Anti-Muslim Thursday: Gingrich in Denver, apologies in Portland, textbooks in Austin

Fear of things Muslim among a certain segment of the U.S. population this week landed with a splash on the calendar of the Denver terror museum, at the editorial offices of a Portland newspaper and, unsurprisingly, onto the agenda of the Texas Board of Education.

The offending Portland Muslims

The Denver terrorism museum (The CELL) is hosting an event with “the Honorable Newt Gingrich” at the end of the month entitled “Why the U.S. Must Defeat Terrorism in the Next Decade.” Gingrich has a long history of walking the line on race and culture issues in his unabashed partisan politicking, and the museum’s selection of Gingrich as an expert on terrorism and how to defeat it seems based not on any proven expertise or experience or even success on his part in battling terrorism but on the controversial position he has taken up in the last weeks in opposition to the Park 51 “ground zero mosque” project. He has been a top Republican figure leading the charge in opposing the Muslim cultural center as an affront to America. His scheduled appearance at The Cell, where he will be joined in discussion by Denver Post editor Greg Moore, is sure to draw complaint.

Calls to the CELL for comment on how the museum came to choose Gingrich to speak have so far not been answered. Calls to the Mizel Museum in Denver, the senior partner institution to the CELL and one whose mission is to “heal” cross cultural wounds and educate so as to head off cultural misunderstandings, also went unanswered.

Meantime in Maine, the Portland Press Herald ran a self-flagellating editorial apology for running on September 11 a photo of local Muslims celebrating the last day of Ramadan. The photo and story about Muslim Americans celebrating a high holy day apparently “stabbed the heart” of Portland Press Herald readers and so the editor, in effect, took the advice of Sarah Palin and “refudiated” the “news decision” that led to the offense.

The paper received comments like this one:

Didn’t the paper understand how insensitive this was? Didn’t the paper understand that ALL MUSLIMS are responsible for what happened on September 11th? Didn’t the paper understand that celebrating Ramadan is like celebrating September 11th…?

In his lengthy letter to readers Editor Richard Connor takes the opportunity to celebrate the new responsiveness to the paper’s “customers” enabled by digital communication technologies. Connor comes off as no expert on digital technology and maybe not on journalism either. He may however have made a wise financial decision and headed off deadly circulation drop off for another year!

His mea culpa refudiation:

A note of apology to readers

We made a news decision on Friday that offended many readers and we sincerely apologize for it.

We made a news decision on Friday that offended many readers and we sincerely apologize for it.

Many saw Saturday’s front-page story and photo regarding the local observance of the end of Ramadan as offensive, particularly on the day, September 11, when our nation and the world were paying tribute to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks nine years ago.

We have acknowledged that we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.

What you are reading today was the planned coverage of the 9/11 events. We believed that the day after the anniversary would be the appropriate occasion to provide extensive new coverage of the events and observances conducted locally and elsewhere.

In hindsight, it is clear that we should have handled this differently and with greater sensitivity toward the painful memories stirred by the anniversary of 9/11.

Earlier this week, I welcomed a former colleague back into the news business.He retired at a young age after successful stints as a reporter,editor, and then publisher of one of the country’s largest newspapers.

I told him he was about to witness a new world in media, a world where 24/7 is not a cliché but a way of life for us. We literally work around the clock in order to contend with the speed of communication.

On Saturday morning, he witnessed what I was talking about.

Readers began writing to me and to our paper and website en masse, criticizing our decision on coverage and story play of the local observance of the end of Ramadan by local Muslims.

We began answering them immediately and directly by e-mail and we posted responses on Facebook, Twitter, and on our website. A good eight hours into the day, our editors were still working from home to keep up with a necessary response to our customers. Some managers came to the office on what was supposed to be a day off.

I expect no accolades for what I see as our prompt and courteous responses. Working fast, with immediacy and with concern for fairness, is just part of our reality these days.

Here is one of the responses I sent, which I believe covers a lot of ground:

“We are sorry you are offended by today’s front page photo and story and certainly understand your point of view. Many feel the same way. We do not offer the stock excuses you cite. We should have balanced this story with one that showed our sensitivity to today’s historic importance. You will see tomorrow that our planned coverage of today’s 9/11 events is extensive, far more so than the coverage of this event on Friday. We apologize for what may appear to be our insensitivity to the historic significance of this day. Tomorrow’s newspaper will feature extensive coverage of the commemoration of today’s events.

“Our editors believed that 3,000 persons marking the passage of a religious observance and congregating in Portland to do so was news.I believe that decision was correct but I also believe we should have handled it in a more sensitive way.”

Twice each day, a group of highly experienced editors convene to make news decisions on story coverage and story play. I do not attend those meetings but I take responsibility for their decisions. I trust the editors who make the decisions because I know how much they care about our communities and about being fair. They try hard and most days they succeed.

As experienced and as concerned as they might be, however, they are also human. They make mistakes. They also are free to voice opinions, and some of them may disagree with my stance on this issue. That’s OK. We believe in free-flowing dialogue and openness.

We have had that same dialogue and openness with our readers over the past 24 hours. Virtually all those we have heard from have been outraged over our decision on news play in Saturday’s paper. Most have also been courteous and polite.

Again, if you were offended, I apologize.

To those of you who took the time to write or Tweet, or go to Facebook, thank for letting us know your opinions and how much you care.

Richard L.Connor
Editor and Publisher

And in Texas this week the same board of education that has drawn national attention for guarding the white Christian-nation reading of American history by, for example, deleting reference to Thomas Jefferson because he was a Christian-light deist, is considering a resolution arguing that some world history textbooks push a pro-Muslim anti-Christian view. The board plans to vote on the issue next week.

According to the resolution, “diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts.”

As was the case with the Park 51 project, accusations underpinning the debate in Texas point to shady Muslim financiers. Board members said “Middle Easterners” are investing in U.S. textbook companies to push pro-Muslim propaganda and shape young American minds.

Hat tip to the Business Insider.

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