Burying the lead in Leadville?

Last week, Sarah looked at media coverage of Jihad Jane, the Pennsylvania woman who was arrested in a terrorism plot case. And now we learn of Jihad Jamie, another American woman involved in the same alleged plot. The early coverage of Jane left unanswered major questions about how she converted to Islam. Let's look at the coverage of Jamie Paulin-Ramirez. This CNN story that ran late yesterday, for instance, includes the line "converted to Islam last year" but never tells us anything about that conversion. The mother of the accused woman quotes the grandson as saying that all Christians will burn in hell, but we just don't get any context or details.

I mean, Leadville, Colorado, is not exactly known as a jihadi hotbed. I've been to Leadville more than a few times. At over 10,000 feet, it's the highest incorporated city in the U.S. and has a population of under 3,000 people. Back during the Gold Rush it had probably had ten times that many. When I think of Leadville, I think of former Colorado Sen. Ken Chlouber. I don't think he holds office any more but he wore some of the fanciest cowboy clothing I've ever seen and campaigned every couple of years on a burro. I'm not joking.

The point is, when someone says a Leadville woman was recruited into a terrorist plot, I want some more details.

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece on Friday with some more information:

Ms. Paulin-Ramirez's interest in Islam "came out of left field," said her mother, Christine Holcomb-Mott, in an interview at her home Friday, wearing a blue sweatsuit with a silver cross around her neck.

"I'm angry with her right now," Ms. Holcomb-Mott said. "I'd like to just choke her. But I'm worried about her, too. I love my daughter."

The stepfather, George Mott, is a source throughout the story. He's quoted and provides details about her conversion and disappearance.

And then, quite late in the story, we get this:

Mr. Mott, a convert to Islam himself, says he went to Denver to find his stepdaughter but couldn't track her down.

Well if that isn't some new information! Now I really want to know even more. How did the stepfather come to convert? Were their conversions in any way related? Do they practice the same kind of Islam? The first story doesn't tell us.

But the Journal ran another article the next day that answered some of the questions raised by the previous article. Written by Godbeat fave Stephanie Simon (who contributed on the previous day's story), we get much more information and color. And this time the stepfather's religious views are brought in early in the story:

Though they lived under the same roof, in a pink-painted house with wind chimes out front, the mother and daughter rarely talked, except to argue about Ms. Paulin-Ramirez's abrupt adoption of the Islamic faith and her decision to veil herself in a hijab. These tensions existed in the household despite the longtime embrace of Islam by Mrs. Holcomb-Mott's husband, George Mott.

Her daughter spent her time at work or online, Mrs. Holcomb-Mott said. Internet connections are iffy in this small, high-mountain town, but she would remain at the computer until 3 a.m. some nights, chatting online with new friends in far-off places, whose pictures she wouldn't let her parents see, Mrs. Holcomb-Mott said.

"I don't know who or what she is any more," Mrs. Holcomb-Mott said. "That scares me."

Her husband chimed in from a corner chair. "Jamie's made her bed," he said, "and she can lie in it."

Simon notes up front that Paulin-Ramirez couldn't be reached for the story so the details couldn't be corroborated, but she tells how the woman's parents described her as rootless and searching. Then she seemed to settle down in Leadville, working as a clinic medical assistant and taking college courses toward certification as a nurse practitioner:

Then last winter, they said she began expressing interest in Islam. "Critical Issues Facing Muslim Women," a video, arrived in the mail for her, along with a variety of texts--including, her stepfather said, "The Al Qaeda Reader," a collection of speeches and online postings about jihad.

Mr. Mott, a practicing Muslim for decades, said he tried to engage Ms. Paulin-Ramirez in conversation about the faith but said she wouldn't talk to him. He wondered how much she really understood, he said. She seemed to lack even a rudimentary knowledge of the Prophet Mohammed's life.

But he said Ms. Paulin-Ramirez began spending hours and hours online, in Islamic chat rooms still bookmarked on her computer. Whenever her parents came into the living room--where she had attached Arabic decals to her keyboard--she would minimize the pictures of the people she was chatting with, they say.

As one expects from any Simon story, we get many more details and a compelling narrative structure. I'm not saying that all the questions are answered, but we get a good start. Simon's presence in the region also had to help. There's just a world of difference between how the Journal is covering this story -- with a highly qualified religion reporter in the area -- and other news outlets.

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