Pennsylvania Newspapers Pretend There is No Direction to Mecca

In September 2005, a half dozen different bloggers verified that a person facing into what was originally called the Crescent of Embrace memorial to Flight 93 would be facing almost exactly at Mecca. Some surrounding trees have been added to the design, but the giant central crescent remains completely intact in the Bowl of Embrace redesign.

With Tom Burnett Sr. condemning the crescent design and refusing to allow Tom Jr.'s name to be used, there is now a big public controversy in western Pennsylvania over whether the giant crescent really is oriented on Mecca. In response, the Memorial Project has decided to deny that there is any such thing as the direction to Mecca, and Pittsburgh's two major newspapers are both backing up this transparent falsehood.

Professor Daniel Griffith, who is serving as a consultant to the Memorial Project, told the Post Gazette that: "anything can point toward Mecca, because the earth is round." …

He made similar statements to the Pittsburg Tribune Review and the Johnstown Tribune Democrat. None of these papers asked for a second opinion from any of the one billion Muslims who face Mecca five times a day for prayer, and it isn't that the media has been duped by Griffith.

Editors and reporters at both the Post Gazette and the Tribune Review are fully aware that a host of bloggers have independently verified the Mecca orientation of the crescent design. It was actually the Tribune Review that first commissioned Professor Griffith to analyze the blogosphere's Mecca-orientation claims. Alec Rawls, who has written a book about the many Islamic and terrorist memorializing features in the crescent design, has a copy of Griffith's report for the Tribune Review posted online. The first thing Griffith does is calculate the direction to Mecca:

I computed an azimuth value from the Flight 93 crater site to Mecca of roughly 55.20°.

"Azimuth" is the technical term for "direction," measured in degrees clockwise from north. Now Griffith is denying that there is any such thing as the direction to Mecca, and the Tribune Review refuses to tell its readers that Griffith is contradicting the report that he wrote for them.

The Post Gazette is even more outrageous. Rawls was told by Post Gazette reporter Paula Ward that she and her editors saw all the blog posts on the Mecca orientation of the Crescent of Embrace back in September 2005 and decided not to publish this explosive information. (Crescent of Betrayal, download 3, p. 108.) At the same time, the Post Gazette was running editorials that called critics of the crescent paranoid bigots:

But like those who look at innocent kids trick-or-treating at Halloween and see only the devil's work, a few small and suspicious minds couldn't look past the crescent to see a remarkably sensitive design.

When Tom Burnet Sr. asked the American people last month to please take his and Mr. Rawls' warnings about the crescent design seriously, the Post Gazette responded with an editorial titled: "Efforts to sully Flight 93 memorial deserve scorn."

What is the significance of a crescent that a person faces into to face Mecca? Such a structure is called a mihrab, and is the central feature around which every mosque is built. That is why the surrounding trees added in the Bowl of Embrace redesign do nothing to alter the Islamic significance of the design. You can plant as many trees around a mosque as you want and it will still be a mosque.

One local paper actually did fact-check the orientation of the giant crescent and validated the Mecca orientation claim in print, but the larger papers are all refusing to pass this fact checking on, or to do their own, even though it is simple one-two operation. All that Tribune Democrat reporter Kirk Swauger had to do was use the Mecca direction calculator at Islam.com to print out a graphic of the direction to Mecca from Somerset PA, then place this print out over the Crescent of Embrace site-plan PDF on his computer screen:

The green circle, marked with the qibla direction (the direction to Mecca), is from Islam.com. Graphic shows that a person standing at the midpoint between the most obtruding tips of the crescent structure and facing into the center of the crescent (red arrow), will be facing almost exactly at Mecca. (Hat tip Sarah Wells.)

As Swauger put it in his news article:

[Rawls'] claims seem to be backed up by coordinates for the direction of qibla from Somerset that can be found on Islam.com. When superimposed over the crescent in the memorial design, the midpoint points over the Arctic Circle, through Europe toward Mecca.

Having suppressed this information for two years, Pittsburgh's major newspapers are desperate to keep it suppressed now, or they will be ruined. Thus they find themselves camped out on the very spot that the blogosphere ranged with its artillery two years ago. They know full well that the Mecca-orientation of the crescent has been verified numerous times and are counting on their control of public information to keep this knowledge from getting out to the general public.

The challenge to bloggers could not be more overt. Can the blogosphere retrieve its earlier fact checking from the memory hole and bust these news frauds? Easy and permanent access to existing fact checking is the blogosphere's natural advantage, but we still have to take advantage of it.

John Stephenson is chief editor and writer at Stop The ACLU