Journalism Fail: Why the Portland Press Herald’s apology for covering Ramadan is wrong

How exactly did “A show of faith and forgiveness” turn into an apology? Gutlessness.

Readers of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram may have been surprised to find an open letter from Publisher Richard Conner yesterday (and today), offering an apology for a story that appeared in print and online.

Was it a grossly inaccurate story? A clear violation of the paper’s standards and practices? Did it perpetrate a crime against the community?

No. They published a story and photos on Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan. And thanks to the date, Sept. 11, that drove some people into hysterics.

In his letter Connor apologized to readers for showing a lack of sensitivity and not balancing their coverage with 9/11 events.

Unfortunately what Connor’s done is created a self-inflicted wound to his newspaper. By apologizing for a factual story portraying part of the community it covers, the Press Herald has damaged its ability to educate, betrayed the journalists who work there, alienated a part of their audience and shown that editorial control can be won by the power of the mob.

In offering the apology, Connor was taking a reactionary stance to an outcry from readers, over email, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter. Since I’ve never sat in the big seat reserved for publishers, this may be guesswork, but taking flak for (and defending) stories is part of the job. As he outlines in his letter, the work of assigning, editing and placing stories is a serious one that involves a large group of people, all of whom just got thrown under the bus in favor of the commenting class.

As someone who has often been a supporter of online comments and engaging readers through things like Facebook and Twitter, I’ve always believe those tools were important to connecting with the community and creating a dialogue. Comments can be informative and illuminating, but they can also be hateful and vitriolic, and it’s the job of newspapers to manage those interactions and learn. It’s not the job of newspapers to cede editorial control to the crowd, which is what the Press Herald has done here.

Editor’s notes and letters are reserved for the biggest of occasions and errors. But in this case nothing was done wrong. A factual, well-written and photographed story was published, which, most days, is considered a win in journalism. Let me repeat: Nothing was done wrong.

The “error,” in this case, was not playing to some sort of notion of balance between a religious observance and a national tragedy. But more on that in a second. Even though Connor says he agrees that the story is newsworthy, the act of issuing a letter to readers over an error that does not violate the paper’s standards, is a betrayal to the writers, photographers, copy editors and everyone down to the pressmen at the paper.

Worse, the apology, in trying to make amends with one part of the community, does it at the expense of another. In trying to mollify the outrage and indignation of readers upset over showing Muslims practicing their religion, the Press Herald has now helped to alienate Muslims in Portland and around Maine.

And it’s here where the Press Herald made it’s biggest failure: By apologizing for this episode they’ve injured their ability to educate readers. In this case the lesson lost is simple – tolerance. Like newspapers around the country the Press Herald covers its religious communities through their observances, whether it’s Rosh Hashanah, Easter or Ramadan. This matters because people of faith aren’t just newspaper readers, they’re part of the community that journalists are responsible for covering. Through writing about these events we’re supposed to gain greater insight into where we live and the people around us.

Within the last month, in it’s editorial pages, sports page and even today from one of it’s most well-known columnists, the Press Herald has written about people of the Muslim faith living in Maine.

And with one letter, Richard Conner undid all of it. Whether they like it or not, by apologizing for a story about Mainers practicing their religion that ran on Sept. 11, the Press Herald has conflated the Muslim religion with the terrorist attacks of 9 years ago. Instead of taking this episode for what it is, a “teachable moment,” (sorry, I hate that phrase too, but it fits here) the Press Herald has lent credence to intolerance, caused hurt to their community and insulted the intelligence of their readers.

As a disclosure, it’s important to note that for more than seven years I called the Press Herald home. It was a place that gave me incredible opportunities to grow as a journalist. I cherish the stories I wrote, the people I met and the colleagues I worked with. When a financial decision forced a new rounds of layoffs and buyouts at the paper this spring, I took one in what was arguably the toughest decision of my life.

Since that time I’ve never spoken out about my former employer. Maybe it’s my “wholesome Midwestern upbringing” or just common sense to not burn bridges and speak out of class. I still know plenty of good people working there and I respect what they do.

I say that as means of context: For the first time ever I can say I am embarrassed to have worked there.

I can also say I’m happy I don’t draw a paycheck from there any more.

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68 responses

  1. “Whether they like it or not, by apologizing for a story about Mainers practicing their religion that ran on Sept. 11, the Press Herald has conflated the Muslim religion with the terrorist attacks of 9 years ago.”

