As I write this blog entry, a Florida pastor is being non-committal about whether he will follow through with his plans to burn the Muslim holy book, the Quran, on the ninth anniversary of September 11. When you consider the size of the pastor's congregation (less than fifty people), the amount of publicity he has received is huge.
This is one of those times where members of the media should consider their coverage of this story, and it brings up the age-old question of when the media can influence what happens, instead of just covering it.
People really started to take notice of this story when Gen. David Petraeus, who leads the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, released a statement that the Florida church's plan to burn a Quran would endanger U.S. troops overseas. Petraeus said burning the Quran is "precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems, not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."
Since then, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has weighed in, even personally calling Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center. President Barack Obama has also spoken on the issue, calling the pastor's plan a "clear bonanza for Al Qaida."
The story is a hotbed for controversy, but is the media to blame for fanning the flames? Could the major news networks have ignored the pastor's plans?
"Many in Gainesville, Fla., and beyond argue that pointing a camera at Jones is like giving a toddler attention in the middle of a tantrum. Ignore him and he'll go away. They have a point," said Kelly McBride, of the Poynter Institute, a respected school for journalists. "Yet part of our job as journalists is to document events. When we ignore acts of hate, no one has the opportunity to react, to condemn them or to proclaim a different belief system."
What do you think about the media's coverage of this controversy? Should the story have been ignored, even with so many powerful and influential American leaders joining the fray? Or did the story give a voice to the fact that most people believe what Pastor Jones stands for is wrong?