THE BLOG

Rush to Judgment: Media Reporting or Making the News?

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the immediate aftermath of the breaking-news of the massacre at Ft. Hood, a shocked nation and media scurried to find out who did it, how many were killed and injured and why? As is true in all such tragedies, in the initial chaos surrounding such events, facts are hard to corroborate and reports are often incomplete and contradictory.

While many in the major media were careful and tentative, focused on whatever information they could garner, others jumped the gun, with speculations that created rather than reported the news. Thus, in the midst of so many unanswered questions, why would a major reputable newspaper like the Washington Post run a story this morning, titled "Suspect, devout Muslim from Va. Wanted Army discharge...," wanted Army discharge that was illustrated with a picture of an Islamic center and this caption: "The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring where Maj. Nidal M. Hasan used to pray. 'He was a very quiet and private person,' said Arshad Qureshi, chairman of the board of trustees at the mosque" and whose lead sentence is: "He prayed every day at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, a devout Muslim ..." Why immediately rush to brushstroke Islam, Hasan's religion, by linking it to this tragedy?

It apparently wasn't challenging enough to figure out an already complex puzzle: (1) why had this American born psychiatrist, a serious, quiet, and reserved military officer, who joined the Army over his parents' initial objections in order to serve his country, made substantial efforts to get out of the military in recent years?; (2) what was the connection between reports that Hasan had been deeply affected by his work with veterans from the Iraq war and his refusal to accept the fact that he was to be deployed to Iraq?; (3) how serious and substantial were reports that post 9/11 harassment by colleagues over Hasan's Muslim name had contributed to his growing disaffection with and desire to get out of the military? Did all of these factors push him over the edge psychologically or was his horrific act of mass murder more calculated? Instead, reports that Hasan was a practicing Muslim were seen as an immediate reason to focus on the "religious angle."

Lost in the rush to speculate was any attempt to place this story within a broader context. What about the many Muslims who have served and now the 20,000 who currently serve in the armed forces, those that fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq? Are they influenced by their religion in their willingness to serve, fight and die for their country? Courageous Muslims like Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, praised by Colin Powell in his endorsement speech of Barack Obama, gave his life for his country, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the honor of being buried in Arlington cemetery.

Why this common tendency and double standard towards Islam and Muslims post 9/11? We judge the religion and majority of mainstream Muslims by the acts of an individual or an aberrant minority of extremists. Yet, when Jewish fundamentalists kill a prime minister or innocent Palestinians, or Christian extremists blow up abortion clinics or assassinate their physicians, somehow the media is capable of sticking to all the facts and distinguishing between the use and abuse of a religion.

There can be no excuse, personal, political, or religious, to justify this senseless act of mass murder. There should also be no excuse for a rush to judgment that creates "facts on the ground," that once again negatively impact the American public's perception of Islam and the vast majority of our Muslim fellow citizens.