BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Last Saturday, the Portland, Maine Press Herald ran a page one story on the local observance of the last day of Ramadan. The day was September 11th. And what followed was a barrage of angry emails that a Muslim holiday would push the anniversary of the 2001 terror attacks off the front page. What followed that was a 700-word apology written by the paper’s editor and publisher, Richard Connor, saying the Ramadan story should have been balanced with 9/11 coverage and handled in, quote, “a more sensitive way.” The apology provoked Time Magazine columnist James Poniewozik to comment: “There is now one group of Americans whose peaceful religious observance cannot be noted by decent people unless it is balanced by the mention of a vile crime committed in 2001 by people with a perverted idea of the same religion from the other side of the world.” The Press Herald’s Richard Connor joins me. Rich, welcome to the show.
RICHARD CONNOR: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, so what was the matter with the story that you ran, the original story?
RICHARD CONNOR: Nothing. There was nothing wrong with our coverage of the local observance of the conclusion of Ramadan. We're proud of the way we covered it. We'll cover it again next year and next year and the next year. We did not cover the 9/11 anniversary on the 9/11 date the way that we should have. We had a lot of coverage planned for 9/12, the day after. So if you read the apology closely, in my opinion, you'll see that I supported the decision to cover Ramadan. What I questioned is how we could have essentially omitted coverage of 9/11 on the same day. I think that without doubt some of the people who complained about the lack of 9/11 coverage were really couching anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic attitudes, but I think they were hiding behind that.
BOB GARFIELD: And you apologized to them. “Many saw Saturday’s front-page story and photo regarding the local observance of the end of Ramadan as offensive,” and the remainder of your 700-word mea culpa is an apology for, yes, the oversight of not covering the 9/11 anniversary but somehow treading on their sensibilities. And I'm having trouble with the idea of you apologizing for covering the end of Ramadan.
RICHARD CONNOR: I think you’re misreading it. We will cover Ramadan locally, and the observance of it from, you know, now to whenever. The apology is for not giving the play to 9/11 that many of our readers felt it should have. The two are disconnected.
BOB GARFIELD: I understand, but let me ask you this, please. What would you say was the preponderance of the attitudes expressed in these angry emails?
RICHARD CONNOR: The preponderance of emails that I received were from people who said, how could you have missed the 9/11 coverage on 9/11? What motivated them to write that, I don't know.
BOB GARFIELD: You remarked about treading on the sensibilities of your readers. If their sensibilities were trod upon by your covering the observance of the end of Ramadan, isn't that kind of their problem?
RICHARD CONNOR: They weren't. If you want to stick to that, you can. The emails that I received were predominantly directed at the omission of more coverage of 9/11.
BOB GARFIELD: You said, quote, “Many saw Saturday’s front-page story and photo regarding the local observance of the end of Ramadan as offensive, particularly on the day, September 11, when our nation and the world were paying tribute to those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks nine years ago.” Now, if that’s anything other than the connection between Islam and radical Islamic terrorism, I just don't know what is.
RICHARD CONNOR: You know what? I'm just telling you you’re wrong. Start with “particularly” and go forward. The reference point was 9/11. That’s what it was. If you think I'm rephrasing it, then you can just keep running this tape over and over again. The people that make our decisions every day, they made a mistake on the one side. They didn't on the coverage of Ramadan. That’s our position. It may not suit where you want to go, okay?
BOB GARFIELD: Well, how about a different sentence from your apology, Rich?
RICHARD CONNOR: Look -
BOB GARFIELD: “Readers…”
RICHARD CONNOR: - I just gave you a new statement. Go with the new one. I really don't care.
BOB GARFIELD: So are you retracting your 700-word apology to the readers?
RICHARD CONNOR: No, I'm not retracting the apology to the readers for not covering 9/11.
BOB GARFIELD: Thank you very much. Richard Connor -
RICHARD CONNOR: You bet.
[Hangs up phone]
BOB GARFIELD: - is the editor and publisher of The Portland Press Herald.