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August 09, 2010


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Johannah Turner

I read the Times article. Being national and notable Western media, I don't they could possibly get by with, "This is appalling, simply appalling," and let it go at that. In light of the reported facts (aid workers were killed, taliban claimed responsibility, taliban accused workers of proselytizing), the average person's reaction is to want to know more of "the story." So the Times duly fleshed out the story. It addressed the accusation only by quoting several parties who flatly denied proselytizing and one party who had expressed concern about the (foreign) composition of the aid team. As I read the article, I did not detect even a hint of a suggestion, by the Times reporter, that proselytizing or anything else would have justified the killings


Johannah: are you suggesting that news reports should largely focus on elaborating on the facts and that opinion should be directed toward analyses, editorials and op-eds???

I agree.

Bob Conner

Johannah, you make valid points, and it's the British media more than the American that (to my mind) tends to misrepresent and fail to understand religious people. My objection to the NYT article is that it in the way it played the story, it left the impression that the director of the International Assitance Mission thought Little had been reckless and foolhardy, when I very much doubt that is what he thinks.
There is a much better NYT story today.

Johannah Turner

The first NYT article didn't leave me with the impression that the IAM director thought Little had been reckless and foolhardy in any general sense. It reported only that the director had expressed to Little one single concern, on one single occasion, about the mission--a concern that might or might not, upon investigation, prove to have been relevant to what subsequently occurred. Aid organizations, religious or not, like any organizations, routinely discuss their program issues, strategies, etc., and don't always see eye to eye, and that doesn't necessarily, doesn't usually, involve personal or professional disrespect or disregard. I don't see that the NYT "played" the story to create a false impression that the IAM director had regarded Little as foolhardy. It only quoted the director as having expressed a misgiving about the composition of the team on this particular mission. The only impression or understanding I received from the article was that the IAM director of two years believed, on the basis of whatever information he had in his possession, that he had reason to anticipate trouble, whereas Little, the missionary of 30 years, thought differently on the basis of his own experience. Their exchange, as reported, didn't sound hostile or disparaging. The article did *not* (attempt to) inform me at all as to which of them might have perceived the situation more accurately. I guess that could be treated in another article, if NYT investigative reporters did a little digging.

I agree that the second NYT article is a good article, but can't agree that it's better than the first, because it's just different. The second is more a personal interest story than a news story, though it supplements the news story. It focuses in closely on the missionaries, their lives, their motives, the fact that they were committed to living their religious convictions, their sacrifices, etc., all of which is interesting and moving, whereas the first article focused on the mere facts and circumstances of the event (the crime, the tragedy). Apples and oranges.

You say the British media fail to understand religious people. That may be so. I don't follow the British media enough to have a clue. But I don't think it's imperative that secular mass media reporters "understand religious people" for purposes of reporting this particular kind of incident. What if it had been a band of idealistic secular humanists who'd gone into dangerous territory to provide medical aid and been murdered? Or a band of religiously and socially indifferent medics who had agreed for whatever reason (getting a fellowship, plumping up their resumes, I don't know) to participate in an international aid venture and been victimized. Would it have been any less of a crime than the killing of the Christian aid team? Any less of a tragedy? Any less significant of anything else? Any less newsworthy?


Let's also remember that the British media is serving an audience that's generally less religious and less welcoming of public religiosity. As businesses, it's not surprising if their reporting reflects that.

Bob Conner

Johannah, I don't know the story behind the NYT story, but possibilities include:
The reporter neglected to ask follow-up questions, e.g. "are you saying Little was reckless?", in part, ironically, because he (is it a he? I'm writing this without going back to the link) didn't want to appear insensitive. The reporter or editors left out other remarks made by the IAM head that would have put the critical remark in context. The reporter or editors went with, led story with, and did not seek to contextualize or balance the critical remark because it made the story more sensational and added to the news value. I don't know that any of these decisions were made, and if they were they may have been subconscious, and would certainly have been made under time pressure, so I am not saying the offense is egregious. But it still seems likely to me that the story did not fully represent the views of the IAM head.
I did not disparage the efforts of secular humanitarian workers, or suggest that their murders would have been less reprehensible or newsworthy. I would not implicitly question and criticize the motives and actions of such people after their deaths, as I think the British media did in this case and generally does when dealing with religious people, whom it often seems to regard as inherently wacko just because they are beleivers.

Brian, it seems to me British reporting often ferrets out "public religiosity" in order to disparage it, and while its attitude may reflect that of its audience, it also may affect it.

Johannah Turner

Ed Koch, former Mayor of New York City, tweeted yesterday:

"Citizens, the ten murdered civilian aid workers in Afghanistan deserve a statue in New York City and elsewhere for inspiring public service."

Bob Conner

Good for him, who himself could serve as inspiration for retired folk (Hugh Carey another one).

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This blog is by Bob (Robert C.) Conner, a longtime journalist and author of the 2018 novel "The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant" published by Square Circle Press, and a 2013 biography "General Gordon Granger" published by Casemate. He is currently writing a biography of the Kansas abolitionist Col. James Montgomery. His Civil War blog can be found at robertcconnerauthor.blogspot.com
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