Journalists: Outreach This, Jones!

The Westboro Baptist Church picketing at the m...

Image via Wikipedia

What a flap.  Pastor Terry Jones of the “Dove Worldwide Outreach” has got himself some big-time attention, hasn’t he?

The Erstwhile Conservative has posted a tongue-in-cheek opinion about fundamentalist Christian pastor Terry Jones’ plan to burn Qur’ans, the gist of which is that the planned burning fits our image in the Islamic world, i.e., that America intervenes in everybody’s business.  The E.C. correctly points out conservatives’ calls for Islamic understanding, because of free speech, amounts to the same kind of apologetics for which they have criticized the President.

Today’s Joplin Globe editorial comments that this is a first-amendment situation, an expression of free speech, and because of that there’s nothing to be done about it, even though “. . . we’re better than this.” Well, maybe something can be done.

What if Jones burned the books and no one came?

Yes, I know, given the state of journalism these days, that’s unlikely.  And yet, is it impossible? Shouldn’t the Press feel a little manipulated by this?  The basic story has already been reported in detail, so the only “news” left to print is the confirmation that the act has been consummated.  But, is one moron insulting a religion really news? What is next?  If an atheist now decides to burn a stack of bibles, will the press


come running for that too?  How about a stack of Tanakh’s?  How about burning a Mexican flag in protest of illegal immigrants?  Will that draw a crowd of journalists?

I would be immensely proud of American journalism if they would, in this clear case of manipulation, effectively turn their backs on Jones’ hubristic exercise.  No photos, no nothing.

Supposedly journalists have ethics and standards, albeit no enforcement agency for same.    According to Wikipedia these

standards include the “harm limitation principle”, about which it says:

This principle of limitation means that some weight needs to be given to the negative consequences of full disclosure, creating a practical and ethical dilemma.

And it adds further on that this includes the following advice:

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

As General Petraeus has made clear, and which is just common sense, the insulting images of Jones’ act are surely going to be used to inflame terrorists’ passions for the indefinite future, so why wouldn’t coverage of one man’s arrogance be a perfect instance for journalistic restraint under the Harm Limitation Principle?  What about it, journalists?  Are YOU really BETTER THAN THIS?

PS – There will also be a problem with “citizen journalists” trying to make the internet with the event.  I would suggest that local police protect the “privacy” of Jones’ little group while they have their bonfire.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
This entry was posted in Ethics / Morality, Journalism, Politics, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Journalists: Outreach This, Jones!

  1. Duane Graham says:


    My first idea to write about the pastor’s exercise was titled, “What If Pastor Jones Threw A Quran-burning Party and Nobody Came?” Which just goes to show how our aging but fertile minds can sometimes grow the same crops.

    In short, although it would be something to behold if the press avoided the pastor, we both know that if we owned newspapers or television outlets we would likely send our reporters to cover the event. My guess, though, is that he won’t go through with it in the end. There will, however, be others who will. Look for some on YouTube, if they allow such a thing.

    One wonders just what anyone hopes to accomplish by such a thing. If the pastor were to reflect for 30 seconds, he might figure out that if someone burnt a Bible on his doorstep, it wouldn’t change his stance toward that book in the slightest.

    If he really wants to demonstrate the inferiority of Islam as a religion, all he has to do is OPEN the Quran and read it, or at least read the passages I have read (no way, with so little time left would I commit to reading the whole thing), and then write or preach about it.

    But that would be too much work. It’s much easier to set the thing on fire.



  2. Jim Wheeler says:


    You are right – this is a small man who simply wanted his 15 minutes of fame. Now that he’s tasted it, he is likely to want more.

    The worm in the apple is that there are millions of potential Joneses out there just waiting to get theirs on YouTube. Welcome to the brave new world, compliments of religious fanatics everywhere.

    Journalism needs to get it’s s**t together and be ready.



  3. Jim says:

    Consider the attitude of the folks at Heartsong Church [ ]. Read about their treatment of neighbors:
    [ ].

    Let’s publicize the good guys. Let us also be good neighbors. I plan to attend a service at The Islamic Center of Joplin on Saturday, September 11. They were very friendly when I last visited, and I would enjoy meeting these folks again.


  4. ansonburlingame says:

    To both,

    I offer a different perspective on the issue of Pastor Jones.

    I obviously think his provocation abhorrent and agree that he should be ignored and then chastized. As I write I understand he has now avowed NOT to carry out the burning of books. But the seed has been planted and his words and initially intended actions will be used by those that choose to do us great harm. We cannot ignore that.

