“The domestic terrorism threat is real, and some believe it’s nurtured in remote areas of this country, including middle Tennessee,” Beres says. But the station’s fear mongering—and interest building—frame soon falls apart. This is simply because there isn’t a shred of evidence to support the “terrorist training ground” suspicions. An unannounced drop-by to Islamville, set up to be a gotcha, goes wrong (or right, I guess) when the reporter and his camera are welcomed inside. “One of the men even joined us in the car and gave us a tour,” Beres says.

Online, the station’s text version of the story promoting the second night’s video piece gets the important fact—that there’s nothing remotely suspicious at Islamville—immediately in front of readers:

DOVER, Tenn. – A controversial video alleges that a private Muslim community in Middle Tennessee is an Islamic terrorist training camp. A NewsChannel 5 investigation found no evidence of such activity.

But viewers didn’t get the courtesy of having the facts presented right up front.

Remember that the station closed its second-night report with a note that Muslims are often discriminated against. In retrospect, that was a wise warning. Since the story ran, an area mosque has been vandalized. According to the Nashville Scene, local immigrant advocates and a mosque spokesman can’t help but think that the graffiti was touched off by News Channel 5’s series.

Boonstra denies any connection, pointing out that in recent years Nashville and nearby communities have suffered anti-Muslim vandalism (and even a bombing)—long before the pieces ran.

“I would hope that those kind of opinions are much deeper than watching a two-parter on NewsChannel 5. It scares me if they’re not, you know?” she says.

Overall, Boonstra says that “the fact that we wanted to go and find out what the truth was, was the overall benefit of doing it in the first place.”

If so, the truth should have been quickly highlighted, not kept away from viewers while urging them to tune back in, and not delayed while factless charges were leveled against a beleaguered minority.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.