Lessons From The Whole Quran Episode

When Terry Jones, a Florida pastor, announced his plan to burn Qurans on 9/11 with a tweet and an "International Burn a Koran Day" page on Facebook, he ignited an international conflagration of outrage. As news spread, worldwide condemnation and anxiety mounted. At least two people died in a demonstration in Afghanistan. It seemed this obscure self-proclaimed pastor in Gainesville, Florida, was determined to carry out an action of catastrophic global consequences. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates even called him. Jones finally changed his mind. Now that the crisis is over, CNN asked contributors to write their observations of what happened, and what lessons the pastor's threat and the events that followed can teach us.Bob Steele, director of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University and the Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at the Poynter Institute. Journalism is a powerful tool with very sharp edges. Used wisely and skillfully this tool can craft solid, substantive stories that meaningfully inform citizens. When used irresponsibly and incompetently, the journalism tool causes great harm. Regrettably, the saga of the Rev. Terry Jones and his Quran-burning threat proves that many journalists and news organizations too easily abandon news judgment, professionalism and ethical standards in a zealous quest for a controversial story. Journalists could not and should not have ignored Jones and his threats, no matter how inane and injurious they were. Journalists have an obligation to shine the light of scrutiny on those who threaten others, and that is what Jones and his disciples were doing. They were preaching intolerance and hate with the potential for real harm. However, the coverage of this small band of publicity seekers was vastly out of proportion to the value of the news story. The intensity and tone of the reporting seriously skewed its significance. The flawed journalism fueled the fervor of many TV and radio talking heads and on