Many Americans learned that Florida pastor Terry Jones had made good on his threat to burn a Koran when protests against Jones broke out in Afghanistan earlier this month, resulting in the deaths of U.N. workers and Afghans. But how did the protesters learn about Jones' provocative action?
Poynter's Steve Myers asks this very question today and arrives at a surprising answer. When Jones burned a Koran on March 20 in his church, the media circus that had attended his never-executed plan to burn a Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 had vanished and many media organizations had decided to stop giving the provocateur any more attention. So, only one person working for a news organization covered the event: Andrew Ford, a 21-year-old University of Florida student working for the wire service Agence France-Presse. AFP's Miami bureau chief apparenty asked Ford, who had covered Jones back in the fall, to file a follow-up story. (You can read the original piece here.) After analyzing how the story traveled from the U.S. to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Myers concludes that AFP, "relying on a single stringer, put this story in front of government officials who seized on it." On March 31, for example, Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned Jones and demanded his arrest in a speech some claimed incited the violent protests.
Myers doesn't blame Ford for the protests--and certainly we don't either--but he asked Ford if he thinks Jones would still be in the "shadows" had he not filed. Ford reasons that his story--which reported that few people attended the controversial event and that the media ignored it--may have put the action "in perspective better than if I hadn't been there," and the only evidence left was a video of a Koran burning posted to Ustream and YouTube.