Journalism 101

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on February 20, 2008

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED

It's perhaps the most basic thing you get taught in a journalism class: Get both sides of the story. If Group A accuses Person B of Bad Thing X, you do your darndest to get Person B's side of the story. If Person B doesn't respond, you put that in your story.

Reporter Tim Townsend and his editors at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have not learned this lesson. Townsend took a press release by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case), and re-wrote it for the paper.

ST. LOUIS — A national Muslim civil rights organization has asked the FBI to investigate what it considers threats made on the Internet against a Bosnian mosque in St. Louis.

One blog post [These were not “blog posts.” They were comments. – ed.] cited by the group made reference to vandalism and another to the use of dynamite.

Zachary Lowe, a special agent in the St. Louis office of the FBI, said Tuesday that while he could not confirm an investigation, the bureau “takes all threats against people very seriously, especially religious and ethnic groups.”

The comments were made on at least two blogs and related to a posting about a minaret being built at the mosque. The mosque is the Islamic Community Center, or Madina Masjid, at 4666 Lansdowne Avenue. A minaret is a tower from which the Muslim call to prayer is traditionally sounded.

The author of a blog called “Gateway Pundit: Observations of the World from the heart of Jesusland,” posted three photos of the minaret covered with scaffolding. One of the photos included the caption: “Those calls to prayers ought to go over really well with the people of this South St. Louis neighborhood.”

The “Gateway Pundit” author also cited another blog, Republican Riot, saying the Muslim call to prayer “is to be broadcast several times a day.”

But Madina Masjid’s spiritual leader, Imam Muhamed Hasic, said the minaret is symbolic, not practical. There is no sound system or speakers on the minaret, which is scheduled to be completed next week. He said the minaret will not be used to call Muslims to prayer.

Another blog, called “Little Green Footballs,” linked to the “Gateway Pundit” post, and several comments on “Little Green Footballs,” caused the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations to contact the FBI, said Ibrahim Hooper, the council’s spokesman.

“We ourselves get these kinds of hate messages and threats frequently,” Hooper said. “But you never know who’s just talking and who’s going to carry out some these threats, so you have to check them out.”

As Johnson notes in his blog post -- and would've informed Townsend had he asked -- the selected comments and the timing of CAIR's press release would cause some raising of eyebrows.

The comments quoted by CAIR were posted at LGF for less than two hours before CAIR sent out their press release, and were deleted as soon as the administrator (that would be me) became aware of them. CAIR did not contact me about the comments either—they just went straight to the FBI, and put out a libelous press release.

Charles also notes the he runs a one-man operation with 25,000+ registered users and 5,000+ comments posted per day.

If the failure to contact Charles Johnson over at LGF (Gateway Pundit doesn't have readily visible contact information) wasn't bad enough, Johnson had the temerity (oh, the horror!) to e-mail the reporter. The exchange reveals that the Post-Dispatch is violating labor laws by hiring middle-school students to write articles.

Seriously. Journalism. Wound. Self-Inflicted.

If there isn't a correction (at least) or a follow-up story tomorrow, then this isn't just a Tim Townsend problem, it's a Post-Dispatch problem.

UPDATE

Charles Johnson reports that the Post-Dispatch is going to issue a correction noting that the comments in question were not made by "bloggers," but instead by "writers." "Commenters" would be an even more accurate description.

Assistant managing editor Adam Goodman denies that LGF or Gateway Pundit was brought into any disrepute by the original story. I'm still troubled by the fact that neither proprietor of either blog was contacted for comment before the original story ran. Goodman doesn't address that issue. I'll drop him a short note and find out.

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