Portland paper apologizes to readers for story about Muslims that didn’t include outrage.

I didn’t write anything about the anniversary of 9/11 this year. In part because I didn’t have anything to say that I haven’t already said about it or which others hadn’t said better than I would.

That’s why I found this Time Magazine Blog entry by James Poniewozik rather interesting. It talks about a newspaper in Portland that found itself apologizing to its readers after after something it published on 9/11:

The Portland Press Herald has apologized to its readers for publishing images of Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan, which this year coincided with the 9/11 anniversary. Among the outrageous statements that the accompanying article made: that Portland-era Muslims met to mark the end of the month-long holy fast, that they made a traditional call for charity, and that children played soccer.

Noting that thousands of local Muslims marked a holy day peacefully near the anniversary of a day when a few Muslims committed a mass murder (whose victims included other Muslims) was apparently beyond the pale. The paper’s editor and publisher wrote: “We erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.”

I thought perhaps it was a sarcastic apology, but I went and read the Portland Press article and it appears to be very sincere. It saddens me to think of how politicized 9/11 has become, thanks to our leaders using it as a convenient football, that any mention of Muslims near the date of the anniversary had better be full of bile and outrage or the public will have a shit fit. Not to mention the collective hysteria surrounding the non-Mosque at Ground Zero.

Here’s where we are in America, 2010: There is now one group of Americans whose peaceful religious observance cannot be noted by decent people, unless it is “balanced” by the mention of a vile crime committed in 2001 by people, with a perverted idea of the same religion, from the other side of the world.

Isn’t that a sad statement about the bigotry of the average American? That so many feel slighted if anything positive is said about Muslims without a corresponding mention of the bad some of them have done? Can you imagine the outrage if the same standard was applied to Christians? You’d never hear the end of how they’re being persecuted!

This is a depressing statement about the state of dialogue in America. Nine years after 9/11, there is now a widespread belief that, for one religious group of law-abiding Americans, the boundaries of acceptable behavior are narrower than for everyone else. Yes, you have the right to worship. But it would be decent of you to do it somewhere else. Or on another day. Or in such a way that the rest of us don’t have to know about it. So now we have a newspaper kowtowing to a national freakout, apologizing for the most innocuous kind of soft feature, because acknowledging that there are decent Muslims in America is offensive. (From the comments on the article: “I don’t want to here [sic] how caring the Muslim religion is on 9/11.” But hey: it’s only for a few days a year!)

But it’s equally depressing for the state of journalism. This is an extreme instance, but a too-common, craven attitude: if anything you do offends a lot of readers—whatever their reasons, regardless of the merit of the coverage—it is a mistake. If enough people make a loud enough stink—well, it was your job to make sure that never happened. For any reason. This business is in bad enough shape. Just fix it. Make it go away. Apologize.

Again, someone has said it better than I could have. There is one silver lining to this story and that’s that the apology drew its own barrage of complaints from folks who were outraged about the apology. That makes me feel a little better at least.