The NPR program On the Media offered excellent insight into the role of media, including the fact that the story gained ground internationally before it exploded in the United States.
Even in terms of domestic coverage, the hometown Gainesville Sun was hesitant to fan the flames of the pastor’s outrage. I first learned about the planned Quran burning from this post in Christianity Today (apparently a response to a July 21 Religion News Service story), long before the Sun wrote about it.
Moreover, the pastor and his questionable tactics weren’t news to Sun readers, because it wrote extensively about the church and its “Islam is of the Devil” crusade a year earlier. In fact, the Sun’s well-done retrospective story over the weekend was about half background from material it had previously reported.
Michael Calderone, who recently moved from Politico to Yahoo, traced the story’s elevation to a CNN interview, which gave it national stature. Still, the story didn’t reallly catch fire until generals and political leaders made pronouncements.
Because of those responses, journalists tend to believe that stories like this one just happen. Sure, they say, it’s lamentable that an unaccredited pastor with a flock of 50 could command the world stage merely by threatening a barbaric act. But they shrug their collective shoulders and protest that events have overtaken their ability to control them.
Readers and viewers are just as sure that obscure figures promoting hatred can command the world stage only if journalists hand it to them. The media help create Lady Gaga, balloon boy and inflammatory preachers. The media can just as easily deflate them.
Is there a way around that logjam? A previous post in this blog suggested that journalists should use a press pool to cover the story while presenting a battery of microphones to a publicity hound.
Yes, some stories take on a life of their own. But this story resulted in several deaths. When life is at stake, the story comes second.