The investigation into Wednesday’s senseless and tragic shooting in San Bernardino, California, which killed at least 14 people and wounded 21 is ongoing. As it began to unfold on Wednesday in the shooting’s immediate aftermath, a number of details were shared in media coverage of what turns out to be this year’s 355th mass shooting in the United States. Suspects Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were killed in a police shootout hours after the deadly attack.
Vox rounded up examples of the ugly Islamophobia in the media coverage of the violent San Bernardino shooting, including a Daily Beast article that misidentified a shooting suspect (Syed Rizwan Farook), mistaking him for his Navy veteran brother and publishing the misidentified man’s Facebook photo. The Daily Beast later issued a correction, updated the article and deleted social media posts with the photo. For a breakdown of some of the problems with The Daily Beast article, check out Wonkette.
One detail from The Daily Beast’s article criticized by readers involves the reporter’s description of the home of the initially misidentified brother, as seen/smelled from the front door.
Behind Farook was a brightly lit home with low-slung sectional couches and boxes for appliances. The smell of basmati rice cooking came wafting through the door. A set of women’s sandals sat outside the security door.
Shoes near the front door and the smell of rice cooking (basmati or otherwise) are common enough in the homes of South Asians and others across the world, including mine, that I wouldn’t think too much of seeing them. But reading those details called out in a news story about identifying the suspected shooter as if they were a critical part of what made the home and its inhabitants suspicious and suspect gave the details a sinister feel. It was as if these commonplace details were being shared as terrorist-type behaviors or traits. The actual smell of basmati rice cooking is pretty faint, but this coverage stinks.
In case you’re wondering if basmati rice could really be distinguished by smell from other types of rice, the answer technically appears to be yes. As for the reporter’s rice-sniffing credentials, as Wonkette points out, one of the two writers of The Daily Beast article has tweeted this:
I know what basmati rice smells like from hours spent in those Christmas light Indian restaurants in East Village. https://t.co/FstjF2smfZ
— Oliver Jones (@oliverjones) December 3, 2015
On Twitter, Comedian Kumail Nanjiani was blunt in sharing his take on what the “smell of basmati” description was really trying to say.
Nanjiani wasn’t the only one who had something to say on Twitter about why that Daily Beast description just smells wrong.
The Daily Beast may have ID’d the wrong man, but they still have reporters who can identify basmati rice (which is aromatic) by smell alone. — JuanPa (@jpbrammer) December 3, 2015
I’ve never read a piece about a murder suspect that had “the smell of mac and cheese wafting through the air”…”sneakers inside the home”..
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) December 3, 2015
First it was Pressure Cookers now it’s Basmati Rice. What’s next? My money is on Samosas. — The Kominas (@TheRealKominas) December 3, 2015
Here’s another Farook/Farrokh. Story idea: Basmati rice expose on Freddie Mercury’s childhood home, please. (2/2) pic.twitter.com/dGpK70NZ1U
— Mariam Hosseini (@yogurtsoda) December 3, 2015
What’s rice got to do with it? Why drag rice into this mess? Is the beginning of the politicization of basmati rice? https://t.co/XxEMjjs7yY
— prrrsiankitten™ (@prrrsiankitten) December 3, 2015