    That’s perfectly stated. This apology was not only unnecessary but damaging to Portland’s community. The apology cements the false and bigoted idea that allows so many uninformed people to associate followers of Islam with terrorism. It’s a tragic prejudice and a slander, and the PPH has just helped to foster and environment in which that bigotry can flourish.

    September 12, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    • Well written! As a Muslim and a journalist, I also was appalled to see the apology.

      Having worked as a copy editor, we try so hard to make sure there isn’t a correction the next day – and to see one for nothing wrong, just to appease some folks who had a hard time gulping that life does go on after 9/11 – makes me sick.

      I figured newspapers were the last line of defense we had for common sense. We are supposed to be unbiased and able to report what is going on without getting in the middle of it.

      Not anymore. Now the PPH has shown the community and the world that they are biased.

      September 13, 2010 at 3:18 pm

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  3. blackgirlinmaine

    Good post! I actually used to write for the former Community Voices section years ago at PPH back when I first moved to Maine 8 years ago. Back then it seems they encouraged diverse views and attempted to embrace diversity but clearly that has changed. Glad you spoke out.

    September 12, 2010 at 6:08 pm

  4. Joel Elliott

    The editors of The Oklahoman might just as well wring their hands over whether they’d balanced Easter coverage with articles commemorating the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, since Timothy McVeigh was raised Catholic.

    September 12, 2010 at 7:11 pm

    • Well said

      September 12, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    • John

      Umm.. McVeigh wasn’t a Christian of any kind. It’s clear from his writings that he was an agnostic. Do people think that if they say he was a Christian enough times it will be true?

      September 16, 2010 at 4:32 am

    • Ed

      What a stupid analogy. Liberals love to bring up McVeigh, who acted in a small group and said religion was no motivation for his crime. Compared to the 9/11 hijackers who explicitly stated they were acting for Islam/Allah.

      Keep spinning, keep lying to yourself Islam is a peaceful religion.

      Liberals are so removed from reality it is not even funny. Let’s see how much tolerance you are for? Will you even allow this post to be posted.

      September 16, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      • Katie

        “removed from reality” would be an apt description for someone that apparently believes every single Muslim in the world is a threat or terrorist based on a handful of heinous people. Up to 1968 there have been 3,446 (recorded — many more unreported)lynchings in the USA. This is roughly equivalent to the number of victims on 9/11. These torturous crime were perpetuated against Blacks by whites — most of whom claimed to be Christians. By your logic these domestic terrorists should be treated with suspicion and as potential criminals and not shown in ANY newpaper EVER (lynchings had no special day) unless we also mention that white Christians such as these participated in genocidal acts of torture against Americans. If that is fair by you, it’s fair by me.

        September 16, 2010 at 11:09 pm

      • Pope

        Well Said
        ED, I will not try argue with you on whether Islam is a peaceful religion or not. How ever I have another analogy I want to share with you.
        1. do you know that Islam have been a part of this country before it became the United State of America? you may be asking your self how… below is your answer.:
        1) A large percentage (45-50)of the African that were brought here were Muslims, they were forced to stop practicing their religion. Our country was built off their sweat and cheap labor.
        And oh, do you know that all the castles that were use as the last exit point for slaves from Africa have churches in them where the slave traders worship as they rape African women and send their men to Slavery. And dont ask me how I know this, I didnt read it in any book or listen to any radio talk show I am from Africa and i have sen this castles.
        And oh I am an American Muslim and I am not a terrorist

        September 19, 2010 at 1:37 am

  5. L. Dumond

    When I picked up the Morning Sentinel version of the Maine Media newspaper on Saturday, the front page covered how 9/11 was being remembered in our area & elsewhere; the political backdrop & how it was hard to ignore; Teacher of the Year in Maine; Pot being stolen from a police storage facility and Scrutiny of Medicaid billing. I had to go to page 4 -World Coverage- for anything about the Muslim world celebrating the end of Ramadan. So I was surprised to read the apology from the Publisher of the Press Herald about THEIR coverage since ‘major’ news events are usually spread across all of the MaineToday media partners – and THIS clearly was not. I don’t know what the Kennebec Journal ran on their front page but I suspect it wasn’t a mirror image of the Press Herald.

    Had I been reading the PPH, I doubt I would have been offended by their coverage. It’s news. They’re a newspaper. Their job is to report what has happened. While rememberance of the 9/11 tragedy that gripped this nation 9 yrs ago is newsworthy as well, I would rather see a sidebar of events planned for that day & read about the events the following day, with pictures added showing the heartfelt reverence the day desereved. THAT is the news of the 9/11 rememberances. THAT is the news that deserves front page coverage… Where did people gather? What did they do there? Was there a special connection for any of them? THAT is news AND human interest.

