley's faith until after ISIS beheaded him. If you know of exceptions to that, please let us know.
In light of the Times' editing its Sotloff story, and in light of the omission of Sotloff's faith from other news outlets' coverage, I have a question for GetReligion readers in the mainstream media: Is there an unspoken policy against revealing the religion of American journalists kidnapped by Islamists, for reasons of the journalists' own safety?
If you answer, please do not identify Sotloff's faith in the comments. If you can, please share URLs to show us specifics.