    My concern NOW is over the manner in which our government has handled the combination of the “burning and the building” (the NYC Mosque)

    I was going to blog on this but will use this comment to express my views instead.

    We are a country that allows, even encourages, provocation. Anyone can say and in some cases, do, just about whatever they choose. Acorn can rally, KKK can march, etc. etc. Some don’t like one or the other, or both, and can “bitch” all they like against either or both. That is Freedom (speech and assembly) and is cherished as is should be.

    Of course the Imam can build and the Pastor can burn as a fundamental right of expression, protest or advocacy. No one that I have heard denies such freedom. Even our own government correctly acknowledges that right of both.

    But then the “spin” starts.

    BOTH the pastor and imam are talking and acting provocatively in my view. The mosque, while never announced or proclaimed as such, is a symbolic “finger in the face” of many Americans, like 70% of them it seems. THAT announced intent is provocative for sure. Same with the burning issue thought probably 99% of Americans call for not burning the books.

    But what has been the tone of the mayor of NYC and even our President. To me it seems that the mosque should move forward in their view out of a sense of freedom but the Secretary of Defense himself stepped in to dissuade the burning of books. And for sure the tone of the President’s sentiments publicly expressed is that the burning is anathema while the building is at least “OK”. To me that approach by government is a little one sided. Do little if not even encourage one provocation but do all possible to stop another, legally.

    I then move to “why” such is done by government. The word that comes to mind is APPEASEMENT, pure and simple. We do not want to make the Islamic community angry. Well the government should perhaps not try to provoke the Islamic community. But if we the people choose to do so then why does government take one side of the “provocations” to allow or even encourage one while ridiculing the other.

    In my view, already expressed in a blog, The NYC Mosque, the government should simply follow the law and let we they people do as the law allows, one way or the other. No lectures on fundamental rights, no moralizing, no “your putting our troops at risk”, etc. Just the presence of our troops overseas is provocation enough is it not?

    And why I ask, while we are at war fighting radical Islam should we care very much if we piss them off even more? We cannot appease those folks any more than Chamberlain could appease Hitler. They will go build their mountains of hate regardless of what we do, both radical Islamics and “Hilters” still around.



  5. Jim Wheeler says:


    I can understand where you’re coming from. Images from Indonesia and Pakistan of Muslims burning our flag and chanting “death to Christians” are enough to bring out the Don Quixote in any of us, much less than in the professional warriors among us.

    Your analogy of appeasement with Hitler however may be flawed in this instance.

    First of all, Hitler represented a nation, which he controlled, whereas Terry Jones “controls” only a few dozen confused souls. So in that sense the only appeasement was to give Jones more attention, but it did not constitute anything of substance. Chamberlain gave away Czechoslovakia.

    Secondly, as Jim Stone points out, “the Islamic community” and “radical Islam” are two different things, and in at least one case locally Muslims are peaceful members of our own community. Painting both groups with the same broad brush may be no more accurate than grouping all Christians as one without recognizing the differences among, say, Catholics, Mormons and the Westview Baptist Church of Topeka.

    That said, and as I mentioned in a comment to the E.C., I prefer to withhold judgement about the intentions of the many different sects of Islam regarding their various attitudes toward us “unbelievers”. So far I see some pretty radical differences among them.

    Sound bites matter, however much we wish otherwise, especially in the information age which is, when mixed with religious extremism, territory still being charted.

    You may be right that Gates may have erred by phoning this guy, but only time will tell. It may encourage similar activities by other fringe groups. But I have to agree with Jim Stone – a good way to counter hateful propaganda is by showing it to be false. I think we should at least try that before reacting with anger.



  6. ansonburlingame says:


    Nazis and “the German People” were also not a united group. Yes the Nazis represented the Germans as a national entity, but certainly all Germans were not Nazis.

    Islam certainly represents all Muslim people, whether Americans, Afghans, Iraqi or even Iranian. But all Muslims are not radical Muslims.

    So as with WWII, we made little attempt to separate the two, Nazis and “Germans” that were not Nazis. We took a position that Nazism was dead wrong and fought a war to sustain that belief. The world became a better place after that sacrifice, did it not. Was it worth the sacrifice then in the 1940s. History and most American celebration of the “greatest generation” politically and militarily, seems to be saying yes, regretable of the loss in treasure and lives, but the RIGHT thing to do at the time.

    Now go read my just posted blog on “remembrance of 9/11”. Far different situation today, like it or not.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.