    While I understand there are those who are still of the mindset that if you’re a Muslim, you must be a terrorist (in other words, a bigot), I can’t justify the apology made by the Publisher to apease these folk. I agree, totally, with Mr. Ellis. The PPH missed the opportunity to use this as a teaching tool – to reach beyond the bigotry. The Publisher undermined his editors, thru them under the bus. He also de-valued the Muslim community.

    Need I remind everyone that there were Muslim-Americans who also died in the attacks on 9/11/01. They were innocent victims as well. They were killed by terrorists who happen to be Muslim. The terrorists did not discriminate. Yet there are those who are no better, lumping all Muslims together.
    I must also mention here that we have a Muslim community in Central Maine. So I’m a little sad that they had to go to page 4 to read about the end of Ramadan in Cairo. I think the “Medicaid billing due for scrutiny” or the “Pot stolen from police” could have been moved to the local section. We cover other religious holidays on the front page, why not this? Oh, I forgot… It might offend someone and bring on a slew of mail which will need to be answered. Or someone may need to issue an apology or retraction. I guess any excuse is as good as none.

    September 12, 2010 at 7:45 pm

  6. Prince Bu'biqwue

    Justin –

    Well said, my friend. Glad to see some candid commentary here about PPH, as well. I know you’ve been biting your tongue for a while now.

    I’ll be back here soon to keep tabs on your meaty adventures.

    Oh, and… Goulet!

    September 12, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    • sally

      Bad journalism. The point you make is relevant the bitterness you twist into this writing is not.

      I do not disagree with you. Reading from London and the distance we have from living within the world of US politics, I can say that the majority of people I talk with about this are aghast at the stupidity and ignorance that has come for certain sections of the american public. In the past this was excused by the ‘Bush’ effect now they have no-one to blame but themselves for this ignorance. Do they realise there is a larger world outside the american boundaries, do they see what other international communities think? From here I read 2 american newspapers and I am, even before this, shocked at how little world coverage or relevant news is clearly reported on. So I guess of course there is an ignorance of all things not classed as being ‘Typically American’. Of course by a select few, I understand not every american believe such closed small minded thoughts, but those who do think clearly should take a responsibility to teach those who are scared of living with something different and they should help re-educate.

      This blog makes sense but you should have held back your bitterness. Without knowing your paper or you or any of the situation the relevance of your ‘layoff’ means nothing and shows bitterness, not good journalism.

      September 15, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      • Jonathan

        Bad journalism? Do you think he would have done better to NOT fully disclose the fact that he had once worked there? He never said he was “bitter” about leaving. On the contrary, he spoke about how he appreciated working there at the time. Only now, in the wake of the THIS issue, can he truly feel embarrassed to have worked there. That’s not bad journalism, it’s honesty.

        September 15, 2010 at 6:44 pm

  7. claire

    Really well said. This line holds particular significance to me: “Through writing about these events we’re supposed to gain greater insight into where we live and the people around us.”

    It is initially a shame that many readers responded with such vitriol about this timely article on Eid, and the local community’s celebration of the holiday, and that so many are unable or unwilling to separate Islam with the extremist Al Queda group, but more disappointingly is the PPH’s retraction and apology for this story.

    Thanks for writing this response and calling out the editor for failing to have a backbone!

    September 12, 2010 at 8:27 pm

  8. Jim

    Thanks for your well-written post about the PPH and Connor’s apology.

    I’m a former avid newspaper reader, part of that demographic that learned to read and learn about journalism scouring the local daily at the breakfast table before school.

    I no longer subscribe to any local dailies, because both the PPH and the Lewiston S-J are pathetic shadows of their former, imperfect selves. I would have missed this if not for Twitter, which now serves as my link to news and stories about Maine (along with a few other new media sites), as well as journalism beyond the borders of the Pine Tree State.

    While I had a entertained a glimmer of hope that Mr. Connor might revive Maine’s largest daily, and restore it to some semblance of a newspaper practicing journalism, I can see from this incident that I’ll probably never revive my practice of reading newspapers again, at least not here in Maine. I wonder, also who reads newspapers in Maine, and I am also curious just how large the group is that became apoplectic about a newspaper covering a major religious holiday, given that Portland now has a significant population that practices the religion reported on.

    When you write, “that’s not the job of newspapers to cede editorial control to the crowd, which is what the Press Herald has done here,” I couldn’t agree with you more, if in fact this group represents a crowd. I’m quibbling, however.

    A side benefit of stumbling upon your post is that I now know where to find The Meat Raffle!

