NYT Fails to Mention 9/11 in Faulty Comparison of Mosque to Catholic Church

UPDATE: Do New York Times reporters read NewsBusters? NYT stealthily inserts a reference to 9/11 without informing readers of an update. The updated version appeared in Friday's print edition.

In the latest installment of its pro-bono PR campaign for the Ground Zero mosque, the New York Times attempted to draw parallels between opposition to the mosque and opposition to the construction of St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church, built in lower Manhattan in 1785.

But somehow in his discussion of the mosque opponents, Times reporter Paul Vitello neglected to explicitly mention the September 11 terrorist attacks - you know, the events that form the entire basis for that opposition. The omission allowed the Times to continue drawing false parallels, and to implicitly perpetuate the notion that objections to the mosque are unfounded, dishonest, or bigoted.

More fundamentally, the article avoided mentioning 9/11 since doing so would have required the reporter to address the one monumental disconnect between the two cases: Catholics did not slaughter 2,852 innocent civilians in God's name two blocks from St. Peter's Church.

The Times, with the help of Rev. Kevin Madigan, the pastor at St. Peter's, draws three parallels between the controversies surrounding the Ground Zero mosque and St. Peter's Church: opponents asked the proprietors of each to move the location elsewhere, concerns were raised over sketchy sources of funding for both projects, and, like Catholics in 18th century America, Muslims are now considered second class citizens.

Discussion of the first of those parallels leaves readers wondering how the article could possibly have omitted mentioning the 9/11 attacks. After all, the memory of the attacks undergirds every single request that the project move elsewhere.

Vitello notes that New Yorkers in 1785 wanted St. Peter's moved "to a site outside the city limits." So it wasn't that New Yorkers didn't want the church built at a specific location in the city - they didn't want it in the city at all. Opponents of the Ground Zero mosque, on the other hand, would be perfectly content if the project's backers would agree to move it outside of the 9/11 attack's debris field.

Opposition to the construction of St. Peter's was based on general anti-Catholic sentiment; New Yorkers didn't want a Catholic Church in the city, period. But Ground Zero mosque opponents have no such objections - they aren't protesting the presence of the other 100 mosques in New York City. They just want this one to move a bit further from the site of the worst massacre in American history.  

The second parallel the article draws focuses on funding for the two projects. Vitello wrote:

Just as some opponents of Park51 have said that the $100 million-plus project will be financed by the same Saudi sheiks who bankroll terrorists, many early-American Protestants saw the pope as the sworn enemy of democracy, and feared that his followers' little church would be the bridgehead of a papal assault on the new United States government.

So Ameicans today are worried that the project will be funded in part by people who have already attacked us - devastatingly - and continue to do so both domestically (Ft. Hood, unsuccessful attacks in Times Square and on Christmas Day) and abroad (in Iraq, Aghanistan, and elsewhere).

In contrast, opposition to St. Peter's on the grounds of its funding sources alleged a completely hypothetical, often fantastical enemy (the Vatican) who had never and would never perpetrate any violent acts against American civilians.

So once again, we see the effect of Vitello's refusal to mention 9/11: Americans' concern over the mosque funding is justified at least in part by the fact that there are organizations in the world funded by the Saudi government that have attacked the United States, openly state their plans to do so again, and, as we have so tragically discovered, posses the means to do so. Those are details conveniently omitted from the Times article.

And then we come to the parallel that really forms the crux of this piece. Vitello quotes Rev. Madigan:

"We were treated as second-class citizens; we were viewed with suspicion," Father Madigan wrote in his letter to parishioners, adding, "Many of the charges being leveled at Muslim-Americans today are the same as those once leveled at our forebears."...

The discrimination suffered by the first Catholics in America, he said, "ought to be an incentive for us to ensure that similar indignities not be inflicted on more recent arrivals."

Religious bigotry, this article plainly implies, is the primary motivation of opponents to the mosque. Objections regarding the location and the funding for the projects were practical objections having to do with logistics. But in the narrative the Times presents, they don't explain the motivation behind opposition to the projects. This third parallel explains it: Muslims today, as Catholics 225 years ago, are considered second class citizens.

No other parallel drawn in the article speaks to why people objected to the two projects. And since Vitello omits any mention of the September 11 attacks, readers are left without any other potential factor that might explain the source of the objections to the Ground Zero mosque. The piece ends with the blockquote above. Americans today - at least the ones who oppose this mosque - are bigots, just as opponents to the construction of St. Peter's church were in 1785.

Of course the vast majority of opposition to the mosque's construction is motivated not by bigotry, but by a feeling that the project's proponents are peeling the scab off a wound that is far from healed. The Times didn't mention that fact since it completely undercuts the analogy it was trying to push.

But that's hardly a surprise. The Times has made its stance on the issue known - editorially, sure, but its newsroom has apparently picked sides as well.

*****UPDATE

Well, well, well. The New York Times apparently noticed this criticism, and stealthily inserted a mention of the 9/11 attacks where there was none before. In the final blockquoted paragraphs above, the ellipsis denotes the omission of this paragraph, as it was in the original Times story:

The pastor said that Park51's organizers would have to "make clear that they are in no way sympathetic to or supported by any ideology antithetical to our American ideals, which I am sure they can do."  But he said Catholic New Yorkers have a special obligation to fulfill.

Visit the page now, however, and you'll find this paragraph:

The pastor said he respected the feelings of those who lost relatives or friends on 9/11. "They bear a grief that is inexpressible," he said. Park51's organizers, he added, would have to "make clear that they are in no way sympathetic to or supported by any ideology antithetical to our American ideals, which I am sure they can do." 

Nowhere on the page does the Times inform readers that the story has been updated. The updated story is the one that appeared in Friday's print edition.

Nice try, Gray Lady. And thanks for your continued readership. NewsBusters always appreciates it when the professionals stop by.