Iphigen Sloe | December 18, 2003
Like the web scrubbing going on at the White House, CNN has manipulated an online Associated Press article in moderate response to the pro-American ideology it indicates. Subtle choices in news rhetoric have followed the widely-covered French ban on head scarves in public schools and hospitals.
On December 17th, the New York Times ran the story "Chirac Wants Religious Attire Banned in Public Schools" on its online front page, a piece now part of a continuous coverage by Elaine Sciolino.
While nearly every major international newspaper covered the story and continues to, the politically-capitalizing Associated Press article of the same day — "Religious Clothing Allowed in US Schools" — was covered in a number of American newspapers, some large.
CNN, however, in a rare and ideological deviation from the mass media norm, replied with a modified version of the AP article, the word "generally" tactically inserted in the title: "Religious Clothing Generally Allowed in U.S. Schools".
A second and positive modification is also apparent. The strangely-included link at the end of the original AP article — labeled "Department of Education guidelines on religion in public school" — is omitted from the CNN online version, presumably for its misleading tag. The link is to a Department of Education defense of (Christian) school prayer. The featured letter from Secretary Rod Paige focuses on protecting public school students' reading of the Bible.
On the same day — December 17 — CNN also posted the in-house article "Chirac: Ban Headscarves in Schools", showing thus considerable rejection of both pro-American and pro-France rhetoric of religious freedom in public schools.
The AP story comes at a point of significant international media attention to the reactionary Chirac-led banning (in public schools) of qualified religious clothing, and offers a rare glimpse into subtle language choices amongst media institutions' unseen and internal processes of information manipulation.
The content of the original AP article itself is atypical of AP articles and asserts a strong ideological and conservative intention behind its format. Half a page long, it does not cover an event so much as remind the readership of the allgeged condition of American religious freedom in public schools, while yet not referencing the Chirac controversy it is in clear response to.
CNN, however, has further manipulated the article format into a Q:A format (with a single and long question, in bold), referencing the Chirac panel the AP article strategically fails to mention. CNN's active taking of a forward and progressive stance on public education and religion, while still too moderate, illuminates what is increasingly a practice of all the dominant cultural 'recorders' of documents, information, and events: information control.
Religious Clothing Generally Allowed in U.S. Schools
December 17, 2003
Associated Press & CNN
French President Jacques Chirac's call to ban religious symbols and clothing in state schools and hospitals has met with controversy in France and around the globe. What's the policy in the United States?
American students generally have the right to wear religious garb such as a Jewish skullcap, a Muslim scarf or a cross in public school, although restrictions can be made if the school has a dress code that is not directed at a particular faith.
For example, a school trying to limit gang activity may set a dress code that incidentally bars religious clothing like headwear, according to Jeffrey Sinensky, general counsel for the American Jewish Committee.
If a school has such a dress code, administrators still have the power to make exceptions if a student asks to wear a religious item. School officials usually accommodate students, though occasionally disputes arise that make their way into court, said Sinensky and Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group.
Hooper said there have been sporadic cases in which school districts have attempted to ban headscarves or persuade Muslim girls not to wear them, usually from a mistaken belief that they disrupt the school environment. But the conflicts have usually been quickly resolved, he said.
Rules regarding what teachers can wear are different. Several states bar public school teachers from wearing religious clothing, in an attempt to have a religiously neutral classroom.
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