Anti-Muslim backlash strikes again: Media can't help falling in love with circumstantial evidence

Facts, please.

That most basic element of strong journalism would be helpful as media keep spinning reports of "anti-Muslim backlash" after the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

As you may recall, I criticized the Houston Chronicle last week for squishy, speculative reporting after an arson fire at a storefront mosque:

My plea for journalists pursuing the "Muslim backlash" story: Do some actual reporting.
Yes, treat Muslims (and other people of faith) with fairness and respect. By all means, listen to their concerns, and report them fully. But don't ditch normal, necessary journalistic skepticism and investigative techniques for the sake of a politically correct storyline.

So what happened not long after the Texas newspaper's big Page 1 story on the fire stirring fears in the Muslim community? Police arrested a suspect who claims to be a devout Muslim who regularly worshiped at the torched mosque.

Hmmm, that fact changes the storyline a bit, huh?

In the Pacific Northwest, meanwhile, a 16-year-old Muslim's death has caused a furor and fanned Islamophobia concerns, according to the Seattle Times. 

Earlier, the Seattle newspaper publicized online speculation that the teen was the victim of an "anti-Muslim hate crime." Speculation, of course, involves "the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence." That's not exactly a recipe for quality journalism.

This line from the latest Times story sums up the problem with so much media reporting on anti-Muslim backlash fears:

With little concrete information to go on, some assumed the worst when it came to Hamza Warsame, which only added to the climate of fear and anxiety.

You think?

Elsewhere, the Washington Post had this front-page headline on a story out of Grand Forks, N.D.:

For Muslims and neighbors, the fear sets in

As Newsbusters noted, the headline on the online version of the story was more political:

Trump's effect on Muslim migrant debate reverberates in heartland

What's wrong with that headline?

I don't agree with everything I read at Newsbusters (a site committed to "exposing & combating liberal media bias"), but this criticism seems legitimate: The Post story "heavily implied an arson at a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks, North Dakota was caused by Donald Trump’s rhetoric." But the newspaper failed to provide anything other than circumstantial evidence (as in, the fire happened after Trump's call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”) to support that implication.

That leads us right back where we started.

Facts, please.

Inset photo: Houston mosque fire suspect Gary Nathaniel Moore

Please respect our Commenting Policy