    September 12, 2010 at 9:16 pm

  9. Very well said Justin, and thank you for saying it.

    Yes, this really was a “teachable moment” This really was a place for a local newspaper to do some good.

    “Through writing about these events we’re supposed to gain greater insight into where we live and the people around us.”

    Exactly!

    September 13, 2010 at 12:48 am

  10. Virginia Marie Rincon

    Well said Justin. I wondered where you went. Glad that you are still around to keep people in the real world. You probably don’t remember me but you covered one of the Hispanic services at St. Luke’s Cathedral. I will say a little prayer that you find the job that is good for you and the people. Peace

    September 13, 2010 at 1:26 am

  11. Trixie Jack Mattachine

    As a Mainer and a Muslim, I was ecstatic to see the Press Herald’s coverage of the end of Ramadan (I live in a rural part of the state, and my connection to other Maine Muslims is virtually nil).
    And I was equally horrified to read the “apology” this morning.

    Thanks for setting the record straight. Inshallah, PPH will see this side of things as well.

    September 13, 2010 at 1:33 am

  12. Well then.

    This is what you’re doing with your unemployment:

    -Starting a new website.
    -Co-editing another new website.
    -Righteously spanking your previous (and my sort of current) employer for caving in to the yammering yahoo bigot contingent of their readership.
    -Probably drinking a little.

    I couldn’t be more proud of you and your words on this issue. Yup, I work there (kind of) and, while I’m not (in the remotest, tiniest way at all) in any sort of position of editorial power, I’m feeling a lot of embarrassment. Now that the paper has started running my stupid face next to my tiny columns, a lot of Videoport customers have started asking me if I write for the Press Herald. I usually just give a sheepish smile and keep shelving movies, (thinking rightly that they think it’s cute that the baseball-beshirted video store guy has a widdle column in the paper). Someone asked me that today and I found myself searching their face for a second, wondering if they were judging me because of this shameful editorial position. (They were just patronizing me as usual, but still…)

    Well done Justin.

    Dennis

    September 13, 2010 at 2:19 am

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  15. emily

    I’m sorry to bring some negativity into all this praise, but I think your making way too big of a deal out of this and bringing a lot of drama into a simple situation, not to mention you’re assuming you would have made a better decision than those at PPH. I don’t hold the PPH in that high of a regard, but nonetheless, it’s a newspaper and those who run it need to answer to countless interests, clearly somebody there felt this was the best way to deal with the response to their story on Ramadan, which they are not apologizing for, what they’re apologizing for is mostly their timing and possibly bad-taste. Whether or not the apology is appropriate is one thing, but your excessive and inflated depiction of this as something to get soooo intense about is absurd. Seems like a lot of wasted energy going into petty newspaper politics, what difference is this going to make in a month? a week? even a day? I know your drama-laden post paints a bleak picture of how PPH has screwed themselves by writing this, but the reality is that its not going to make much of a difference in the future and it doesn’t make much of a difference now.

    September 13, 2010 at 1:39 pm

  16. @Emily – First off, thanks for commenting. I appreciate it.

    For starters I wasn’t looking for praise from people in writing this, but really wanted to express what had been bothering me, both as a former writer for this paper, but also as a reader and member of the community.

    The fact is that I didn’t make a big deal out of this. The Press Herald Did by not just issuing the apology, but planting it high on the homepage of PressHerald.com as well as putting it on the front page of the Maine Sunday Telegram. You could also argue that they made a big deal out of it by wading into the messy territory of anti-muslim sentiment and NYC Mosque hysteria. Because 9/11 is still fresh in people’s minds and a very real experience for people, it is always going to cause some divisions.

    In no way do I assume (or even offer) a better decision, I’m merely pointing out the ways in which I personally think their decision was wrong. As I said, I’ve never sat in the big chair, but I have worked in the building.

    Yes, there is something to be said about throwing stones, but in this case fair is fair. As someone who was on the other side and had his share of phone calls, comments and emails, all journalists know it goes with the territory. Considering how the public will react and interpret a story is also part of the job.

    My larger points are that I do think it hurts the Press Herald’s credibility because they apologized for doing nothing wrong, as well as inadvertently making a connection between Muslims and terrorism.

    This isn’t about newspaper politics, it’s about a newspaper’s ability to do it’s job of informing and educating the people. I think it’s hard to argue that they didn’t hurt that.

