60 Minutes Does Fawning Profile of Ground Zero Mosque Backers, Bashes Opponents

Scott Pelley, CBS In a Sunday 60 Minutes story that gave a glowing portrayal of the real estate developer and imam behind the Ground Zero mosque, CBS anchor Scott Pelley also used the opportunity to smear opponents of the project: "...a national controversy with anger, passion, and more than a little misinformation. Opponents whipped up a fury, calling the project a grotesque mega-mosque tied to terrorism."

Pelley began by touting how building developer Sharif El-Gamal was simply trying to improve a "dingy block in lower Manhattan" and that he "thought his project would be a step up for a seedy part of downtown." Pelley described how "the community enthusiastically agreed. The plan was endorsed by the Mayor, the borough president, and the community board." He then emphasized the distance from Ground Zero: "You can't see Ground Zero from here, but when you make the corner...you can see the cranes where the new World Trade Center buildings are going up....It took us another two minutes to walk to the edge of what the government officially designates as Ground Zero."

Pelley highlighted El-Gamal's multi-cultural background: "...you're a Muslim who married a Christian girl. Your mother is Catholic. And you joined the Jewish community center on the West Side of Manhattan." However, he then turned to mosque opponent Pamela Geller, whom he characterized as "a former New York media executive who writes a politically far Right blog that mixes news, opinion, and conspiracy theories."  

Speaking to Geller, Pelley wondered: "It got the unanimous approval of the community board. The people who live down there....How did this become your business?" Geller replied: "...it's America's business....And you don't build a 15 story, uh, mega-mosque at Ground Zero and talk – and say that it's healing and say that it's outreach. Don't spit in my face and tell me it's raining."

Pelley noted how: "Last December, Geller's appears to have been the first blog to rename the community center 'the mosque at Ground Zero.'" He then lamented: "By late summer, the community board had approved the center four times. But major media had picked up Pam Geller's label, and across the country, politicians exploited the debate." A clip was played of New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino speaking out against the mosque, no politicians in favor of the project were cited as examples of exploiting the issue.

Dismayed by Geller's influence on the controversy, Pelley demanded: "To what degree are you obliged to tell the truth in your blog? To be accurate in your blog?" He asserted: "You moved the mosque to Ground Zero. It's not going to be there. It was never intended to be there." Geller responded: "...you and I live in so tawdry an age that just telling the truth makes you a hero – and yet there are so few heroes – or makes you a devil in the eyes of the media. That's all I do is tell the truth."

Despite Pelley's demonizing of Geller throughout the story, he was skeptical of her observation: "You think you're seen as a devil in the eyes of the media?" She replied: "Absolutely." Pelley quipped: "You don't seem to mind that too much." Geller declared: "I do mind it very much. What am I going to do, shut up? You're never going to shut me up."

Pelley then moved to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: "You've been called a jihadi, a friend of terrorists, a man who can't be trusted. So who are you?" Rauf replied: "I'm a man of peace, Scott." Like with El-Gamal, Pelley portrayed Rauf as noncontroversial: "...he was picked by the Bush administration to travel the Muslim world, explaining the virtues of America, and he's still doing that for the government today. Now, he's afraid there's a danger this controversy could lead to violence."

Something missing from Pelley's interview with Rauf was any mention of the Imam's September 2001 interview with 60 Minutes, in which he claimed America was an "accessory" to the September 11th attacks and that Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was "made in the USA."

Pelley challenged Rauf on deciding to go ahead with the mosque. This allowed Rauf to argue the project was for America's benefit:                    
PELLEY: I wonder if you understand why many families who lost a loved one on 9/11 are hurt by this?

RAUF: I'm extremely sensitive to the feelings of the families of 9/11.

PELLEY: Then why did you do it?

RAUF: Because we wanted to prevent another 9/11. We wanted to – we wanted a platform that would enable us to speak, to strengthen the voice of the moderates.

PELLEY: If you are so deeply concerned about the danger in America and the danger abroad, why not just move it out of the neighborhood?

RAUF: Because it's the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do. Our community wants it, and now, America needs it and the Muslim world needs it. Because-

PELLEY: What do you mean, America needs it?

RAUF: I'll tell you why Scott. We have to wage peace. The military campaign against the radical extremists from my faith community is a military campaign. The campaign for winning hearts and minds is an important part of that campaign – we know how to do it and we're committed to doing it. We're ready, willing, and able to serve our country and to serve our faith tradition.

PELLEY: And to that widow or that child who lost a parent, who is a perfectly reasonable person and believes that this is wrong, you say what?

RAUF: First, we say we have condemned 9/11. I pray for the souls of your loved lost ones. If 9/11 happens there again, I want to be the first to die. Muslims want to stand right there to say that we are here. It's my duty as an American Muslim to stand between you, the American non-Muslim, and the radicals who are trying to attack you.

PELLEY: Imam Feisal told us he'll have a board of directors for the center made up of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and he'll ask the U.S. government to approve sources of funding.
Pelley's interviews with El-Gamal and Rauf are just the latest examples of 60 Minutes lobbing softballs to guests it agrees with, as detailed the Media Research Center's special report, Syrupy Minutes: How CBS's 60 Minutes Works Overtime for the Obama Left. The report also details how conservative guests, like Geller, are routinely attacked on the Sunday program.  

