Minnesota

New York Times attacks anti-Muslim tensions in small-city Minnesota, but reality is more complex

New York Times attacks anti-Muslim tensions in small-city Minnesota, but reality is more complex

On the face of it, Thursday’s New York Times story about a Minnesota city that doesn’t want any more Somali refugees sounds like a racist-town-hates-Muslims kind of piece.

I decided to look deeper into it and ask a few questions the article didn’t raise to see why everyone’s so upset why a 16 percent growth in non-white residents –- and mostly Muslim ones at that -– has frazzled the populace.

As you would expect, there’s lots of information here about politics and life in the Donald Trump era — complete with red “Make Saint Cloud Great Again” hats and lots of references to locals reading conservative websites online.

However, this is also a story in which it is important for readers to pause and do some math. The bottom line: It’s simple to write a story about racist right-wing Christian bigots who don’t want any more Muslims moving in. It’s not as easy to look at some of the other factors, like overcrowded classrooms in public schools; school districts having budget money for interpreters and ESL instructors; crowded emergency rooms at local hospitals and a tax base that’s not being greatly added to by all the new arrivals.

First, here’s the opening of the story:

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — John Palmer, a former university professor, has always had a cause. For decades he urged Minnesota officials to face the dangers of drunken driving and embrace seatbelts. Now he has a new goal: curbing the resettlement of Somali refugees in St. Cloud, after a few thousand moved into this small city where Mr. Palmer has lived for decades…

On Thursdays, Mr. Palmer hosts a group called Concerned Community Citizens, or C-Cubed, which he formed to pressure local officials over the Muslim refugees. Mr. Palmer said at a recent meeting he viewed them as innately less intelligent than the “typical” American citizen, as well as a threat.

“The very word ‘Islamophobia’ is a false narrative,” Mr. Palmer, 70, said. “A phobia is an irrational fear.” Raising his voice, he added, “An irrational fear! There are many reasons we are not being irrational.”

In this predominantly white region of central Minnesota, the influx of Somalis, most of whom are Muslim, has spurred the sort of demographic and cultural shifts that President Trump and right-wing conservatives have stoked fears about for years.

So “right-wing conservatives,” and people who rally in church pews, are all basically racists?

That does appear to be the thesis of this Times article.

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Church flipper: Why this pastor has a passion for finding the new faithful for old houses of worship

Church flipper: Why this pastor has a passion for finding the new faithful for old houses of worship

All too often, shuttered houses of worship are converted into nightclubs, restaurants and even condominiums, as former GetReligion contributor Mark Kellner noted in a Religion News Service story back in September.

Kellner’s report highlighted “a growing desire to keep houses of worship within the tradition in which they were originally established, even if the founding congregation has diminished.”

A few months earlier, our own tmatt commented on a New York Times article from Quebec with this provocative headline: “Where Churches Have Become Temples of Cheese, Fitness and Eroticism.”

Now, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, comes a feature on a “church flipper.” Pastor Paul Marzahn, it seems, is the “Fixer Upper” of houses of worship.

The Star-Tribune’s lede:

Pastor Paul Marzahn is best known as the founder of several south suburban churches. But he’s gaining a new reputation for an unusual side job he’s juggling — as a church flipper.

The Methodist minister scouts for “For Sale” signs on churches with an eye toward rehabbing the buildings and selling them back to new faith-filled owners. He’s also a consultant to clergy looking to sell or buy.

Marzahn’s nonprofit, for example, purchased the historic Wesley United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis and last year turned it over to a fresh congregation. His own Lakeville church bought an aging Inver Grove Heights church, rehabbed it, and made it an auxiliary campus.

He’s now helping a ministry serving the homeless revamp a former Catholic Charities building.

“I drive by these church buildings for sale and think, ‘Who do I know who would be a good fit into this building?’ ” said Marzahn, senior pastor at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Lakeville. “That’s my calling. To see churches or nonprofits save some of these great buildings.”

It’s a really fascinating piece.

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USA Today offers old news on Catholic priests and sexual abuse, missing some newer angles

USA Today offers old news on Catholic priests and sexual abuse, missing some newer angles

When you hear the term "breaking news," what do you think of?

