ABC Works to Rehabilitate Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's Reputation After Pining for George W. Bush

ABC News set out Monday night to rehabilitate the reputation of the iman behind the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, Feisal Abdul Rauf, trying to discredit criticism of him from the right as Sharyn Alfonsi portrayed him as a model of religious tolerance who condemns suicide bombers, terrorism and Hamas and who deserves admiration because he “eulogized Daniel Pearl.”

The night before, in a Sunday World News story on protests over the mosque, ABC expressed sudden respect for former President Bush as reporter Linsey Davis used him to undermine opponents: “In an attempt to make a clear distinction between Islam and terrorism, within days of 9/11 President Bush went to a mosque.”

Alfonsi generously began with how “he candidly discussed his beliefs with Barbara Walters for her 2006 special on Heaven” where he promised her “the Jews, the Christians, whoever believes in God and does good will be saved.” As for whether “one man's suicide bomber is another man's martyr?”, Alfonsi assured viewers:
In his book, the imam wrote: “The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right.”
Playing a clip of Rauf saying “United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened” on 9/11, Alfonsi noted that's why “critics called him a terror sympathizer,” but, she countered, “a spokesman for the imam tells us the comments were, quote, 'taken out of context.'”  

She concluded with another endorsement for Feisal Abdul Rauf's character:
And while all of the imam's writings and interviews are now being thoroughly examined, many critics have overlooked one of his more memorable speeches. The imam actually eulogized Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan, and, Diane, he asked forgiveness for what's been done in the name of Islam.
Sawyer chirped in: “That's right, he was there at that memorial.”

A couple of columns with facts and concerns ignored or dismissed by Alfonsi:
From the August 23 New York Post, “Rauf: a moderate? Beware imams' doubletalk,” by Hoover Institution media fellow Paul Sperry. And from National Review online over the weekend, a piece by Andrew C. McCarthy: “Which Islam Will Prevail in America? That is the real question at hand in the Ground Zero mosque debate.”
Sunday night, anchor David Muir announced: “Tonight, we take you to the protest, and we take you back to the days right after 9/11 when then-President Bush offered his own words about Islam.”

From that story:
LINSEY DAVIS: In an attempt to make a clear distinction between Islam and terrorism, within days of 9/11 President Bush went to a mosque.

FORMER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, SEPT 17, 2001: That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.

DAVIS: But in recent weeks, many prominent Republicans have suggested otherwise...
Earlier on Sunday: “Amanpour on One-Sided This Week: ‘Profound Questions About Religious Tolerance and Prejudice in the U.S.’”

The story on ABC's World News from Monday, August 23, transcript provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
DIANE SAWYER: Back here in New York, several hundred people spent Sunday in loud and dueling protests about the mosque near Ground Zero – for and against. The head of the mosque is on his third stop in the Middle East sent by the U.S. to spread a positive word about being Muslim in America. And Sharyn Alfonsi asked some more questions today about who he is.
    
SHARYN ALFONSI: He candidly discussed his beliefs with Barbara Walters for her 2006 special on Heaven.

BARBARA WALTERS: Do only Muslims go to Heaven?

IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF: The fundamental thing is you must accept God. You have to believe that there is a creator. The Jews, the Christians, whoever believes in God and does good will be saved.

ALFONSI: Rauf, who watched his father, a Muslim scholar, pioneer interfaith dialogue in the 60s in New York, went on to do the same thing after the September 11 attacks. Rauf was the imam – or head priest – of a New York mosque just 12 blocks from Ground Zero.

WALTERS: Do you believe that a suicide bomber goes to Heaven?

RAUF: One of the things that we are taught is never to say somebody will go to Hell or somebody will go to Heaven. It is up to God to decide.

WALTERS: So one man's suicide bomber is another man's martyr?

RAUF: Well, the expression that I've heard is, "One man's terrorist is another man's hero."

ALFONSI: But, in his book, the imam wrote, “The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right.” He's been praised for being moderate. But it was this interview with CBS's 60 Minutes after the September 11 attacks that has drawn scrutiny.

RAUF: I wouldn't say that the United States deserved what happened, but United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.

ALFONSI: Critics called him a terror sympathizer. But a spokesman for the imam tells us the comments were, quote, "taken out of context." He went on to describe the mistakes the CIA made in the 1980s by financing Osama bin Laden and strengthening the Taliban. And what about claims that the imam sympathizes with Hamas? Asked if the State Department was correct to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization:

RAUF CLIP #1: I do not want to be placed, neither will I accept to be placed, in a position where I am the target of one side or another.

RAUF CLIP #2: The targeting of civilians is wrong.

ALFONSI: And while all of the imam's writings and interviews are now being thoroughly examined, many critics have overlooked one of his more memorable speeches. The imam actually eulogized Daniel Pearl, the journalist murdered by Islamist terrorists in Pakistan, and, Diane, he asked forgiveness for what's been done in the name of Islam.

SAWYER: That's right, he was there at that memorial. Good to see you tonight, Sharyn. Thank you.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center