Mika on 'Morning Joe': If Obama Can Run a Beer Summit, He Can Work to Unite Two Sides of Mosque Debate

Picking up where she left off last week, MSNBC "Morning Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski on Tuesday and Wednesday cast opponents of the Ground Zero mosque as a "destructive" force, "demonizing" Muslims and "promoting ignorance."

Yet Brzezinski advocated Wednesday for a compromise between the two sides to be spearheaded by President Obama. When Joe Scarborough opined that President Obama, along with former presidents, needs to get involved in a compromise, Mika blurted out that "if [Obama] can have a summit in Boston between a professor and a cop, I think he can do this."

MSNBC's "Morning Joe" panels largely supported the proposed Ground Zero mosque on both Tuesday and Wednesday, although they did show sympathy toward families of 9/11 victims. But the talking heads still would not give full credence to opponents of the mosque.

Perhaps the climax of the struggle came toward the end of Tuesday's 7 a.m. hour, where Mika faced off against the vice president of America's 911 Foundation, Nick Leischen. The organization supports active first responders nationwide in memory of the 9/11 attacks.

After Leischen, speaking for families of 9/11 victims, said that the mosque within sight of Ground Zero would be an affront to grieving persons returning to the site, Mika unleashed her tirade.

"When you talk about, every year, on the anniversary of 9/11, people going down there and then perhaps having to look at this center, and be so reminded – what are you talking about?" Mika asked in shock.  "What are they being reminded of? Are you kidding me? It's an Islamic cultural center."

"You're now – what you're doing, and very politely and respectfully, but what you're doing is, I think, promulgating ignorance about who these people are and what their center is, and demonizing them," Mika tersely admonished the guest.

Not to be left out of the fray, Time magazine's Mark Halperin also questioned Leischen's arguments. When the guest brought up Islamic history as a support for his argument, Halperin asked him to leave history out of the debate and consider the people who are involved in the mosque's planning.

"When you say looking at the building would be some sort of horror for them, try to enunciate what that means," Halperin told Leischen, "because again, as Mika suggested, the only way that that should trouble people is if they're making a connection between the Islamic faith and what happened on 9/11. Otherwise I don't see where the pain comes from."

A transcript of selected quotes from Wednesday's"Morning Joe," as well as Tuesday's debate between Mika Brzezinski's and Nick Leischen, is as follows:

MORNING JOE 8/24/10 7:44 a.m. EDT

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: And I guess what I see is potentially so different than what you see, and that is for the good of our society and for the good of our relationships between communities, I can't imagine it being moved now. Why would you think it actually does need to be moved?

NICK LEISCHEN: Well it hasn't been too good for our country and our relationship so far, in fact, quite to the contrary. I've got to tell you, I'm not a vociferous opponent by any means, and I'm here representing America's 9/11 foundation. We have an opinion, and that opinion is just that the location of the proposed mosque is extremely inappropriate. We're well-based in our opinion, because we're in contact with so many of the survivors of the World Trade Center, and with other 9/11 sites, and with their family members, the survivors, and with the first responders, especially. And I can tell you that the amount of anguish and pain, and the agonizing difficulty that this has created for them – it hasn't been a good thing. And I don't believe that it will continue to be a good thing.

And we could have, you know, we could have taken the low road. We could have gone politically correct, and said, you know, "No comment." Because we are not a political organization, and I am not here to join America's 9/11 Foundation into the fray. We exist primarily to honor the memory and the sacrifices of the victims, and their families, and the survivors of 9/11, and not just the World Trade Center, but the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa.

BRZEZINSKI: And with due respect and sympathy to the families and family members of victims and survivors, I just, I do –

LEISCHEN: But beyond that, our mission has gotten to be, to a great deal of support to first responders.

BRZEZINSKI: And first responders, for sure. And I completely – look, my first reaction when I first heard the headline to the story was "Ooh, wow, is this the right thing?" But with further looking at it, knowing that there is a mosque at the Pentagon, knowing that there is another Islamic center 12 blocks away, knowing what else is around Ground Zero, hearing the conversation, and then listening to it being ratcheted up politically, and on the streets of New York – I just wonder now, though, if it would actually be detrimental to turn back.

LEISCHEN: Well, the thing is is that, you know, life is full of compromises, and certainly corporations, religious foundations, charitable foundations – we make compromises all the time to, you know, reach our ultimate goals. So I guess the question is, what really is the goal of the mosque people? I mean, is the goal to create a tribute there to , you know, what happened? I hope not. Or is the goal to create a place of worship, and a community center, and to honor and respect people –

BRZEZINSKI: Well that's the goal. I mean, that's – from everything we've heard, sir, with all due respect, that – that is the goal. The goal is not –

LEISCHEN: Why is it so critical to place it virtually right on top of the World Trade Center site?

BRZEZINSKI: I honestly, from talking and listening to the people who planning this, and knowing the Imam and having interviewed him – I truly believe, and I could be wrong – but I believe that they were blindsided by the response, because they have another center 12 blocks away, the Pentagon has a –

LEISCHEN: I think 12 blocks away would make all the difference in the world. I think that having it within the site of the World Trade Center – imagine every year, on the anniversary, when the family members and the survivors who narrowly escaped with their lives come back to the World Trade Center for the annual memorial, and they're looking at this 13-story grand monument. How would that feel, how painful would that be? How painful is it now? The people who were at the protest – many of them were family members of the victims. The pain that they were suffering was so great, so extreme, it was very difficult to witness or to speak with them. And by the way, I want to to set the record straight about something. I am not a protester. Certainly, America's 9/11 Foundation is not protesting. We were down there, but we were down there for an event that is an annual event for us that had been planned more than a year in advance, and we had, oh, I don't know, 5-600 American patriot motorcyclists that came down there and we did put on an event over by the Pass station, and we very carefully and skillfully, using these wonderful motorcycle police escorts from around the country, and we moved our people around the protest so that we would not draw any media attention, or draw attention to ourselves, or that we would be misconstrued to be protesters. But then I heard media outlets that were building us up to be protesters. We polled our riders, and they are definitely opposed to the location.

