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Media Analyses





The Baltimore Sun Goes 'Harry Potter' on Islamic Terrorism


“Shooters' motives remain mysterious” (December 4) says the headline of a Baltimore Sun article on the Dec. 2, 2015 San Bernardino terror attack reportedly by Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik. The pair murdered 14 and injured 21 people attending a work place holiday party. However, as coverage from other news outlets makes clear, the real mystery may lie with why the article omitted key details reported by other outlets.

Tribune Newspapers reporters James Queally and Sarah Parvini detail that Farook and Malik “had amassed an armory of weapons and explosives in their Redlands home” including “a dozen pipe bombs, 2,000 9-millimeter handgun rounds, 2,500 .223-caliber assault rifle rounds and ‘hundreds of tools' that could have been used to make additional explosive devices.” The journalists note that this “suggested a level of planning that added to investigators' concern that” the shooting was “far more than a spontaneous response to a work place dispute.”

If far more than a work place dispute, what are the possible motives of the murderers that authorities are looking into? While offering hints that ‘beat around the bush,' the reporters fail to explicitly say—although they had plenty of space to do so.

In 1,189 words, The Sun article (The Sun is a Tribune company paper along with The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant and others) fails to mention a possible motive mentioned in other outlets: radical Islam. Somewhat astoundingly, the world “Islam” itself never makes an appearance in the lengthy piece that, on the jump page, runs under the headline “Authorities look for the shooters' motives.”

Another Tribune paper, The Los Angeles Times, carried the same dispatch (December 3,“Feds probe possible terrorism links in San Bernardino massacre”) as The Sun. While it similarly omitted the phrase “radical Islam,” or anything similar, it did—unlike The Sun—mention the word “jihad” and reported that investigators were looking into whether the couple was tied to terror groups like al-Qaeda—likely enabling readers to make the connection to Islamic terrorism.

Other words are used instead by The Baltimore Sun, such as “extremism,” “radicalized,” and “terror.” Despite this display of adjectives and verbs, Sun readers are not told what kind of extremism was being investigated as a possible motive or what sort of “radicalization” may have taken place. When the paper noted that “The FBI is chasing down leads foreign and domestic and looking for any evidence of radicalization and external actors,” it failed to detail what type of actors.

In fact, the only time the word “Islam” was mentioned was perhaps unavoidable when the article quoted the self-described civil rights group, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) on how the couple left their six-month old daughter with grandparents the morning of the massacre. Given the preceding failure to mention the word “Islam,” Sun readers may be left wondering why a CAIR spokesman was even quoted or relevant to the story.

The Tribune Newspaper's dispatch also omits that CAIR—which periodically makes allegations of rising “Islamophobia” that are usually not borne out by FBI annual hate crime statistics—was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2009 Holy Land Foundations retrial, the largest U.S. terrorism funding trial to date. As CAMERA's Special Report on CAIR, “The Council on American Islamic Relations: Civil Rights, or Extremism? (2nd edition, 2009)” details, the organization—founded as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood—has had at least five former lay leaders or employees arrested or deported for aiding, abetting and/or participating in terrorism, or on weapons charges.

The Sun also omitted this pertinent background on CAIR in another article that ran the same day and featured quotes by CAIR representatives (“Muslim leaders ‘horrified' over Calif. Shooting”).

These omissions contrast with the more detailed reporting by The Washington Times that appeared in print on the same day. The Times article, headlined “Attackers started hiding digital footprint: evidence from mass shooting points toward influence of radical Islam,” directly specified the motive being examined by federal investigators.

The Times noted that “investigators edged closer” to the conclusion that Farhook and Malik “were radicalized by Islamic extremists either in the U.S. or during trips to the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.” While careful to note that the investigation was still ongoing, the paper informed readers of a possible motive being pursued by those investigating the San Bernardino murders. Times reporters Andrea Noble and Guy Taylor said authorities reported Farhook and Malik had erased their digital footprint a day before the attacks by “deleting email accounts, disposing of hard drives and smashing their cellphones.”

The reporters also note that Farhook had traveled to Saudi Arabia “was gone for about a month and returned with a wife, and later grew a beard,” often a sign of increased religious observance. The Times reported that two weeks before the shooting, Farhook got into an argument with one of the men he later killed, Nicholas Thalasinos, over whether Islam was a peaceful religion.

The failure of some press and policymakers to use the phrase “radical Islam” has been called the “Voldemort effect” by Maajid Nawaz, head of an anti-Islamic extremist think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation. As fans of the series of fantasy books and movies may be aware, Voldemort, the villain in Harry Potter, is described as “he who shall not be named.”

Nawaz, a former Islamist turned reformer and advocate, says that failing to call radical Islam by its name is problematic:

“The danger of not naming this ideology is twofold. Firstly, within the Muslim context, those liberal Muslims, reformist Muslims, feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, dissenting voices, minority sects, the Ismailis, the Shia — all these different minorities within the minority of the Muslim community — are immediately betrayed.

“How are they betrayed? Because you deprive them of the lexicon, the language to employ against those who are attempting to silence their progressive efforts within their own communities. You surrender the debate to the extremists…

“The second danger is in the non-Muslim context. What happens if you don't name the Islamist ideology and distinguish it from Islam?”

Suspected Islamic terrorism and murder are too serious a topic for reporters to be pulling a page from a children's fantasy book.


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