Wendy Hundley of The Dallas Morning News had a fascinating story on her hands: two teen-aged daughters were found shot to death and their father was considered the most likely culprit. Here's how Hundley explained the possible motives for the murders:
Police provided no clues about the motive for the killings. "There are several things we're looking into," said Irving police Officer David Tull, noting that the suspect faces capital murder charges.
Officer Tull said there have been some "domestic issues" with the family, but he did not elaborate.
Police did say they are looking into the possibility that the father was upset with his daughters' dating activities.
Several paragraphs down, readers learn that the family was Muslim. That's a possible clue about the motive for the killing, but only one. As Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher wrote, readers would have been well served if they had been given other clues:
Like, what? Were they dating non-Muslims? Were they behaving in any way that fits the well-established "honor killing" pattern we've seen among some Muslim communities in the West?
I agree with the implied first part of Dreher's analysis. Was there a religious angle to the killings? What type of Muslims are the Said family? Where are they from? There are basic journalistic facts missing.
Sure, reporters feel uncomfortable posing these kinds of questions to their interview subjects. Whenever I have asked people about their religion and whether they attend service, I often got either an initial blank stare or a shifting of the feet.
But they are critical questions. Two young girls are dead, and their father may have killed them. Does a reporter's discomfort really outweigh his or her search for the truth? (Then again, the reporter might not have considered asking for information about the family's religion, which is whole another problem.)
But I disagree with the second part of Dreher's analysis. It is unrealistic to expect a reporter on the crime beat to know about rather exotic tribal and religious customs. As someone who covered crime for two newspapers in the Bay Area, I know that determining motive is the least important part on a breaking story.
It is realistic, however, to expect editors and publishers to provide training about the various customs of groups in the community. And if reporters asked interview subjects consistently about their religious status, readers would be a lot better off.