Once again, a major mainstream news organization has decided to report on the fine folks of Oklahoma voting to ban Sharia law in my home state.
Once again, I'm going to give a scathing review here at GetReligion. I'd like to welcome The New York Times to today's hot seat.
If you're new to this subject, please check out the above previous links and comments. Otherwise, I'll dive right in.
Here's the top of the Times story:
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Cory Williams, a Democratic state representative from Stillwater, expected his opponent in the recent election to label him a free-spending liberal allied with President Obama.
He did not foresee that he would be accused of trying to subject Oklahomans to Islamic law.
Mr. Williams was one of 10 Democrats who voted against putting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would forbid state judges from considering international or Islamic law in deciding cases. He considered the idea unnecessary, since the First Amendment already bans state-imposed religion.
His Republican challenger sent out mailers showing him next to a shadowy figure in an Arab headdress. On the other side, the flier said Mr. Williams wanted to allow "Islamic 'Shariah' law to be used by Oklahoma courts" and suggested that he was part of "an international movement, supported by militant Muslims and liberals," to establish Islamic law throughout the world.
"At the end of the day, it was just fearmongering," Mr. Williams said.
He won by 280 votes, but many of his fellow Democrats failed to hold their seats.
Realize, to start, that Williams is just an hors d'oeuvre in this story. He makes his cameo appearance and then disappears. His unnamed Republican opponent's response to the "fearmongering" claim? Oops. Guess the Times didn't feel like checking into his version of the campaign events.
But the message is clear: Anti-Muslim campaigning against Williams resulted in a close race -- only 280 votes. Sure, no voters are quoted to confirm that the Sharia question influenced their vote. No exit poll data is referenced to that effect. But that's what happened, OK? Please take the Times' word for it.
This is a national story, so local politics and circumstances don't matter. It doesn't matter that this local state House race made statewide headlines when Williams distributed campaign materials at an elementary school attended by his opponent's children. It doesn't matter that another major state newspaper's pre-election coverage of this race included no mention of the Sharia vote. It doesn't even matter that Williams also made headlines two years ago when Republicans attacked him by bringing up his arrest record and assault of a police officer.
Surely, Williams won by more than 280 votes in 2008 when he didn't face an anti-Muslim backlash? Let's see, two years ago, he won by 63 votes. Hmmmmm ...
After debating back and forth with me after my criticism of a Religion News Service story on this topic, Tennessean religion writer Bob Smietana asked me to explain what I thought drove support of State Question 755. If you missed my response, here is what I said:
The short answer is, I don't know. I didn't conduct any exit polls. I haven't interviewed any voters, pro or con. Actually, I haven't even really discussed this issue with anyone except my wife (which says something about the true level of issue this was among the rank-and-file masses).
The Islamic law measure was one of about a dozen legalese-style state questions on the ballot, along with lengthy lists of local, state and federal offices. Folks got to the ballot box, read a state question that asked if they wanted to prevent judges from using Islamic or international law in deciding state court cases, and most of them voted "yes." Did a "no" vote mean that the person supported using Islamic and international law in state court cases, or did it mean that they thought it was a stupid and unnecessary constitutional amendment?
Given the 70 percent support, did voters buy the political argument that the measure was needed to prevent cases like the one in New Jersey? Were voters fueled by anti-Muslim fervor? Were voters mainly just unfamiliar with the state question? Was there some other reason? All good questions for some reporter, I think ...
I still think those would be good questions to ask. But the Times didn't bother to ask them. Instead, the Times reported -- with no facts to back up its assertion -- that the Sharia question drove voters to the polls. Here is what the newspaper said:
Across the state, the ballot initiative pulled conservatives to the polls.
"It was inflammatory, and it got people to turn out," said State Representative Wallace Collins, a Democrat from Norman who lost a close race. "It worked for them."
Where are the interviews with voters to indicate that the Sharia question drew them to the ballot box? Where is the poll data? Where is a single quote from anyone influenced by that state question?
Given that this issue "pulled" people to the polls, I would assume that voter turnout saw a sharp increase from past midterm elections in Oklahoma. It's not the first time, but I would be wrong.
In fact, the 1,035,620 Oklahomans who cast ballots in the 2010 midterm election represented 50.8 percent of the 2,038,620 registered voters. How many voted in 2002, the last time the state had an open governor's race with no incumbent? That would be 1,034,767 Oklahomans, 51.5 percent of 2,008,036 registered voters. A similar trend held in 1994, the previous midterm with no gubernatorial incumbent on the ballot. Hmmmmm ...
But at least we have the specific case of Collins, the Democrat from Norman who lost a close race because of the Sharia question. Right?
Now granted, when you start talking about a local race, you once again get into a muddy area. I mean, Collins did openly support State Question 744, a massive education funding measure that (unlike the Sharia law) dominated television ads. That state question drew opposition from 81 percent of Oklahoma voters. Apparently, even more Oklahomans hated that idea -- if you believe the mainstream media narrative -- than hated Muslims by suporting State Question 755, the Sharia measure.
But Collins' defeat had everything to do with the Sharia question. Right, New York Times? An anti-incumbent mood in a highly competitive district could not have played into the outcome, right? Even though Collins had twice before -- in 2000 and 2002 -- lost in this same district that he first won in 1996.
No wonder the Times kept it simple. You start dealing with facts, and reporting stories like an anti-Muslim furor in Oklahoma becomes a tad more complicated.
Ironically, the story critiqued by Mollie earlier today shows that Oklahomans aren't the only idiots when it comes to Sharia law. From the rantings of the extremist profiled by The Commercial Appeal:
Far as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula I won't say much but yes, I'm affiliated with them. And it's more of a Islamic Revivalist Revolutionary Movement than an organization. Same with other Al-Qaeda fronts. Our goal is to rid the Islamic world of idols and idolaters, paganism and pagans, infidelity and infidels, hypocrisy and hypocrites, apostasy and apostates, democracy and democrats and relaunch the Islamic caliphate ... and to establish Islamic law (Shari'ah) -- Allah's law on earth and anyone who strives for this is affiliated with the movement.
So yes I'm Al Qaeda and proud to be.