I had this completely unrealistic thought last week about how nice it would be to have a nice long delay before the next terrorist-related news item. But just yesterday news broke about a plot to attack Ft. Hood, the same site where Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people two years ago.
It was only a week ago that news reports erroneously advanced the claim that Muslim terrorists had bombed Oslo. It turned out to be a right-wing terrorist who not only isn't Muslim but left behind a 1,500-page manifesto detailing his hatred for Muslims and multiculturalists and his desire to launch a holy war to save his version of Christendom and the West.
That terrorist, Anders Breivik, is sufficiently idiosyncratic to cause problems for journalists. Contrary to early reports, he's not a Christian fundamentalist and his mish-mash of views make him difficult to characterize concisely in any case. Just what type of Christian terrorist is he? We're still working on that answer.
I was thinking about the next terrorist attack or plot because I wondered how we'd see the media handle it. Would they be more responsible? Would they jump to conclusions? What if there were religious motivations with the attack? How would those be explained?
Yesterday gave us some answers to those questions. The first thing I noticed was the difference between the way the Associated Press and Reuters handled the news. Here was the early report from the AP:
KILLEEN, Texas (AP) -- An AWOL Muslim soldier who had weapons stashed in a motel room near Fort Hood admitted planning an attack on the Texas post, where 13 people died in 2009 in the worst mass shooting ever on a U.S. military installation, the Army said in an alert issued Thursday.
Reuters, on the other hand, didn't mention the soldier's religious views until the very last paragraph:
Abdo applied for conscientious objector status in 2010 because he said Islamic standards prohibited his service in the U.S. Army in any war, military officials said.
As the story was updated throughout the day, the AP story naturally changed. So did the location of the story where the soldier's religious views were first mentioned. I actually think the change is for the better and I'll go ahead and quote the first few paragraphs as they appeared later in the day:
An AWOL infantry soldier caught with weapons and a bomb inside a backpack admitted planning what would have been Fort Hood's second terrorist attack in less than two years, the Army said Thursday. He might have succeeded at carrying it out, police said, if a gun-store clerk hadn't alerted them to the man's suspicious activity.
"We would probably be here today, giving you a different briefing, had he not been stopped," Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin said, calling the plan a "terror plot."
The 21-year-old suspect, Pfc. Naser Abdo, was arrested Wednesday at a motel about three miles from Fort Hood's main gate. He had spoken out against the 2009 Fort Hood shootings last year as he made a public plea to be granted conscientious objector status to avoid serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Like the soldier charged with killing 13 people in the shootings, Abdo is Muslim, but he said in an essay obtained by The Associated Press the attacks ran against his beliefs and were "an act of aggression by a man and not by Islam."
Abdo was approved as a conscientious objector this year, but that status was put on hold after he was charged with possessing child pornography. He went absent without leave from Fort Campbell, Ky., during the July 4 weekend.
It's a sad story, for many reasons, but I think all the information is handled well.
The extremely odd issue with this story is that Abdo has been in frequent contact with many media outlets. When he sought conscientious objector status last year, he discussed it with a wide variety of media outlets. So as soon as his name was released yesterday, these media outlets had video, audio and print stories about the man. That's why the Reuters report that buries the religion angle until literally the last paragraph is so laughable. We know a little bit -- not everything, by any means -- about how this man's practice of Islam shaped his views and action.
Anyway, including everything from the conscientious objector information to the magnitude of the plot to the child pornography charges is difficult, but the AP story handled it well with the updated information. In fact, the rest of the story includes interesting detail after interesting detail.
The CNN interview I posted above was not exactly hard-hitting. Better follow-up questions probably could have been asked by someone with more knowledge of Islam and how it's practiced.