    September 13, 2010 at 2:57 pm

  17. Keith

    I can’t wait for the 40 day coverage of Lent and the Sunday front page story/picture and glorification of Easter. Your premise should be reversed sir. The very, and arguably excessive and prominent nature of covering the Muslim faith is the paper, and editors, capitulating to the nonsensical politically correct media and liberal elite demands of glorifying Islam. The proof is the lack of similar coverage of the Catholic, Jewish, LDS, etc., faiths. Care to ID any previous front page story/picture covering another religion.

    September 13, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    • amc

      Keith – Not sure you’ll be back here, but its important to note that the Press Herald DOES print many religious photos on their front page. If you look at the their Facebook page you’ll see an Easter sunrise service photo which was on the front page in April, and just last week they ran Rosh Hashanah on front page.

      Every year I can remember there is a photo of Christmas tree lighting and Menorah lighting on the front page.

      I think it’s becoming very common around the internet to say the paper doesn’t cover other religious services with the same spotlight, but they most certainly do. (again, see their facebook page for immediate evidence, and archives for more).

      September 14, 2010 at 10:59 pm

  18. Tim

    The PPH response is about as ridiculous as issuing an apology to Yankee fans for world series coverage of the Red Sox on their two most recent victories.

    The 9/11 tragedy was just that; the healing process requires thought and comfort and reflection and time.

    I wonder how many Christian churches stand today in Hiroshima or Nagasaki?

    Let’s reach out to our neighbors and share the world in peace. With some common sense, as well.

    September 13, 2010 at 4:22 pm

  19. Beth

    I think this was very thoughtfully written and the fact that you worked at the newspaper lends this post even more credibility. I just find it ridiculous that the paper had to apologize for running a story that was factually accurate just because a few idiots are anti-Muslim. As Maine goes so goes the nation? I certainly hope not.

    September 13, 2010 at 4:47 pm

  20. Emily, I feel that this criticism is precisely in proportion to the offense, or even a bit mild: by apologizing for covering Eid, the PPH tacitly endorses the unstated (and probably unconscious, unexamined) prejudices of a minority of readers who allow the tragedy enacted by a scant handful of terrorists to shape their feelings about an entire religion.

    This false equivalency is the worst kind of religious intolerance. It’s a modern version of the Blood Libel, and it needs to be exposed and prevented from happening again.

    September 13, 2010 at 5:22 pm

  21. To clarify: I say “it’s the worst kind of religious intolerance” because it’s so quiet, so insidious, and — to those who swallow it and believe in it — so seemingly defensible. But if we examine the reasoning, piece by piece, it quickly unravels into a skein of sheer bigotry.

    September 13, 2010 at 5:28 pm

  22. Janet Rathbun

    Very well said, Justin! I really enjoyed the article about Eid, as well as Gregory Rec’s wonderful photographs. Needless to say, I was shocked at the apology, both because it caves in to implied criticism of all Muslims and because of what it says to the staffers who carefully researched and crafted the article. I have subscribed to the Portland papers continuously since 1977, but I think this apology will cause me to cancel my subscription.

    September 13, 2010 at 6:19 pm

  23. @Keith : When I was in middle school, 11/12 years ago now, I remember a front page photo, above the fold, that prominently featured one of my classmates in a St. Lucia’s Day procession. And I remember this because of the familiar face in the photo and it being taped to a school blackboard, celebrating that this girl, our peer, was on the front page of the paper, honoring her heritage. To be honest, I can’t remember any other specific times that a religion was featured on the front page, but I am sure they are there, since I also remember a photograph of a Midnight Mass at a friend’s church in a different section, and my parents still have a clipping of my sister as a toddler clapping her hands at a Jewish Day School concert.

    Why am I sure there is more front page coverage? Because religion is a vital part of our community, shared or different, and it is a newspaper’s job to cover their community. The end of Ramadan and beginning of Eid is front page news since it highlights the growing group of Muslims in Maine. It was showcased on September 11th, because that was the day after the end of the holiday. There is no liberal slant to a calendar, no liberal slant to covering Portland’s diversity, no liberal slant to reality.

    September 13, 2010 at 6:41 pm

  24. All I can say is… what happened to Freedom of Religion?

    September 13, 2010 at 8:34 pm

  25. Julie Otte

    I think the poor guy wants his newspaper to survive and he jumped the gun, but I do agree with you Justin. people get crazy around 9/11. With just cause I might add. But we can’t equate the muslim faith with the terrorists.

    September 13, 2010 at 9:40 pm

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  29. Ben

    The supposed to be intelligent media people like the journalist are riding the islamaphobic trains to chaos…

    Your points are well validated. Thank you sir..

