Qur'an Burning Threat Leads Network News to Discover Wisdom of Palin and Pope

“Anti-Muslim bigotry is a problem, but it is only exacerbated by the media's tendency to exaggerate and sensationalize it,” the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto observed Wednesday in looking at the media’s focus on the threat, to burn Qur’ans, by one widely condemned Florida pastor with barely a few dozen followers. On Wednesday night, for the second night in a row, two of the three broadcast network evening news shows led with Terry Jones (ABC and CBS on Tuesday, CBS and NBC on Wednesday.)

But what I found amusing is how network journalists decided Sarah Palin, the Pope – and even Pat Robertson – are now sources of wisdom worth publicizing. Over aerial video of the Vatican (screen capture below), Katie Couric teased the CBS Evening News: “Tonight, despite condemnation from the Vatican and a personal plea from Muslims, that Christian minister in Florida is going ahead with plans to burn copies of the Qur'an.”

“This is the news,” an excited Diane Sawyer announced on ABC, “not only is Billy Graham's son Franklin trying to reach out to him, so is Sarah Palin.” Terry Moran relayed how “late today, Sarah Palin tweeted her opposition, writing: ‘Please stand down.’ And long-time televangelist Pat Robertson blasted Pastor Jones this morning.”

In the second of two reports at the top of the NBC Nightly News, Andrea Mitchell touted how “the Florida pastor even got the Vatican's attention” and aired a clip of a Vatican spokesman declaring: “This act would only call for new hate and violence.” Mitchell concluded by approvingly paraphrasing a political figure normally the object of journalistic scorn: “Sarah Palin has now tweeted that Pastor Jones should please stand down, that people have a right to burn a Qur’an but that it is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation that will feed the fire.”

Palin’s tweet: “Koran Burning Is Insensitive, Unnecessary; Pastor Jones, Please Stand Down”

Back to ABC’s World News, Terry Moran saw sinister views of Islam held by Americans, but failed to point out attitudes have held steady for years and are not spiking:
Still, Jones vows to go forward, convinced he speaks for many Americans. A brand new ABC News poll confirms some disturbing facts. 26 percent of Americans admit to feelings of prejudice against Muslims and only 54 percent of Americans see Islam as a peaceful religion. 31 percent say mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims.
In reciting the same numbers online, however, ABC News polling chief Gary Langer added a crucial fact which undermines the implication that negative views of Islam are growing:
Just 54 percent call Islam a peaceful religion, while a substantial minority, 31 percent, thinks mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. This view has held steady since 2003, after doubling from 2002.
From the WSJ’s online “Best of the Web Today” for September 8, a perceptive take from James Taranto:
...Anti-Muslim bigotry is a problem, but it is only exacerbated by the media's tendency to exaggerate and sensationalize it – and by the adversarial and snobbish attitude many journalists and some politicians have adopted toward the vast majority of Americans, who are not bigoted and who see the Ground Zero mosque as an affront.

The obnoxious pastor and the obnoxious media have a confluence of interests here. It is no credit to the latter that their behavior has been no worse than that of the former.
Sawyer set up Moran’s September 8 story:
The chorus of voices grew louder today denouncing that Florida pastor who plans to burn the Qur'an on Saturday, the anniversary of 9/11. And, as we told you last night, Terry Jones' church has only a couple of dozen members, but tonight, this is the news: Not only is Billy Graham's son Franklin trying to reach out to him, so is Sarah Palin. And, we have a new poll showing what Americans really think and know about Islam. Here's Terry Moran.
....

TERRY MORAN: Late today, Sarah Palin tweeted her opposition, writing: “Please stand down.” And long-time televangelist Pat Robertson blasted Pastor Jones this morning.

PAT ROBERTSON: Imagine a pastor that is so egotistical that he would sacrifice the lives of missionaries and soldiers to go forward with something. This is so stupid.

CBS Evening News, September 8:
After Couric’s tease quoted above (“Tonight, despite condemnation from the Vatican and a personal plea from Muslims, that Christian minister in Florida is going ahead with plans to burn copies of the Qur'an”), she related in her opening: “And the Vatican said quote, “This act would only call for new hate and violence.’”
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