A weekend of #MuslimBan: Did it help for press to ignore key contents of executive order?

What a train wreck. There is really no way to dig into the thousands, maybe millions, of words that the mainstream press poured out over the weekend in coverage of President Donald Trump's rushed, flawed executive order creating a temporary ban on most refugees from lands racked by conflicts with radicalized forms of Islam.

My main question, in this post, does not concern the merits of order or the process that created it. That's clearly part of the train wreck and, as someone who was openly #NeverTrump (and #NeverHillary), I think mainstream reporters should go after that mess that with the same fervor they dedicated to the humanitarian impact of the previous administration's policies in Syria, Iraq, etc. We need to know who decided to rollout such a important executive order in such a slapdash, incompetent fashion -- especially whatever it did or didn't say about people in transit or those with green cards.

Now, I would like to focus on one question in particular related to this journalistic blitz that I think will be of special interest to GetReligion readers.

The hashtag for the day was clearly #MuslimBan, even though the order contained language specifically trying to protect many oppressed Muslims. The media also focused on Trump's statements pledging to protect oppressed Christians (I know it's hard to #IgnoreTrump, even when it's wise to do so), even though the text of the order said something else.

My question: Did journalists make this tragic crisis worse by ignoring or mangling some key contents of this order? Following the action on Twitter, it seemed that there are two stances on that.

The first was from Trump critics on the left, which included almost all elite media. It said: The news coverage of the executive order was fine. We all know what Trump meant, no matter what the order's words said. So there.

The second -- with very few exceptions -- was among conservative Trump critics (click here for essential National Review essay by #NeverTrump stalwart David French). I said: The EO was messed up and flawed, but press didn't help by ignoring the order's content. This, along with Trump sloppiness and ego, helped add to the panic and added to the firestorm that hurt real people.

It certainly did appear that, in many cases, panicky police and immigration officials acted like they were enforcing what press reports said the executive order said, rather than the text of the order (which was rushed out in a crazed, flawed manner). I hope there is follow-up coverage on that issue.

So, when considering these questions, what is the key passage of the #MuslimBan order?

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

I first became aware of that passage because I follow CNN's Kirsten Powers on Twitter. She is, of course, an articulate voice on the cultural left (on most issues) and a Trump critic from the get-go. However, she provided crucial, sane journalistic input all day Saturday for those willing to listen. I especially appreciated her focus on the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in these lands -- including sects inside Islam.

As you would expect, some immediately accused her to supporting Trump.

In particular, it was painful to watch her take attacks from those defending the inaccurate #MuslimBan hashtag, as well as media reports claiming that the actual goal was to discriminate in favor of Christians, alone.

Some people didn't seem to know about the existence of persecuted Shia Muslims, Yazidis, Baha’is, Alawites and others. Of course, that side of the story was receiving next to zero coverage in mainstream media.

So what did this information actually look like when it ended up in print? Here is a current passage from primary coverage in The New York Times:

Mr. Trump expressed sympathy for victims of the long-running civil war in Syria. “I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria,” he said. “My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as president, I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”
While Mr. Trump denied that his action focused on religion, the first iteration of his plan during his presidential campaign was framed as a temporary ban on all Muslim visitors.
As late as Sunday morning, he made clear that his concern was for Christian refugees, and part of his order gives preferential treatment to Christians who try to enter the United States from majority-Muslim nations.
In a Twitter post on Sunday morning, Mr. Trump deplored the killing of Christians in the Middle East without noting the killings of Muslims, who have been killed in vastly greater numbers in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

So, in a clash between the words and Trump and the contents of the executive order, what do readers need to know? 

I would say "both," of course. 

But the crucial question is whether this statement -- "part of his order gives preferential treatment to Christians" -- is an accurate paraphrase of that key passage. I refer to the statement that officials are to "prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality."

Thus, we have this key question: Do the editors of the Times know about the Yazidis, Alawites, Baha’is, Shia and others? Obviously they know, as GetReligion has stressed for years, that radicalized Muslim extremists focus their persecution on other Muslims -- those they consider apostates, especially -- just as much as Christians.

So what did this train wreck look like in The Washington Post? This looks familiar:

President Trump signed an order Friday to suspend admission of all refugees for 120 days while a new system is put in place to tighten vetting for those from predominantly Muslim countries and give preference to religious minorities. Trump said that the goal is to screen out “radical Islamic terrorists” and that priority for admission would be given to Christians.
“We don’t want them here,” Trump said of terrorists in a signing ceremony at the Pentagon. “We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier Friday, Trump was asked whether he would prioritize persecuted Christians in the Middle East for admission as refugees, and he replied, “Yes.” ... 
Since the beginning of the ­Syrian civil war and the rise of the Islamic State, many more Muslims than Christians have been killed or displaced because of the violence. A 2015 Washington Post poll found that 78 percent of Americans favored equal consideration for refugees regardless of religion.

So, some final questions.

Who was helped, during this crisis, by press coverage that focused on Trump alone, ignoring or mangling the actual wording of the rushed, flawed executive order? Was the journalistic goal to cover the contents of the order or to do as much damage as possible to any efforts to steer America away from a European-style refugee drama?

Also, someone involved in the drafting of this rushed, flawed order knew enough about the reality on the ground to push for "safety zones" to help many refugees -- those in persecuted religious minorities perhaps -- survive long enough in the refugee camps to make it into the immigration process in the first place. What think tanks in Beltway land had input? Who tried to moderate and refine this document, but got rushed over in the process?

There may, you know, be more to this story than political backstabbing.

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