    A Muslim from Saudi Arabia

    September 14, 2010 at 4:05 am

  30. Justin: A few rejoinders, cuz I think you missed the point of the apology. The publisher’s mea culpa was not in response to the coverage of Ramadan, which he defended, but rather in the PPH’s failure to put it in context of 9/11 events, recent and past. A sidebar, at the very least, was critical to complete coverage of a Muslim celebration taking place on a date of an incredible tragedy, and, most newsworthily, exacerbated by the NY mosque controversy and the Florida Quran burning threat. Gosh golly whiz (sic), the overall story possibilities just jump out at you. Editors shoulda been jumping at the chance to make a kick-ass package that touched ALL the bases. Sure, maybe it’s a tough call: Editors not wanting to tarnish a holy event … but hey, it’s a call that has to be made if you want to present great journalism. But refusing to even acknowledge that 9/11 context? In a Sept. 11 newspaper? That was the “fail” here. Readers should not have been so much “offended” as “cheated.”
    Just sayin’…

    September 14, 2010 at 5:14 am

  31. Pingback: I support PPH running stories about Eid…why not? | an a(u)dventure.

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  33. Not “gutless”. Political, and calculated. The paper best served their needs in a no-win situation by appeasing the larger part of the masses. Whatever they did would have resulted in critique from some random fool on the internet. Their decision to offer an apology, however, appeased those angry with them, gave them an image of sensitivity, garnered some promotion for their paper (which I had never previously heard of), and reduced reader feedback to a sustainable level such that they can now continue to write articles rather than responses to complaints.

    I don’t entirely believe the sincerity of your blog, either. I think you may simply have been seeking the same free ride on the “Muslim hate wave” that’s got media in a frenzy right now.

    September 14, 2010 at 9:54 am

  34. @Krakateer – Thanks for commenting, and those are very valid points. The problem as I see it is that there is no balance or context to offer when the piece is about a religious event. What we have are two different things here, one being a religious observance, the other being the marking of a historic tragedy that took place in this country.
    There is no connection whatsoever between people practicing their faith on the day before the marking of tragedy, and that tragedy.

    In planning a package of stories around 9/11 there are plenty of options, from local connections, analysis, or even just using wire stories. Could they have done that, given them better play on the page, sure.

    But again, I don’t think it’s fair to make a connection between one religion and a terrorist attack. The train of thought is this – Islam is a religion: The terrorists who attacked America were Muslim: All muslims are terrorists. That’s bad logic because we all know that terrorists and criminals come in all shapes, sizes, colors and faiths.

    But we can agree that this is a Kobayashi Maru scenario for the paper: No matter what you do it’s a no win.

    @Steven – Thank you for commenting, and I appreciate your points. It was indeed a calculated decision, one that weighed (ideally) the pros and cons of the apology.
    What I find problematic is talking about sensitivity to one part of the readership, while being insensitive to another.
    If you’re apologizing for being insensitive to people’s feelings on 9/11 and Muslims, you’re apologizing for the fact that some Americans can’t disconnect Islamic religion from terrorism. Aside from being wrong, it’s not a newspaper’s place to apologize for that.

    Also, as I said in an early comment, I didn’t do this for any other reason than it was something I was concerned about and wanted to write. I didn’t have any ulterior motive, I wasn’t looking for attention. There are certainly easier ways of doing that. If I’m happy about anything it’s that we’re having a discussion on the apology.

    September 14, 2010 at 3:48 pm

  35. Wonderfully written! I wrote a letter to the editor, but don’t expect a reply.

    September 14, 2010 at 8:42 pm

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  37. I started out very idealistic when I went to work for a brand new, upstart newspaper several years ago. But I quickly became disillusioned at the prospect of having to carry out more subtle versions of what the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram did to avoid even the slightest offense to the smallest group. I finally quit and went totally freelance a couple of years ago.

    How did we get to an America where the religious right has somehow won the privilege of always getting the last word? And how do we change that?

    September 15, 2010 at 2:11 pm

  38. anon

    “Like newspapers around the country the Press Herald covers its religious communities through their observances, whether it’s Rosh Hashanah, Easter or Ramadan. ”

    That’s an interesting claim, but is it true? You know the paper better than I do, but have they run stories on Rosh Hashanah (last week), or Yom Kippur (this week) or about similar holidays for Hindus or Buddhists?

    And have they run these articles in the same manner, on the very day or day after, and crowding out all other coverage.

    Apologizing for running articles about Ramadan is stupid, and offensive, but why don’t you, former actual reporter there take the next step, and show us the coverage that you claim is present of other religions holidays were covered and in the same manner.

