Unless you live in Oklahoma and follow the local news, or else read conservative blogs, you probably wouldn’t know anything about Joel Hinrichs, the University of Oklahoma student who almost surely tried to carry off a mass suicide-murder at an OU football game. Whether Hinrichs had converted to Islam is apparently in dispute, but he had at least one roommate from Pakistan and ties to the local Muslim community. It’s been reported that jihadist literature was found when his apartment was searched, along with bomb-making materials, although none of this is yet certain. I assume that Hinrichs was, at most, a “free-lance Islamic terrorist,” like the D.C. snipers of three years ago, not an al Qaeda operative.
Still, it’s hard to understand why the major media are so determined to ignore the Oklahoma story. Even CBS’s Public Eye is beginning to wonder: “Is Lack Of Big Media Coverage Of Oklahoma Explosion OK?” Well, I don’t think so. It’s hard to avoid the sense that this is another case where media organizations are protecting the public from troublesome information for the public’s own presumed good. It’s interesting, too, that this attitude isn’t limited to the national media. The Oklahoma Daily, as quoted by CBS, is mostly concerned that, while “people should perceive the unfounded news broadcasts as the liars, … that doesn’t always happen.”
Of course, some of the news reports are certainly not “unfounded.” For instance, Dustin Ellison, proprietor of Ellison Feed and Seed in Norman, has said publicly that Hinrichs tried to buy a quantity of ammonium nitrate fertilizer from his store, but Ellison turned him down because “something didn’t feel right.” It seems clear that both major media and the local university paper are trying to act as gatekeepers, preventing the public at large from needlessly becoming concerned–and maybe suspicious of Muslims–because of the Oklahoma incident.
Somehow, this sort of news suppression never gets mentioned when media figures lecture us about the benefits of a free press.
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