Omar Mateen

Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

Stunning HuffPost feature on Pulse massacre: Trial showed it was an ISIS attack, period

If you have read GetReligion over the years, you may have seen previous posts in which your GetReligionistas asked this question: In terms of journalism, what exactly is The Huffington Post, exactly?

It's a news and commentary website, obviously.

Ah, but there's the issue: Where does the commentary stop and the news begin? Is it possible to separate the opinion and advocacy from the hard-news reporting in some of the features at HuffPost? This is a question writers at this blog have had to ask about a number of different newsrooms in our foggy digital age.

Yes, that buzzworthy HuffPost piece about the trial of Noor Salman -- the widow of gunman Omar Mateen -- does contain elements of commentary. Yes, it is first-person, magazine-style journalism. It is also a blockbuster that raises all kinds of questions about any role that religious faith -- specifically, a radicalized, ISIS-style Islam -- played in this deadly attack.

Salman was found not guilty of helping her husband plan the attack. That's big news. But what's the larger story here? Here is a crucial passage near the top of the piece, which ran with this main headline: "Everyone Got The Pulse Massacre Story Completely Wrong."

Almost overnight, a narrative emerged that until now has been impossible to dislodge: Mateen planned and executed an attack on Pulse because he hated gay people.
“Let’s say it plainly: This was a mass slaying aimed at LGBT people,” Tim Teeman wrote in The Daily Beast. The massacre was “undeniably a homophobic hate crime,” Jeet Heer wrote in The New Republic. Some speculated that Mateen was a closeted gay man. He was likely “trying to reconcile his inner feelings with his strongly homophobic Muslim culture,” James S. Robbins wrote in USA Today.  
There was compelling evidence of other motivations.

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Mosque burning: Orlando Sentinel writes a sensitive follow-up, with some flaws

Mosque burning: Orlando Sentinel writes a sensitive follow-up, with some flaws

Shunning clichés. Following up a tragedy. Getting the human angle. The Orlando Sentinel's story on the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, which was set on fire the previous weekend, has several strengths. And a few flaws.

The sensitive piece shuns the clichés that infect many such follow-ups on terrorism. The people talk like people, not talking-head spokespersons. It's also honest about the terrorist acts that allow some people to think they have a right to lash out at all Muslims.

On the other hand, the paper talks about supportive neighbors without talking to them. And I raised an eyebrow when I realized the lede came from a Friday service before the fire:

FORT PIERCE -- As ceiling fans churned muggy August air through the mosque where Pulse shooter Omar Mateen once touched his forehead to the carpet in prayer, assistant imam Adel Nefzi preached that a sincere follower of God harms none.
He thundered that no man should fear the hand or tongue of a true Muslim.
It had been two months since Mateen walked into an Orlando nightclub and opened fire on a roomful of dancers, killing 49. And before the prayer service began and worshippers were still trickling into the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, Nefzi pondered the weighty task ahead of him.
"It's a heavy responsibility to speak about religion," said Nefzi, 53. "You are always afraid that people, they did not understand the right message."

It's much later that the Sentinel divulges the service took place last month -- after Mateen attacked the Pulse nightclub in June, but before the fire on the 15th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

To me, it looks like the writer simply wrote from unused notes, then updated the story. 

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Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Confessed mosque arsonist said to be a 'Jew for Jesus.' What does that explain?

Never thought I'd write a post like this.

At GetReligion, we complain all the time about "ghosts" -- religious or spiritual angles to stories that news media miss or downplay. But in one report on the torching of a mosque in Florida, one religious angle may have been actually overplayed.

Just after midnight Monday, someone set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, the home mosque of Omar Mateen, who shot 49 people on June 12 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. On Wednesday, officers announced the arrest of Joseph Michael Schreiber, who they said confessed to the crime.

Schreiber left a lot of clues. Aside from surveillance cameras and eyewitnesses, he'd posted Facebook messages saying that "ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL" and that its followers should be considered terrorists and "crimanals" (sic). He also has a record of theft and robbery.

So far, so routine. But then comes the Daily Beast, which says Schreiber "describes himself as a Jew for Jesus, a religious sect that believes Jesus is the messiah."

Says the Beast:

The first clues to Schreiber’s religious beliefs also come from his Facebook page, where his cover photo features the seal of messianic Judaism. It shows a menorah and a Jesus fish intersecting to form the Star of David. 
Many of Schreiber’s three dozen Facebook friends also self-identify with Messianic Judaism, either proclaiming themselves members of the faith in their profiles, or saying that they work at Messianic Jewish synagogues.
Previous media reports described Schreiber, who spewed anti-Muslim hate on Facebook, as Jewish. But Messianic Jews, colloquially known as Jews for Jesus, occupy a nebulous space in the religious landscape. (Jews for Jesus is also a recognized nonprofit organization that promotes a type of Messianic Judaism.)

The Beast alertly quotes Rabbi Bruce Benson of Temple Beth Israel in Fort Pierce, who says that messianics are “outside the parameters of accepted Jewish thinking."  Benson says Schreiber studied Torah there awhile, and that Schreiber's late grandfather was once a member of the temple.

Interesting details. So, how do they play into Schreiber's hostility toward Islam and Muslims? That's where the article falls silent. It fails to show that messianic Jews tend toward hatred of Muslims.

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Apologizing to gays: Pope Francis' latest quotes send news media into a frenzy

Apologizing to gays: Pope Francis' latest quotes send news media into a frenzy

So you thought Pope Francis began a storm of news 'n' views three years ago, when he said, "Who am I to judge" gays? Well, brace yourself for the summertime blizzard of news and commentary with his latest remark -- that the church should apologize to gays, women, children, the poor and, apparently, anyone who likes weapons.

It was on another of those in-flight press conferences, like the one in 2013 when he dropped his non-judgmental bomb. Mainstream media love to pounce on Francis' off-the-cuff remarks, but few of them recognize the conversations flowing just under the surface -- even when they occasionally break into the open.

Yesterday, Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service asked Francis if the church should apologize to gays in the wake of Omar Mateen's shooting spree, killing 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. She was asking because Cardinal Reinhard Marx had said the church had marginalized gays.

The pope answered with, well, an apology spree. Says the Associated Press:

Francis responded with a variation of his famous "Who am I to judge?" comment and a repetition of church teaching that gays must not be discriminated against but treated with respect.
He said some politicized behaviors of the homosexual community can be condemned for being "a bit offensive for others." But he said: "Someone who has this condition, who has good will and is searching for God, who are we to judge?"
"We must accompany them," Francis said.
"I think the church must not only apologize ... to a gay person it offended, but we must apologize to the poor, to women who have been exploited, to children forced into labor, apologize for having blessed so many weapons" and for having failed to accompany families who faced divorces or experienced other problems.

Does this signal the dawn of a "progressive" era in the church? Not according to a particular Dawn -- Catholic scholar and GR alumna Dawn Eden:

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Omar Mateen's interesting trips to Saudi Arabia: The details are 'conservative' news?

Omar Mateen's interesting trips to Saudi Arabia: The details are 'conservative' news?

Journalists and all you careful consumers of foreign-news coverage, I have a question for you. At this stage, after the horrors of the massacre inside The Pulse gay bar in Orlando, what elements of the case do you think are drawing the most attention from investigators at the local, national and global levels?

Everyone (well almost everyone) is really interested, of course, in learning more about the motive for the crime.

That could be a local question or it could be a national question. That could be a global question. I can imagine a scenario in which it is all three and, for national-security experts, that is the nightmare scenario. What if the lone wolf wasn't really a lone wolf?

If that is the case, then it is fair to ask when Omar Mateen met radical jihadists with ties to ISIS or, at the very least, ties to radicalized forms of Islam that might lead a young man to sympathy for the Islamic State. Yes, the internet is a likely channel But the World Wide Web alone?

This brings me to the question that I have been asking for a week or so now. I would imagine that investigators are rather interested in what did or did not happen during Mateen's two relatively recent trips to Saudi Arabia, as in 2011 and 2012.

What? You have not read much about those rather expensive and flexible trips? Well, that's because, when it comes to follow-up work among journalists, these trips appear to be (wait for it) "conservative news."

Here is a typical New York Times reference, from early reporting:

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Gay Hispanics: Miami Herald stumbles in spinoff story from Orlando shootings

Gay Hispanics: Miami Herald stumbles in spinoff story from Orlando shootings

After gay rights, gun control and (more gingerly) Islamic terrorism, coverage of the mass shooting in Orlando gets subdivided in a weekend story in The Miami Herald, which examines the atrocity from the standpoint of gay Hispanics.

It's an interesting angle -- especially in Florida, the port of entry for many from Central and Latin America -- but it has some flaws. For one, it misses some religious "ghosts." The article brings up the topic of religion, then bounces off. Instead, it emphasizes twin themes:

Some want to make sure one fact is not forgotten: The vast majority of victims were Hispanics.
"This was not just an LGBT community," said Zoe Colon, director of Florida and southeast operations for the Hispanic Federation. "This was a Latino LGBT community."

Not that the tragedy doesn't call for a sensitive treatment. The newspaper appropriately tells the reactions of Orlando resident Edwin Lopez as he learned that 12 of the 49 people killed in the Pulse nightclub were personal friends.

Then the story launches rather blithely into a connection with a more general issue:

A difficult conversation has started about the struggle of being an LGBT person of color. For many Hispanics, a traditionally Christian culture laced with machismo and traditional gender roles could foster fear of rejection from one’s own family. That fear can prevent young people from coming out to their loved ones.
"You don’t want to be judged by your family. Those are the only people who have really been supportive of you your entire life," said Dominique Sanchez. The 19-year-old said she’s known people close to her who are reluctant to be open about their sexuality. "Your friends come and go. So if [your family doesn’t] accept you, then you don’t accept yourself."

We'll just note a few things in passing. One is whether Hispanics are people of color. I've met Cubans, Nicaraguans and others with skin lighter than my own, and I'm a white Anglo.

The Herald also offers no estimates on the number of gay Hispanics. Hence, we don't know the size of the social issue that’s the heart of this story.

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New York Times offers partial headline about Mateen, ISIS and calls from inside The Pulse

New York Times offers partial headline about Mateen, ISIS and calls from inside The Pulse

If you have followed this blog for long, then you have heard your GetReligionistas -- in a kind of whiny voice common among offended reporters -- stress that reporters do not get to write the headlines that run on top of their stories.

Nevertheless, readers often blame the contents of a headline on the person named in the byline. People who study these kinds of things will tell you that a high percentage of readers only scan the headlines and then skip all but the first few lines of most news stories, if they read that much.

So what's my point? Headlines really matter.

Case in point: I got excited today when I saw the following headline as I worked my way through my morning email summary of the top news in The New York Times. I'm talking about the one that said: "Transcripts of Calls With Orlando Gunman Will Be Released."

That's important news, in light of all of the speculation there was been about the "Why?" part of the "Who, what, when, where, why and how" equation linked to Orlando gunman Omar Mateen. I mean, there are many mysteries about what was happening inside the mind of this sexually conflicted (possibly gay), Muslim with Afghanistan roots who was a registered Democrat and, with his job as a low-level worker in a security firm (that even had ties to the Department of Homeland Security), had no trouble legally purchasing weapons.

This news about the transcripts of the cellphone calls between the police and Mateen -- during his rampage inside the gay bar -- is crucial. These transcripts would, apparently, give the public a chance to hear the gunmen talking about his actions, even his motives, in his own voice. 

The problem with this soft Times headline is that it was missing a crucial word that readers needed to know. Let's see if you can spot it in the lede:

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Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

Gays and Islam: Even after Orlando shooting, many news media skirt the hard questions

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I suggested a story on the verses in the Quran that dealt with killing unbelievers, including how local imams interpret them. My editor hesitated and said, "I'd rather do stories about diversity in the community."

That looks like the attitude among most mainstream media, 15 years later. We know that Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people at an Orlando gay club, was Muslim and anti-gay. But what exactly does Islam say about homosexuality?

Many mainstream media seem to have been avoiding answering that, even when asking it themselves. They’ve chattered about how he checked Facebook and traded texts with his wife. They say he tried to buy body armor. And of course, they talk about gun control and homophobia.

But few have ventured into the minefield where Muslim communities border homosexuality. And of those that do, most concentrate on LGBT Muslims themselves.

In Florida itself, I could find only one newspaper -- my alma mater, the Sun Sentinel -- reporting on a "confused, broken community that lies at the intersection of the tragedy," as it calls them. One of its three subjects is college student Hytham Rashid:

There are not a lot of terms to describe gender identity or sexual orientation in Arabic, Rashid said. The word "transgender," for example, translates to "You are like a woman" or "You are like a man," which can be considered offensive, he says.  
As a gay Muslim, Rashid says he faces both Islamophobia and homophobia every day. He said in the wake of the Orlando tragedy, he doesn’t feel safe going to memorials and events.
"We can put up our stickers and wave around our rainbow flags in Wilton Manors, but the core issue is, there isn’t a safe space for us," he said.

The Sun Sentinel also imports a statement by the Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity that there is "no religious justification or precedent in Islam for mass shootings targeting any population, regardless of identity." But it doesn't look at the Quran or the Hadith (the record of Muhammad's words and deeds).  Nor does it ask any leaders of the 15-20 mosques in its circulation area.

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After Orlando shooting, Chick-fil-A opens on Sunday to help — did the news media ignore?

After Orlando shooting, Chick-fil-A opens on Sunday to help — did the news media ignore?

My friend David Duncan texted me and asked:

So is this story true all over Facebook that Chick-fil-A gave free sandwiches and tea to people in the blood donor line but the media didn't cover it? Sounds like a GetReligion story.

If you're not sure what he's talking about, you must not be one of the 400,000-plus people (as of the moment I'm typing this) who have liked or shared this Facebook post by Florida attorney and radio show host Kevin Hayslett.

Hayslett's post from Monday afternoon says, in part:

Chick Fil A has made national news for it’s owners’ stance on gay marriage. Anytime they do something even remotely non-PC, their supposed slip up goes viral. Hash tags pop up all over the place.

So why is that what they have done in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting hasn’t received a single mention on the mainstream new outlets?

It’s probably because people like New York City Mayor, Bill DeBlasio might have to eat crow instead of chicken. DeBlasio has said that Chick Fil A spreads a message of hate.

What exactly did Chick-fil-A — whose owners have made news in recent years for their support of traditional marriage and values — do?

This is what: They prepared fried chicken sandwiches on Sunday:

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