    September 15, 2010 at 2:13 pm

  39. anon

    “@Krakateer – Thanks for commenting, and those are very valid points. The problem as I see it is that there is no balance or context to offer when the piece is about a religious event. What we have are two different things here, one being a religious observance, the other being the marking of a historic tragedy that took place in this country.
    There is no connection whatsoever between people practicing their faith on the day before the marking of tragedy, and that tragedy.”

    But there is, and more insightful people, including reporters, and Muslims recognize this:

    http://www.icna.org/2010/09/american-muslims-nervous-about-ramadans-end-coinciding-with-911/

    http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2010/0911/With-9-11-in-mind-American-Muslims-celebrate-Eid-al-Fitr

    And I am not saying the Press Herald should not have run their story, only that your discussion of their story and their mostly wrong apology is hardly any better.

    September 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm

  40. anon

    One final issue, and thank you for posting my comments and reading them:

    “It’s not the job of newspapers to cede editorial control to the crowd, which is what the Press Herald has done here.”

    I agree with you, that there is a job for editors and they should be in control of the content of their articles.

    And I disagree with you, in that in our web 2.0 world with all of its new interactions between big institutions and their constituents, in a world of declining circulation, and in a world of crowdsourcing, that all newspapers are missing the boat here by retaining 100% control over what stories are reported.

    You state how often comments can become hateful, and you’re right, and I think a large part of that is because editors and reporters spend almost no time reading and participating in the comment streams, unlike even you, who are here and commenting and getting mostly respectful comments.

    How much will I pay for access to a really excellent traditional newspaper that is now online? Probably zero. How much will I pay for a access to really excellent newspaper that includes my voice and the voices of other readers somewhere somehow in determining story ideas, and then provides me with access to reporters and editors who are each required to spend some amount of their time in the comments stream interacting with me and other readers? Probably not a great deal, but not zero either.

    It’s a web 2.0, interact with the customer world, and yet, we really don’t see any of that at traditional online papers. If the Press Herald had posted their stories for the next day or next week and the timeline of those stories, a *conversation* could have been had. Ahead of time. And the editors could have made their decisions still.

    September 15, 2010 at 2:32 pm

  41. Mark

    PPH reader comments aren’t hateful because readers’ views aren’t represented in the paper’s content, or because reporters and editors don’t wallow sufficiently in comments along side them. Reader comments are hateful because newspaper commenters, by and large, are hateful people. It’s true at PPH and at every wheezing daily paper in the country. In the old days, we called them cranks or crackpots.

    September 15, 2010 at 2:48 pm

  42. amc

    For anon and others who have been asking if the press herald covers other religious events on front page, I want to show a couple quick examples so you know this is a common practice.

    This photo was on front page on 9/9/10 for Rosh Hashana:
    http://www.pressherald.com/news/the-sounding-of-the-shofar_2010-09-09.html

    This story was on front page in April for Easter:
    http://www.pressherald.com/news/faithful-rise-before-sun-to-celebrate-easter_2010-04-05.html

    I am not sure about Hindu or Buddhist events. Though I’m not sure how large the those communities are in Maine. Though, I believe if 3000 people gathered for such a celebration it would likely be covered.

    September 15, 2010 at 4:17 pm

  43. Bill, Portland ME

    Insightful and thoughtful piece, thanks.

    September 15, 2010 at 11:02 pm

  44. anon

    Thank you amc.

    September 16, 2010 at 4:40 am

  45. Pingback: Paper apologises for depicting Muslims at prayer on 9/11 anniversary - This is a website devoted to Breaking News - dorissays.com

  46. sharon

    Thank you, Justin. I moved to the NH seacoast last year to pursue a full time job. It’s the first time I’ve lived in such a homogeneous community in over 40 years. I’ve been to Portland for a day, and somehow I thought that because it was a real city, with college students and everything, that it would be at least rational about having non-Christians in its midst. I see I was wrong. But what the editor wrote was even more wrong. If I lived in Portland, I would have to say that the Press Herald has lost all credibility for me.

    September 16, 2010 at 12:06 pm

  47. victoria ellis

    Job well done Son I’m proud of you

    September 16, 2010 at 6:31 pm

  48. Ed

    Only a pathetic, American-hating liberal sees no problem with an American paper prominently reporting about Ramadan with 9/11 memorial coverage regulated to the backpages.

    Liberals are so far removed from America it is not even funny anymore.

    September 16, 2010 at 7:39 pm

  49. Kathyb

    I was horrified to read the apology on Sunday. How could Richard Connor be so ignorant and gutless? I have not liked the changes that he brought to the paper, but figured that I was just being cranky. But this was the last straw.

