In a jarring misreading of the Islamist mentality, the New York Times last month described a Jewish center in Mumbai, India, as the "unlikely target" of the terrorists who attacked various locations there. "It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen," the Times went on to declare, "or if it was an accidental hostage scene."

Paul Marshall would not be surprised by such stunningly naïve statements. In "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion" — a collection of essays that he edited with Lela Gilbert and Roberta Green Ahmanson — he notes that similar assertions have been common in the coverage of Islamic terrorism. The book's contributors explore all sorts of news stories with a religious component — Islamic and otherwise — showing where reporters have veered off course and discussing the reasons why.

Despite 9/11 and dozens of equally pitiless massacres, some journalists, Mr. Marshall says, are reluctant to accept the "fundamental religious dimension" of jihadist motives. Such journalists concentrate on "terrorist statements that might fit into secular Western preconceptions about oppression, economics, freedom and progress." When terrorists murdered Christian workers while sparing Muslims in the offices of a Karachi charity in 2002, Mr. Marshall observes, "CNN International contented itself with the opinion that there was 'no indication of a motive.' Would it have said the same if armed men had invaded a multiracial center, separated the black people from the white people, then methodically killed all the blacks and spared all the whites?"

But surely journalists do a better job at stories in their own backyards. Actually, no. According to the evidence in "Blind Spot," the coverage is often worse. Jeremy Lott reminds us, for example, of the media hysteria in 2004 that greeted the release of the movie "The Passion of the Christ."

(Excerpt) Read more at online.wsj.com

 

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