Here is a transcript of a portion of the September 26 story:
8:08PM ET

SCOTT PELLEY: A plan to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero set off a national controversy with anger, passion, and more than a little misinformation. Opponents whipped up a fury, calling the project a grotesque mega-mosque tied to terrorism. Tonight, for the first time, you're going to see the plans for the center, and you'll hear from the key players, including the people behind the mosque. Ironically, the man who has the biggest stake in all of this has been almost completely out of the public eye. He's the developer who owns the project, and he took us to the spot that his critics call an affront to the memory of 9/11. So this is what all the controversy is about?

SHARIF EL-GAMAL: It is.

PELLEY: This is the focus of outrage. It's a former Burlington Coat Factory store on a dingy block in lower Manhattan. Real estate developer Sharif El-Gamal paid $4.5 million for it. So you bought this building roughly how long ago?

EL-GAMAL: A year ago, a little bit over a year ago. July of 2009.

PELLEY: And before you bought it, what was here?

EL-GAMAL: It was an abandoned piece of real estate.

PELLEY: There was nothing in here?

EL-GAMAL: Nothing. It had been vacant since – since 9/11.

PELLEY: Vacant because part of the landing gear from one of the hijacked planes crashed through the roof. El-Gamal says he will tear this down to create a 16-story Islamic community center. I don't remember seeing this before.

EL-GAMAL: We've never showed it to anyone.

PELLEY: What are some of the things you have here?

EL-GAMAL: A restaurant, child care facilities, a pool, a media tech library, a world-class auditorium that will seat up to 500 people.

PELLEY: He says membership will be open to all, but around 10% of the space, two floors, will be devoted to an Islamic prayer room. El-Gamal is a brash 37-year-old Muslim and lifelong New Yorker who develops apartments and offices. He says he got his idea from this neighborhood center where he was a member, the Jewish community center. El-Gamal thought his project would be a step up for a seedy part of downtown, and the community enthusiastically agreed. The plan was endorsed by the Mayor, the borough president, and the community board. But that was last spring. Today, El-Gamal is described on the internet as an 'Islamic supremacist.' Who are you?

EL-GAMAL: I'm an American, I'm a New Yorker, born in Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, to a Polish Catholic mother, to an Egyptian father.

PELLEY: Let me make sure I have this straight – you're a Muslim who married a Christian girl. Your mother is Catholic. And you joined the Jewish community center on the West Side of Manhattan.

EL-GAMAL: I did. That's New York, though. That's New York.

PELLEY: Show me where Ground Zero is from here. If real estate is about location, the question is, how close is too close? We started at El-Gamal's building and headed to the World Trade Center. You can't see Ground Zero from here, but when you make the corner-

EL-GAMAL: The World Trade Center is two blocks over there.

PELLEY: In the distance here, you can see the cranes where the new World Trade Center buildings are going up.

EL-GAMAL: Yes.

PELLEY: It took us another two minutes to walk to the edge of what the government officially designates as Ground Zero. But what do you say to those people who say that it is painful for them to have the idea of a mosque, even though it is two and a half blocks away?

EL-GAMAL: I was affected by the horrific events that happened that day, as well. And I do not hold myself or my faith accountable for what happened during that horrific day.

PELLEY: Of course, the national argument isn't about measuring the length of two city blocks; it's about the distance between perceptions. If you believe Islam is a moral religion hijacked by terrorists, proximity doesn't matter. If you believe Islam condones 9/11, this is too close. It got the unanimous approval of the community board.

PAMELA GELLER: Yes.

PELLEY: The people who live down there.

GELLER: Well-

PELLEY: How did this become your business?

GELLER: It's not my business, it's America's business.

PELLEY: Pamela Geller is a key figure in all of this. She is the Islamic center's most ardent opponent. Geller is a former New York media executive who writes a politically far Right blog that mixes news, opinion, and conspiracy theories.

GELLER: We live in a multi-cultural society, a pluralistic society, with all different kinds of people. And how do we do that? We do that by getting along. And you don't build a 15 story, uh, mega-mosque at Ground Zero and talk – and say that it's healing and say that it's outreach. Don't spit in my face and tell me it's raining.

PELLEY: Last December, Geller's appears to have been the first blog to rename the community center 'the mosque at Ground Zero.' Five months later, in May, a committee of the lower Manhattan community board approved the project unanimously.

GELLER: Hi, I'm Pamela Geller-

PELLEY: That led Geller to organize a protest at the next board meeting. But all the same, the board approved the project again, 29 to one. Then, on June 6, Geller held a rally at the World Trade Center.

GELLER: Not at Ground Zero!

PELLEY: By late summer, the community board had approved the center four times. But major media had picked up Pam Geller's label, and across the country, politicians exploited the debate.

CARL PALADINO: As governor, I will use the power of eminent domain to stop the mosque.

PELLEY: Geller kept writing, calling the project 'an act of jihad,' 'a grotesque flag of conquest on Ground Zero.' To what degree are you obliged to tell the truth in your blog?

GELLER: That's all I do is tell the truth.

PELLEY: To be accurate in your blog?

GELLER: Okay, Scott-

PELLEY: You moved the mosque to Ground Zero. It's not going to be there. It was never intended to be there.

GELLER: That building is Ground Zero. And I'll say something else – truth is the new hate speech. And you and I live in so tawdry an age that just telling the truth makes you a hero – and yet there are so few heroes – or makes you a devil in the eyes of the media. That's all I do is tell the truth.

PELLEY: You think you're seen as a devil in the eyes of the media?

GELLER: Absolutely.

PELLEY: You don't seem to mind that too much.

GELLER: I do mind it very much. What am I going to do, shut up? You're never going to shut me up. [at rally] We will prevail.
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC