St. Cloud

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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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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