The New York Times has a motto: “All the News that’s Fit to Print”. This comforting thought was launched onto the page on October 25th 1896. It remains a hopeful reminder of the function of a free press. Today, this professional journalist lives by a separate creed. My creed has been built over the years founded on bitter disappointments regarding the journalism profession. Here is the Swofford creed:
“If it is in print it is probably a lie.”
Fifty Shades of Gray is the current journalism genre of choice. Why tell the truth when deceit and manipulation are so much more fun? Ignore facts. Create a script for public consumption. Tell a double story. Who gives a damn about truth anyway?
Take a moment and contemplate my creed. Consider how to balance the disparate concepts presented above regarding a free press. And as you think about it, allow me to give dimension to a story in a Zen manner, like writing on water. Look quickly. My thoughts are fluid and moving rapidly in front of your eyes. There are currents and undercurrents of thought. I am going to deconstruct a pathological narrative for you. And to do so I have to be willing to share essential elements of a story of which I was (and remain) a part.
We will begin with a look back at Tuesday, the 15th of September. It was mid-afternoon when my phone rang. I smiled a bit when noting the caller. But the pleasantries were not to be and the communication was cryptic. Could I come to the family home “right now”? It was an emergency. The eldest son had been arrested for taking a hoax bomb to school the previous day. NBC News had just left. The Dallas Morning News was present. How long would it take me to arrive? Quickly scrambling to pull on a pair of shoes and locate my purse I determined that running a comb through my hair could wait. Family friends were in distress. It was important to lend support.
My first concern when hearing the bare bones of the story was that a minor child needed advocacy in play. Had the family considered legal counsel? Seated next to a Dallas Morning News reporter, his interview was interrupted so that we could discuss the issue. As we spoke, the father’s telephone rang and it was the president of the local CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). The phone was passed to me and I was asked to reiterate my concern for legal counsel.
Other family members descended on the home and one brother delivered a freshly slaughtered sheep. The flesh was still warm and I wandered into the kitchen to check out the initial preparations for cooking. It seemed that I had done all that I could. Bidding the family goodbye, I determined that perhaps it would be good to detach from the story in the coming days. Journalistic perspective can be slanted when engulfed in stories which involve family and friends.
Logging onto my desktop early the next morning my first thoughts were directed toward the situation which had played out the prior day. Typing in keyword searches showed that the story was top-trending across the globe. While I had slept, the story had not only grown legs but it was on stilts. Later that day, a media blitz ensued on the family lawn. Secretly grateful to not be a part of the maddening media mob I determined to follow the story from afar.
There were questions swirling in my mind. Established in the report was *who *what *when and *where. Missing, was the answer to *why. But these questions were of primary concern: What would be the script for public consumption? What was the dominant theme? How did an internal school discipline problem become a sensational juggernaut in such a short window of time? The growth was inorganic, even for a digital age. I could scent something, almost taste it. Who was managing the stage?
Why did the President of the United States tweet “Cool Clock” before even ONE IMAGE of the device was available for public view? I knew the rough details regarding the device (including how the components had been obtained). But it was in evidence lock-up at the Irving Police Department. It would have been inappropriate for a journalist to send a tweet minus forensic evidence. It seems beyond the limits of bizarre that President Obama inserted himself into the story.
The damage has been done. A pathological narrative ensued. Irving, Texas is forever labeled “Islamophobic”. The pathological narrative comes from journalistic crows with their copper pennies. And it took only two pennies to mount the assault:
* The Irving City Council dealt a blow against an Islamic Tribunal which was operational within the municipality. The Council passed a symbolic resolution (5 to 4 votes) in support of proposed state legislation, American Laws for American Courts. Known by the acronym ALAC, the legislation is meant to affirm that foreign laws cannot be used to adjudicate civil and criminal cases on U.S. soil. (I have met three of the four members of the Tribunal and had a close professional relationship with the one member who is a certified Mufti.)
* A black Muslim student was arrested for bringing a hoax bomb to school. The actual charges fall under the Texas Penal Code (Texas Statute 46.01): A hoax bomb means a device that (A) reasonably appears to be an explosive or incendiary device; or (B) by its design causes alarm or reaction of any type by an official of a public safety agency or a volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies.
This new breed of “ investigators “ are mere character assassins. But what can be said when journalists slander and malign the constituency of an entire city? Irving, Texas has a white population of only 9.6%. The demographic breakdown of the city includes approximately 30-40,000 Muslims. Our city is diverse, strong, and relatively safe. Micro-inequalities are kept at a minimum.
But my city is branded now. We are victims of a pathological narrative. I still love the family involved. It is the journalists, whom I cannot stand.