    Justin… you let my daughter ‘job shadow’ you 3 years ago. She attended a meeting with you when they announced the paper was up for sale. I guess that was the beginning of the end. I was sad to see you leave, but now found this site.. and can read you without the PPH restrictions. Thanks for your thoughts on this subject.. it was a sad day for the paper.

    September 16, 2010 at 8:11 pm

  50. Clerestory

    It’s time for Americans committed to the Bill of Rights to each take some positive action to advance the integration of American Islam into our mainline culture. I am going to get online today and find a responsible American Muslim cause and a way to support it.

    September 16, 2010 at 9:14 pm

  51. mostly harmless

    i am sure that, back when segregated restaurants were forced to admit patrons of color, the people who ran them apologized to their offended white customers . . . but i would never have imagined a journalist kowtowing to bigots

    shame on the portland press harold . . . it owes the muslims of portland an apology

    September 17, 2010 at 8:00 am

  52. Older

    For years now, the end of Ramadan has more or less coincided with the anniversary of the horrific events associated with the words “nine-eleven”. And presumably, in many, if not all, of those years, newspaper articles have appeared. But it’s only now, years after the fact, that suddenly, the practices of an entire religion are terrible affronts to persons of other religions. We are getting stupider; as a nation, I mean. I’m not, you’re not, but someone sure is.

    September 17, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    • Janice Holz

      ‘For years now, the end of Ramadan has more or less coincided with the anniversary of the horrific events associated with the words “nine-eleven”.’

      To be accurate, from 2001 through 2008, the end of Ramadan was in October or later, so I don’t think articles about Eid would have been felt to be close to 9/11. Ramadan, being based on a full moon sighting and a lunar calendar, moves approximately 11 days against the solar cycle/Gregorian calendar every year. According to a quick internet search, here are the approximate Ramadan dates for the last decade:

      Nov 28 – Dec 27, 2000
      Nov 17 – Dec 16, 2001
      Nov 6 – Dec 5, 2002
      Oct 27 – Nov 25, 2003
      Oct 16 – Nov 14, 2004
      Oct 5 – Nov 3, 2005
      Sept 24 – Oct 23, 2006
      Sept 13 – Oct 12, 2007
      Sept 2 – Oct 1, 2008
      Aug 22 – Sept 20, 2009
      Aug 11 – Sept 9, 2010

      I hope this is not nitpicking – it seems relevant to your point.

      September 19, 2010 at 12:43 am

  53. Thank you for showing the real picture. The apology honestly damaged Portland’s image in the eyes of many Muslims and unbiased non-Muslims. Sharing this on Twitter and Facebook now.

    September 18, 2010 at 12:29 pm

  54. Sohail Parwaz

    @ Pope
    And oh I am an American Muslim and I am not a terrorist.

    Very true Pope. It clearly shows that who is stubborn and who is soft, which religion has more fanatic followers and which religion has less.
    Any religion may that be the Christianity or Islam is above and important than a locality’s image.

    September 19, 2010 at 3:22 am

  55. JUICE

    Only white, blond, blue-eyed, Christians should be allowed near ground zero. That is obviously the only solution to the “Muslim question”.

    September 20, 2010 at 12:02 am

  56. The vast majority of Americans I have met have been good decent people – just like everyone else, but there is an increasing undercurrent of hate directed towards Islam and Muslims by a few extremists in the US that is going unchallenged and maybe its time for Americans to start dealing with their own extremists

    September 20, 2010 at 8:47 pm

  57. Aaaaand now there’s an apology for the apology. “I am willing to apologize for every position I have ever taken…unless that offends you, in which case, I apologize…”

    I want to sic Gus Haynes from season 5 of ‘The Wire’ on Richard Connor…I’m pretty sure Gus could make him cry.

    September 20, 2010 at 10:09 pm

  58. Midrashist

    Thank you for your thoughtful piece. I lived for many decades in the Northeast, and I was totally shocked by the paper’s apology. They have made themselves infamous. It was indeed both a totally gutless act, and incredibly insensitive to Moslims.

    I wonder whether anyone researched any of the facebook and twitter complaints: were they actually people from Maine and/or readers of the paper? Or were they mobilized from outside?
    One person (Geller) seems to have stirred up and orchestrated the opposition to Park51. I noticed in the few references I could find to specific attenders at her hateful rally (On 9/11) that a number were from out of state. There must have been some reason why she actually instructed participants not to talk to the press….

    September 21, 2010 at 12:30 pm

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