New York Times omits crucial faith detail when covering release of some #ChibokGirls (updated)

So what details do you remember from the #ChibokGirls news coverage? We are talking about the 300 or so girls who were kidnapped more than three years ago from a Nigerian village by Boko Haram militants and forced to marry the fighters, to serve as slaves or even to take part in terrorism raids.

Do you remember the online activism campaign, led by First Lady Michelle Obama and others, with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag?

Maybe you remember the remarkable photos and videos from 2014, with the images of the girls sitting on the ground -- dressed in hijabs -- chanting Muslim prayers and verses from the Quran in Arabic.

This was a highly symbolic moment, since most of the kidnapped girls were from Christian families and they were forced to convert to the radicalized, violent brand of Islam pushed by Boko Haram.

Do you remember reading that most of the 300 girls were Christians?

That's a rather important detail that, believe it or not, the editors of The New York Times either forgot to include or chose to omit from the newspaper's main story -- "Years After Boko Haram Kidnapping, Dozens of Girls Are Freed, Nigeria Says" -- about the release of about 60 of the Chibok girls.

It's a gripping story. Still, search through this report and try to find the missing word "Christian" and the fact that these girls were forced to convert to Islam. Here is one key passage:

To much of the world, the mass abduction of nearly 300 girls from a Nigerian school as they prepared for exams three years ago was a shocking introduction to the atrocities and humanitarian crises caused by Boko Haram, galvanizing global attention to a militant group that had already been terrorizing Nigerians for years.
An international campaign, led by Nigerians but joined by prominent figures around the globe like Michelle Obama, then the first lady, demanded immediate action to bring the girls home. But the leader of Boko Haram scoffed at the world’s sudden attention to Nigeria’s upheaval and shrugged off the global outrage, vowing to sell the girls in the market and “give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves.”
“We would marry them out at the age of 9,” warned the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau. “We would marry them out at the age of 12.”

Keep reading. It would have been easy to have included the faith detail in this material, a few sentences later.

... Even with the dozens believed to be released on Saturday, well over 100 girls are still thought to be in Boko Haram’s clutches, many possibly married to fighters or forced to become combatants themselves. Previously released girls have told family members that some of the girls from Chibok have died in childbirth or in military raids.
Beyond that, many hundreds, if not thousands, of other girls and boys have been abducted by Boko Haram over the years, forcing them to fight, to cook, to clean and to bear children. Pregnant young women, a woman with a baby on her back and even children as young as 7 or 8 have been used as suicide bombers by the group, deployed as human weapons who have brought destruction to markets and even camps of desperate people fleeing the violence.

Why omit this factual detail from this latest #ChibokGirls story? Many readers would consider the faith issue a crucial, or at the very least poignant, element of this tragedy.

Also, the fact that most of the girls were Christians has been reported by many other newsrooms, including elite mainstream organizations (as well as by various religious news services). Also, the Times itself reported this information in 2016 coverage.

Meanwhile, the BBC did include the word "Christian" in its new #ChibokGirls report, but added a rather strange twist in the wording.

First, the BBC report included an Agence France-Presse quote from a man identified as a Christian pastor who was waiting to see if his two daughters were among those freed. And then the BBC team added this:

Many of the Chibok girls were Christian, but were encouraged to convert to Islam and to marry their kidnappers during their time in captivity.
Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of other people during its eight-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in north-eastern Nigeria. More than 30,000 others have been killed, the government says, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee from their homes.

Yes, these girls -- some pre-teens -- were "encouraged" to convert to Islam and marry men from the same army of militant raiders that kidnapped them. The girls were not forced to convert, but merely "encouraged" to do so.

To be blunt: I don't think that wording is accurate. Do you?

But at least the BBC included the religious element of this story.

UPDATE: My morning email included the daily New York Times offerings, including a new #ChibokGirls story. This one includes a quote from "the Rev. Enoch Mark," whose daughters were apparently not among those released. Once again, there is no direct reference to the fact that most of the kidnapped girls were Christians who were then forced to convert to Islam.

However, this new story also includes a strange wording that -- in terms of basic grammar -- implies that the Chibok girls were already Muslims. Check this out:

Yet it was the singular act in Chibok that trained the world’s sights on this war in Nigeria. Images broadcast by Boko Haram not long after the kidnapping of the veiled girls sitting on the ground in captivity resonated with celebrities and everyday people alike and spread across social media, where a #BringBackOurGirls hashtag became popular.

Say what? The girls were wearing Islamic veils AT THE TIME they were kidnapped? They were already Muslims?

Was there some material, or even a punctuation mark, removed between the words "kidnapping" and "of" in that sentence?

Note to the excellent corrections desk at the Times: Correction please.

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