The arrest of a Muslim student in Texas for, um, bringing a clock to school has made headlines this week:
The Dallas Morning News has this overview:
On Monday afternoon, Ahmed Mohamed was the 14-year-old with a homemade clock, wearing a NASA T-shirt and a scowl as the police snapped handcuffs on his skinny wrists and led him from his high school.
By Tuesday, Ahmed was the kid stuck home from school, told not to return until police decided whether to charge him for what they called a hoax bomb. He wandered barefoot through his house then, garnering barely a glance from the three generations of Sudanese immigrants who are his family.
But Ahmed woke up Wednesday as #IStandWithAhmed — a viral symbol of government authoritarianism or out-of-control Islamophobia, depending which of his tens of thousands of Twitter followers you ask.
By the end of the day, in reports across the world, Ahmed was a hero and the officials who called his clock a fake bomb were a joke. President Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg were among the world’s most powerful people lined up to know Ahmed better. And police said they wouldn’t pursue charges.
The joke to his big sisters, Ayisha and Eyman, is that Ahmed was invisible on social media before an outcry over his arrest made him an online sensation. Their tech whiz of a brother had no Twitter account, no Facebook, no Instagram or Snapchat.
So the sisters set him up on Twitter as @IStandWithAhmed — a slogan that the world had given the boy as his story spread overnight. The young women stared at their phones Wednesday morning, stunned as the phrase became one of the most popular memes of the day.
Over at the Washington Post, journalists went Googling and produced a story — aggregation mostly — on what the click-bait headline describes as "The history of anti-Islam controversy in Ahmed Mohamed’s Texas city":
The Post's lede:
Before 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested by police in Irving, Tex., after bringing in a homemade clock to school, the national spotlight shone on the Dallas suburb as its officials warned about Sharia courts.
It began with a February Facebook post by Mayor Beth Van Duyne responding to stories about a Muslim mediation panel comprised of arbitrators settling civil disputes using Sharia law in non-binding decisions, with reports that the panel was located in an Irving mosque. Van Duyne began referring to the tribunal as a “court” and warned that foreign law can’t be applied when it “violates public policy, statutory, or federal laws.”
“Sharia Law Court was NOT approved or enacted by the City of Irving,” she wrote, adding: “Our nation cannot be so overly sensitive in defending other cultures that we stop protecting our own. The American Constitution and our guaranteed rights reigns supreme in our nation and may that ever be the case.”
Van Duyne’s comments attracted national media attention. In March, she asked her city council to vote to endorse a Texas bill that forbids judges in family law cases from using foreign laws if they violate constitutional or state protections. Critics said the bill unfairly targeted Muslims. Irving’s mosque “categorically” denied hosting a court, stating that its imam acted as an arbitrator on a tribunal in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
“Similar religious tribunals have existed for decades in the American Jewish and American Christian faith communities to resolve disputes, most especially within families,” reads an Islamic Center of Irving statement. “These religious tribunals are optional arbitration vehicles that only conduct their work when requested to do so by both parties involved in a dispute, do not attempt to impose any belief system upon any individual and work in compliance with State of Texas and U.S. law under the United States Constitution.”
For some, the episode demonstrated the need for a tough-talking official to stand up for the U.S Constitution against dangerous, international influences. For others, Irving became a reminder of Islamphobia in post 9/11-America. One man started filming mosque traffic to show its effect on the community. Muslim leaders requested extra security around their mosque. Accusations of discrimination were met by officials insisting their actions had nothing to do with religion.
In this age of aggregation too often posing as journalism, of course, it's all about the clicks. And as my colleague Jim Davis says of aggregation, "When they do it without adding any original reporting, it's called 'aggravation.' "
Still, I found myself wondering if any of the Post journalists actually picked up a telephone and talked to anyone for this story.
I wondered that even more after reading the following paragraph. See if the same three shocking words — for a news story — grab you that did me:
So it is, once again, for Irving, where a Muslim ninth-grader’s arrest has prompted widespread outrage. The city, some 15 miles from Dallas, has a small but growing Muslim population of thousands making up the city’s 232,000 residents. The main mosque, the Islamic Center of Irving, has been expanding at such a rate that rumor has it that plans for a new, smaller mosque are now in the works.
RUMOR HAS IT!
Seriously, is gossip is now acceptable in a Post news story?
For those new to journalism, what's the proper approach to such a scenario?
Contact the Islamic Center of Irving. Identify yourself as a reporter. Ask for an on-the-record statement on whether a new, smaller mosque is in the works. Report the response.
Actually, if they deny it, don't report the claim at all unless you have credible evidence or an on-the-record source saying otherwise.
"Rumor" is not news. Or at least it shouldn't be. Right?