A wave of American bigotry toward Muslims has reached new heights, according to New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, with the publication of a front-page apology in Maine’s Portland Press Herald. The newspaper apologized for “not offering balance” to a front-page article on September 11, 2010, about local Muslims praying to mark the end of Ramadan.

This Tea-pot storm highlights the enduring use of – and increasing uselessness of – the idea of “balance” as an ethical principle in journalism.

As Kristof writes, in the Times on Sunday September 19:

“… So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology
for being too respectful of Muslims. ‘We sincerely apologize,’ wrote
the editor and publisher, Richard Connor, and he added: ‘we erred by at
least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on
the front page.’ As a blog by James Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: ‘Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human.’

“I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page
isn’t reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good
Muslims going inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be ‘balanced’
by a discussion of Muslim terrorists?

“Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope
Benedict’s trip to Britain be ‘balanced’ by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland? And what about journalism itself?

“I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to
provide some ‘balance.’ Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers
and rapists. For example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide….”


A wave of American bigotry toward Muslims has reached new heights, according to New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, with the publication of a front-page apology in Maine’s Portland Press Herald. The newspaper apologized for “not offering balance” to a front-page article on September 11, 2010, about local Muslims praying to mark the end of Ramadan.

This Tea-pot storm highlights the enduring use of – and increasing uselessness of – the idea of “balance” as an ethical principle in journalism.

As Kristof writes, in the Times on Sunday September 19:

“… So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology
for being too respectful of Muslims. ‘We sincerely apologize,’ wrote
the editor and publisher, Richard Connor, and he added: ‘we erred by at
least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on
the front page.’ As a blog by James Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: ‘Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human.’

“I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page
isn’t reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good
Muslims going inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be ‘balanced’
by a discussion of Muslim terrorists?

“Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope
Benedict’s trip to Britain be ‘balanced’ by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland? And what about journalism itself?

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“I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to
provide some ‘balance.’ Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers
and rapists. For example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide….”

Professor, School of Journalism; Senior Fellow, Centre for Free Expression, Ryerson University