I think news consumers, at this point, are pretty skeptical about this term. They know, of course, that there really is such a thing as breaking news. Major decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court are breaking news. The attack on the GOP softball team was breaking news. Another van mowing down citizens on London Bridge would be breaking news.

Also, there are @POTUS tweets that justify the "breaking news" label. There are, in my opinion, many more that do not. And have we reached the point where "Game of Thrones" developments are truly "breaking news"? If not, I'm sure that's just around the corner.

Anyway, like a few religion-news consumers, I received the USA Today email push product that pinned the "breaking news" label on a long, long news feature with this headline: "Across the nation, priest sexual abuse cases haunt Catholic parishes."

Now, I have followed clergy-abuse cases since 1982 or thereabouts -- press coverage exploded in 1985 with the Gilbert Gauthe case in Louisiana. Here at GetReligion, we have poured out oceans of digital ink discussing the many waves of this story. It's a horrifying scandal and, along with the ghastly cover-ups by some bishops, totally deserves the word that Catholic conservative Leon J. Podles used as the title of his brutal, horrifying book -- "Sacrilege."

But when I saw this "breaking news" label, I immediately wondered: "Really? What has happened now?" Let me stress that I think there are angles of the scandal worthy of new and in-depth coverage (along with the massive and largely uncovered scandals in other major institutions, such as public schools).

So what is the breaking news in the USA Today "investigation," which involved quite a few reporters? Here is the long overture:

In May 2003, Thomas O’Brien, then bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix, admitted to sheltering at least 50 priests accused of sexual abuse, often shuffling them around to parishes across the state.

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How do you report on 'Muslims Get Out' sign? Interview diner owner who put it up, of course

How do you report on 'Muslims Get Out' sign? Interview diner owner who put it up, of course

Quote the knucklehead.

If that's not made clear in modern-day Journalism 101, it should be.

Often, your GetReligionistas will post a critique of a one-sided news story that fails to give an adequate voice to one side. Inevitably, somebody who thinks the side that wasn't represented is stupid or bigoted or racist will object and suggest the other side doesn't deserve to be quoted.

I hate to be the one to break the bad news, but that's not journalism. It's advocacy. Unfortunately, depending on the subject, there's a lot of mixing of those two (journalism and advocacy) in many media reports these days.

In recent months, we've seen a bunch of slanted, squishy reporting on the topic of "Islamophobia." Read past posts here, here, here, here and here if you happened to miss them.

So my expectations for fair, impartial coverage wasn't sky-high when I came across a Minneapolis Star-Tribune story on a small-town business owner putting up a "Muslims Get Out" sign.

The Star-Tribune team surprised me, though, with an evenhanded, fact-based approach:

A “Muslims Get Out” sign in front of a small-town dining spot in southern Minnesota will remain, the owner said Tuesday, despite the business being targeted by what he said was hate-inspired vandalism.
Dan Ruedinger said he put up the message this week in front of Treats Family Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor in Lonsdale soon after a stabbing rampage inside a St. Cloud mall over the weekend that the FBI is investigating as a possible act of terrorism.
Ruedinger said he’s “had enough” and is “standing up” to all the violence that extremists have inspired around the world.

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That whole Islamophobia thing again: Lots of stereotypes, little actual journalism

That whole Islamophobia thing again: Lots of stereotypes, little actual journalism

Certainly, the plight of Muslims in America is a relevant subject for quality journalism in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.

But where is the quality?

When major newspapers decide to delve into that subject matter, I wish they'd do some actual reporting. Real reporting.

Instead, too many stories follow a predictable paint-by-numbers approach that results in painfully pathetic journalism. The latest example comes courtesy of the largest newspaper in Minnesota, a state I happen to be visiting this week.

In a story headlined "Non-Muslim Minnesotans are donning the hijab to show support," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune muddles through a hodgepodge of sources connected by random facts.

The lede:

Nade Conrad's long black hair disappeared under the cover of a lilac hijab.
"I feel different," she said.
Conrad, who is not Muslim, had donned the scarf to show support for a Muslim friend at Normandale Community College in Bloomington.
Such acts of "hijab solidarity" are on the rise.
World Hijab Day, a global event inviting people of all faiths to post pictures of themselves in a hijab on social media, is gathering steam. It was at a World Hijab Day event at Normandale — one of several such events held at Minnesota colleges in early February — that Conrad first tried on a hijab.

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