Judith Miller's criticism of a Poynter Institute online course on Islamic issue reporting, which she claimed urged "political correctness," drew a harsh rebuttal from the journalism training outlet.
Kelly McBride, a Poynter senior faculty member, told Media Matters: "I think she's crazy. The course urges journalists to be smart, accurate and contextual when it comes to reporting on Islam in America. It suggests that when you are reporting about deaths caused by Islamic terrorists that you not descend into fear mongering and instead put the threat of terrorism in proper context.
"It is a sound, solid journalistic course, it's based on the values of accuracy and fairness and context and independence in minimizing harm."
At issue is an online column Miller posted at Fox News' website Friday about the free Poynter online course: Covering Islam in America.
Poynter's News University presents the course in conjunction with Washington State University and the Social Science Research Council.
Miller wrote that she took the course and objected to its suggestion that Islamic terrorism might be getting disproportionate coverage in relation to other deadly issues such as AIDS or world hunger:
The professors offer these helpful comparative death tolls to give the 9/11 death toll "some context," they say.
But the implicit message of the course seems obvious enough: 3,000 dead Americans, (and they might have looked up the actual death toll) have been over-covered. Why don't journalists spend more time covering malaria, or hunger, or especially HIV/AIDS, which the last time I checked, was hardly being ignored by the nation's media?
For that matter, why aren't the media investigating bathtub deaths, since according to "Overblown," John Mueller's attack on what he regards as the government's obsessive focus on terrorism, more Americans die in bathtub accidents each year than in terrorist attacks?
The answer should be fairly obvious to such an august institution as Poynter: just as the press covers murders rather than traffic fatalities, which far outnumber killings in America each year, it covers terrorism intensively because motive matters.
Miller later wrote in the column:
This is a course in political correctness for reporters assigned to cover Islam in America who have slept through the past decade. It is unworthy of Poynter.
Miller's column echoed an objection to the course first raised by the Culture and Media Institute, which is a division of the conservative Media Research Center. CMI on Sept. 29, a day before Miller's column was posted, also attacked the Poynter course.
Asked for his response to the criticism, Lawrence Pintak -- co-creator of the course and founding dean at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University - emailed a statement that said, in part:
We created the "Covering Islam in America" online course as a tool for journalists who want to be accurate in educating their audience about the religion and culture of Islam, Muslim communities in the U.S., and the distinctions between Islam as a political movement and the radical philosophies that inspire militant Islamists. The course gives journalists the language and knowledge they need to convey this information to their audience.
On the subject of jihad, the course notes that Al-Qaeda makes "no distinction between military and civilian targets and quotes the organization as saying, "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it."
It goes on to say that, "The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, grew out of this strategy" and "[d]uring the past 40 years, jihad organizations have killed perhaps 165,000 people."
However, the course is aimed at working journalists on local news organization in the U.S. and it points out: "Of the hundreds of murders that occur each day, journalists are far more likely to report on jihad-related incidents than other violence. As a result, news consumers have developed a skewed impression of the prevalence of jihad, relative to other forms of conflict. Context is essential in covering this global story in a way that does not amplify fears of jihad."
Miller, who cited the Media Research Center in her column, defended her work.
"I think I made some solid objections," Miller told Media Matters. "I think if you look at the list of people they refer you to and the list of organizations they refer you to, people who follow Islamic matters know that it wasn't representative and that ... to equate the deaths of 3,000 victims of a terror strike with 15,000 homicides a year in America for 'context' speaks of an agenda. I think they just should have been a little more honest about their agenda. I have nothing more to say other than what I said. Anyone can sign up for the course, look at it yourself, make your own judgment."
Miller later added, "I think I know a little something about Islam, I have been writing about Islamic topics for 25 years. I've lived in the Middle East. I would not have equated the death of the people who died in the World Trade Center with the annual homicide rate."
Miller's career, which included 28 years at The New York Times, has had its share of controversies.
Among the most notable is her coverage of pre-Iraq War claims of weapons of mass destruction, which was found to be misleading.
In a lengthy 2005 report on Miller published in the Times after she left the paper that year, the Times cited her Iraq coverage:
Ms. Miller had written a string of articles before the war - often based on the accounts of Bush administration officials and Iraqi defectors - strongly suggesting that Saddam Hussein was developing these weapons of mass destruction.
When no evidence of them was found, her reporting, along with that of some other journalists, came under fire. She was accused of writing articles that helped the Bush administration make its case for war.
In 2008, Miller joined Fox News Watch, the channel's media review program.
Asked about Miller's criticism of Poynter given Miller's own past issues, McBride said: "That's almost too easy and I'm not going to take a stab at that one." She later added, "I'm not sure at all what Judy's motivation is."
McBride said the Miller posting provoked numerous angry emails sent to Poynter: "As a result of the Fox story ... NEWS U got over 200 really nasty emails suggesting that we are terrorists, that we hate America."