Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dove World Outreach's Quran Burning: Why is this news?

Dove World Outreach has received much attention around the world for its plans to commemorate the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by burning a copy of the Quran. One question that should be asked during this controversy is, why is this news? Dove World Outreach has only 50 members and, as far as I can tell from its website, is not part of a larger Christian denomination. There are no other churches in Gainesville supporting the protest, so it does not represent the larger community. Any given week, I'm sure that the media could find some fringe group somewhere doing something out of the ordinary. Why report on this one? Why does the media think this event is significant enough that the public, outside Gainesville, FL, needs to know about it?

This controversy is emblematic of a common characteristic of the news media. The media prefers to report stories as part of a narrative, or story line. Generally, it is not sufficient to simply report on the facts of significant news stories. The media tries to place news in the context of some ongoing story. This is especially true when the media reports on polling data and elections returns. For the media, the Dove World Outreach controversy fits into a narrative of anti-Muslim bigotry, which the media started reporting on with the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy. In my view, therefore, the Dove World controversy would not have been reported on if it had not been preceded by the "Ground Zero Mosque" controversy.

I understand the need to present news in interesting ways when the media is a for-profit business, but the media also needs to show some responsibility in how it reports this story as well. General David Petraeus has warned that Dove World Outreach's actions could put troops in danger by inciting violence among Muslims. The media could counter the negative image presented by Dove World Outreach by reporting on the events planned by Gainesville residents to protest the Quran burning. According to the Gainesville Sun, there are at least two events planned by Gainesville religious groups and community leaders, including an interfaith "Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope" at Trinity United Methodist Church, which will likely have far more participants than Dove World Outreach's protest. Will the media report on these events as well?

Update: The New York Times published a story about the counter-protests

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