BRZEZINSKI: Nick, though, the question I have, and I'll let Mark Halperin in in just a second. When you talk about, every year, on the anniversary of 9/11, people going down there and then perhaps having to look at this center, and be so reminded – what are you talking about? What are they being reminded of? Are you kidding me? It's an Islamic cultural center. You're now – what you're doing, and very politely and respectfully, but what you're doing is, I think, promulgating ignorance about who these people are and what their center is, and demonizing them.

LEISCHEN: Well, it sounds like you're trying to draw me into the controversy. The only thing I can say in response is this. Let's look to Cordoba, Spain. When people look at the mosque there, what does it symbolize?

BRZEZINSKI: It's not what we're looking at down near the site of 9/11, not even close.

LEISCHEN: It very clearly symbolizes, you know, an Islamic victory that was held in great esteem for a very long time, and that was marked and monumented by the building of a large mosque on the site that used to be a church, where a massacre occurred. I think there's a very unhealthy parallel there, and it frightens me.

BRZEZINSKI: Whoa.

LEISCHEN: I think that if they really wanted to be moderate, and if they were considerate about what's most important here, it is the respect for the people that are most directly impacted by 9/11. I think that's what's important. I'm not talking about a Constitutional right. Anybody that can buy and own property and follow building codes and such have a right to put up anything that want. I would never argue that. I'm 100 percent a supporter of the United States Constitution. However, I think that there -- to almost all things that happen, there is an appropriateness and an inappropriateness. This is absolutely and extremely inappropriate, in its location only. Not in its existence, not in its construction.
MARK HALPERIN: Sir, I really want you to focus, if I could, with all respect again, on what Mika asked. We all give extraordinary deference to the feelings of the victims. There's no question of the first responders and the victims' families, there's no question that their feelings need to be part of this debate, and should be given a lot of deference. But when you say looking at the building would be some sort of horror for them, try to enunciate what that means, because again, as Mika suggested, the only way that that should trouble people is if they're making a connection between the Islamic faith and what happened on 9/11. Otherwise I don't see where the pain comes from.  
LEISCHEN: I understand that, but don't you see where it would remind them that it was Islamic terrorists that committed the murders against their loved ones? 
HALPERIN: Sure, but this is a center devoted to -- would be a center devoted to cultural understanding, to try to keep misunderstandings from happening in the future, not a celebration of what happened, not a consecration of the misuse of the Muslim faith. Just the opposite. So again, what is the pain that people would feel based on? A misunderstanding?
LEISCHEN: Based on what I see and  what you're seeing, you and I would disagree, sir. I believe that it is the opposite of what you're seein, then. I believe that it is put there to be in close proximity to the World Trade Center, for the purpose of monumentalizing it.
HALPERIN: Well, but what do you base that on? 
 LEISCHEN: History --
 HALPERIN:  Well no, forget history. We're talking about specific individuals in this case. Not in history, but in the present day.
LEISCHEN: You know, I guess I  should correct myself. Let me put it this way. The family members, and the survivors that I spoke to, they perceive it that way. That's actually what I meant to say. Because I'm no historical expert, and I'm certainly no political, and I'm no on-air media person, as you can tell obviously. But I have spoken to many, many of the family member, and of the survivors, and I know that this is how it is perceived by them.
(...)
I don't think it's a question of allowing or not allowing. This is Americ, this is a free country, and the Constitution is the law of the land. However, on behalf of the 911 Foundation, we believe that it is an extremely inappropriate location for exactly those reasons.
MORNING JOE 7/25/10 6:49 a.m.-6:52 a.m. EDT

JOE SCARBOROUGH: This is why the President needs to get involved. And I do believe that with the President involved, George W. Bush involved, George H. W. Bush involved –

BRZEZINSKI: If he can have a summit in Boston between a professor and a cop, I think he can do this.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: This can be resolved. I'm going to say also – and Pat, a week ago – I would have said that compromise needs to include the possibility of moving the mosque north. I've got to say at this point, I don't see how that can happen when you've got African-Americans being threatened down at a protest because they quote, "look Muslim." When you have the nation listening to Newt Gingrich, comparing a house of worship to a swastika. We'll be seen around the globe as the United States bowing to the pressure of an extreme fringe element.

(...)

BUCHANAN: In the Islamic world, there are Islamic leaders who are saying "What are these guys thinking of putting it there? There are people over there who are saying "America is anti-Islam," at the same time (unintelligible). Joe, you won't find Saudis, in my judgment, or anybody of the Gulf Arabs funding this thing when they realize the sensitivity it has for Americans, and the division that's associated with it, they're going to back off. I don't think it's ever going to be built.

SCARBOROUGH: Okay. We shall see. I am always – I am Pollyanna, I believe there's a way to bring people together and make this thing happen in a way that makes –
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014