"Chaotic," "apocalyptic," "aggression," "angrily demanded," "seethed with disgust" -- these loaded terms are all in a New York Times editorial about Republicans.
Unfortunately, in this case we are not talking about something called an editorial. The Times team called it news coverage.
"After San Bernardino Attack, Republican Candidates Talk 'War'," proclaimed the headline summarizing the GOP reaction after the recent shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. And when was the last time you read "bellicosity" in an news article, outside of a direct quote?
The rising tide of bellicosity gripped the Republican presidential field, as the initial restraint and calls for prayers that followed the shootings gave way to revelations that the massacre may have been inspired by the Islamic State.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas seethed with disgust for Democrats, declaring, “This nation needs a wartime president.”
“Whether or not the current administration realizes it, or is willing to acknowledge it,” he added, “our enemies are at war with us.”
Their language was almost apocalyptic. Jeb Bush described the looming threat of “Islamic terrorism that wants to destroy our way of life, wants to attack our freedom.”
He gravely added: “They have declared war on us. And we need to declare war on them.”
We read more slant in the obligatory talking-head observers. First up is one David Gergen, who says voters are drifting toward Donald Trump because he sounds "strong enough, tough enough, big enough" -- an attitude Gergen calls "almost animalistic."
On the other side is Dave Shetterly, who admires Cruz "because his approach to national security was muscular and unambiguous." Shetterly praises Cruz for calling the enemy "an Islamic terrorism state."
The problem? Well, Gergen is a former adviser to four presidents, from both parties (although it doesn't say which presidents). Shetterly, though, is a mere gun-toting Iowan who showed up for a Cruz speech. Classic: Your smart public servant versus animalistic yahoo.
Yes, the Times dings Democratic candidates as well. They "seemed to offer a more muddled response, torn between their instinctive desire for tighter gun regulations and the need to confront the threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism without tarring the religion itself." Bernie Sanders talked of closing gun control loopholes, while Hillary Clinton strove for "sensitivity toward Muslims."
But the newspaper's sentiments are clear four paragraphs later, as it said the Republican candidates "showed little patience for such nuance." Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, for instance, "mocked the president and the Democratic candidates" for focusing more on gun control than homeland security. Oh, those impatient Republicans, daring to doubt the Democrats.
Little in this 1,100-word article focused on the very real danger of more killings on U.S. soil -- killings vowed by militants like the Islamic State. Closest we get is an admission of the group's "frighteningly effective tools of global recruitment." Why that's bad, the Times team doesn't say. That's not what this story is about.
So, should readers worry less about Islamic terrorism and more about people who worry about Islamic terrorism?
Not according to Muslim leaders at a conference covered by the Religion News Service. This article offered some unique points of view in the current flow of news.
"Muslims in the West must step up and admit terrorism is rooted in extremist Islam," said the speakers at the conference sponsored by the Heritage Foundation:
They criticized major U.S. Muslim groups that lament such tragedies but say their religion is not responsible. They insisted the violence has roots in Islam, and that Islamist political terror is nurtured in Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi branch of the faith.
And they blasted the Obama administration for steadfastly refusing to brand terror as Islamic extremism. President Obama decried the deaths and pledged a thorough investigation of the attack but cautioned against setting blame based on the killers’ Muslim names.
The speakers, as RNS reports, are well qualified: two activists and two parliamentarians. One calls terror a "Muslim issue, an Islamic issue within the house of Islam." Another says Muslims must "lead the fight rather than hide behind excuses that killers are not truly Muslim," according to RNS (which, however, paraphrases most of his quote).
They criticize imams who simply disavow the attackers as un-Islamic without taking further action. They also decry the Obama administration's lack of an "ideological campaign" to fight Islamists, growing out of a more progressive view of the faith. (Interestingly, Madeleine Albright, secretary of state for the Clinton administration, made a similar point in her book The Mighty & the Almighty -- nine years ago.)
Here's one of the toughest-sounding sections in the RNS story:
[T]he finger of blame was pointed directly at Saudi Arabia, which the panelists said stands on strict Quranic literalism. This takes a seventh-century view of unbelievers, women and minorities that allows for terror, murder and deprivation of human rights, they agreed.
Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and co-director of a project named for Danny Pearl, her colleague who was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in 2002, calls their fight “a struggle for the future of our world.” She lauded a “courageous band of reformers” who will stand up for women’s rights, minority rights, secular governance and free speech.
As nuanced as the article sounds, it blurs a couple of things. So Wahhabism is the root of all Islamic evil? That doesn't account for Hezbollah, a militant party and terrorist group that holds Shia Islamic beliefs -- and enjoys support by the Shiite nation of Iran. And President Bashar Al-Asad of Syria adheres to a branch of Shia called the Alawites. A source acquainted with both sets of beliefs could have helped RNS, and us readers.
And what of outside reactions to the conference themes? Well, Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issues a rote condemnation of the San Bernardino violence. And Russell Moore of the Southern Baptists acknowledges a "parallel" between those killings and the recent shootings at a Colorado abortion clinic. Nice effort, but they're both canned: Ayloush's quote is from Reuters, and Moore's is from an NPR interview. Neither spoke directly to the "owning it" theme of the conference.
Imams of major mosques, too, could have added breadth. I see at least 10 mosques in the Washington, D.C. area. Since the Heritage conference accuses them of hiding behind excuses, rather than campaigning against extremism, some might well want a chance to respond.
Finally, the article adds just a bit of the inflammatory words in the Times story. It says the Muslim speakers "blasted" the Obama administration and one of them "mocked" the way it responds to attacks. From the language of the RNS story, it sounds like the speakers criticized, but didn’t mock or blast.
Oh, and the article uses the "C" word -- "conservative" -- just so you know how to pigeonhole the Heritage Foundation. So these were "conservative" Muslims?
So by journalistic standards, RNS turned out a good story but not a great one. Compared to the Times hit piece, though, it positively shines. You can ethically use fiery terms in a news service, you know. Just quote it from your sources. Or say it yourself -- then run it among the other editorials.
Video: Chuck Todd on TV's Meet The Press talks to Dalila Mogahed and Asra Nomani about how American Muslims can meet the challenge of militancy.