Sometimes, when you’re a 24-hour news network and you have to vamp for a while to occupy your 24-hour news schedule, things don’t quite come out right. Other times, when you’re a 24-hour news network whose core principle is that knowing anything about anything could risk biasing your news coverage, you find yourself saying stupid things in important situations because, well, 24 hours, somebody’s got to keep talking, even if we don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about.
Such was hapless CNN’s fate on Sunday, as the Worldwide Leader in News found itself covering breaking news of the tragic and horrific shooting at a Sikh Gurdwara in Wisconsin, with, by all appearances, not a single person in the studio who could explain what a “Sikh” is or, even, to maybe Google the word “Sikh” and read what they found. There’s an excellent if depressing blow-by-blow here. The short version is that CNN started getting reaction from Sikhs outside the Gurdwara, one of whom identified the worshipers as “Hindu Sikhs.” Now, while I, a humble broke-ass writer, have no idea what that gentleman meant, I do know that Sikhism and Hinduism are not the same thing, and I don’t even have to Google it (though I did, to make sure I could, because fact-checking or something). He could have been referring to the fact that gurdwaras are open to worshipers from all faiths, and perhaps a number of the worshipers at that gurdwara are Hindu. The various religions (Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism) that have been prominent on the subcontinent over the centuries have had periods where they related with one another in what we might call ecumenical terms; Hindus studied under Sufi shaykhs, holy sites were common to two or more faiths, etc., so this is perfectly reasonable. He could have been identifying them as Indian sikhs; “Ind” and “Hind” are variants of the same identifier, and use of the term “Hindu” as an ethnic or national marker would not be out of the question. The point is, the guy said something that made sense to him, but not being that guy, nobody else knows quite what he meant. CNN, the Worldwide Leader in News, where, again, somebody really ought to know this stuff or be able to take five minutes (even during breaking news!) to look it up, immediately latched on to the theological declaration of Some Guy in the Parking Lot and assured its viewers that Sikhs are not Muslim, they’re Hindu. Well, and I repeat myself, no.
Throughout all of their confusion about what Sikhs actually ARE, CNN quickly and repeatedly knew that it could tell us what they are not, and how it’s apparently very “unfair” that crazy white supremacist 9/11 revenge-seekers don’t also know this (via):
Oh dear. CNN placed a great deal of emphasis on this point, that Sikhs have been “unfairly” targeted for attacks since 9/11 because American nuts easily confuse them with Muslims. Now, while it is true that Sikhs have faced reprisals since 9/11 from American nuts who easily confuse them with Muslims, you know what is also “unfair”? WHEN AMERICAN MUSLIM COMMUNITIES ARE ATTACKED OVER 9/11. Shit, I’d go so far as to say that it is unfair to attack any group on the basis of that group’s religion, skin color, dress, appearance, or the like. But apparently CNN wants to hold out the possibility that a group could be “fairly” targeted if you were sure you knew who they were, like if the Sikhs had really pissed you off or something, or if you shot up a mosque instead since, you know, no mistaken identity there. I know this isn’t the impression CNN intends to convey, but the Worldwide Leader in News ought to have some sense of what words mean and how they can convey implications to the listener/viewer.
Once the backlash from CNN’s bizarre decision to retcon around 6 centuries of religious history and make Sikhs Hindus began to flow in, CNN decided to have on Rajwant Singh, Chair of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, to describe what Sikhism is, which in context struck me as a little like having the mayor of Greensburg, Kansas, on to talk about the history of his town immediately after most of it had been destroyed by a tornado. While it’s obviously important that Americans understand what Sikhs are, and apparently some don’t, CNN’s attempt to educate its audience could have come at a slightly more appropriate time, and maybe without the “zOMG why don’t you nuts go attack the RIGHT brown folks?” sense that permeated their coverage.