Digging into Islamophobia: CNN's award-winning religion editor does actual reporting


It's a term the news media (yes, I know they don't want to be called "the media," but I couldn't resist) seem to love.

Whereas here at GetReligion, stories on "Islamophobia" (scare quotes intentional) more often than not frustrate us. As we've mentioned before, too many of these reports follow a predictable paint-by-numbers approach that results in painfully pathetic journalism.

So what to make of CNN's new, in-depth piece on "The secret costs of Islamophobia" by religion editor Daniel Burke?

More on that question in a moment. But first, the opening scene:

(CNN) With Adele's song "All I Ask" playing in the background, a Maryland teenager opened her computer and wrote an emotional letter to President Barack Obama.
"I am an American, I grew up here. I say the Pledge of Allegiance every day," Aleena Khan told the President. "And yet, I am a Muslim."
Which one, she asked, is she allowed to be?
Aleena is 17, with a bright smile and dark hair that sweeps across her shoulders. Her mother is Indian-American, her father emigrated from Pakistan. Aleena and her two sisters have lived in Maryland their whole lives.
Last year, as part of an honors research project on identity crises among Muslim-American teenagers, Aleena spent hours online combing through public comments on news articles about Muslims. What she read shocked her.
"Kick them all out and put the rest in detainment camps. Enough with the PC feces," said one commenter.
"The only peaceful and moderate Muslims are the dead ones," said another.
The tweet from the man wearing military camouflage was the worst, Aleena said. "Hard to tell what we should build first. A border wall or a gas chamber for Muslims."

Here's the deal: I'm a big fan of Burke's award-winning work on the Godbeat, so I'm predisposed to like anything he does. (He just won more top honors from the Religion News Association. Congrats to him and other familiar names recognized over the weekend!)

By way of more caveats, I'm writing a quick critique of Burke's story on deadline after a few cursory readings of it. It's a gigantic piece that undoubtedly took months to report and write, and I haven't had time to fully digest it. 

But my initial impression is what I expected it to be: Nice job by Burke of actually digging into the question of Islamophobia and doing actual reporting on Muslims in America. It's amazing how much better stories turn out when journalists actually interview smart people and quote them.

This piece does impress me as one that would merit an "Analysis" bug (as opposed to being presented as straight news) if it appeared on the front page of a major newspaper. I noticed that Monday's daily religion headlines from the Pew Research Center linked to Burke's Islamophobia story under "Analysis and Commentary" as opposed to "U.S. Headlines."

See if this nut graf from Burke sounds like analysis or straight news:

It's difficult to measure a sentiment such as Islamophobia, the word for hatred and fear of Muslims. But it's also hard to escape the idea that being Muslim in America today is like watching comment sections spring to lurid life. The anti-Muslim rallies, the vicious hate crimes, the racial profiling, the threats and taunts and questions about divided loyalties.

The notion that this is analysis is not a criticism, by the way. It's just an observation, one that I doubt would offend Burke, whose RNA awards included first place for excellence in religion news analysis (former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post earned second place).

In any case, this is the key takeaway: Burke's CNN report is deeply reported and heavily sourced (with background links that would take one all day and all night and maybe all month) to read. It's worth your time. Check it out.

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