MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Dismisses Ground Zero Mosque Debate as a 'Smokescreen'

MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan on Monday dismissed the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque as a "political smokescreen." The liberal anchor derided opponents of the planned construction who live in other states, sneering that there are "people in Kansas, California, Alaska, saying 'Oh my God. The sky is falling. The Muslims are going to kill us! It's all going to end!'"

He compared, "But, the people in Tribeca and Soho who are just, kind of, getting a cup of coffee."

Earlier in the segment, Ratigan wondered, "But is all this back and forth just a political smoke screen? Polls show a majority of Americans struggling with the same conflict as the President's statements and his expressions."

The co-host talked to Nate Silver of the website Fivethirtyeight.com. As he pointed out, while 61 percent of voters believe that the Muslim group behind the mosque has a right to put it there, 64 percent oppose the plan.

Yet, Ratigan seemed to put all the responsibility for tolerance on those who oppose the construction. He again wondered, "But, doesn't it strike you as funny that the people who would be killed by the theoretical Muslims that are not here are afraid of, the ones who would die as a result of that attack are the ones that are least concerned about an attack from Muslims in that mosque?"

A transcript of the August 16 segment, which aired at 4:01pm EDT, follows:

DYLAN RATIGAN: Meanwhile, the top Senate Democrat feeling the same way, apparently. Within the past hour, Majority Leader Harry Reid became the highest profile Dem, so far, to break ranks with the White House and publicly oppose the mosque.

But is all this back and forth just a political smoke screen? Polls show a majority of Americans struggling with the same conflict as the President's statements and his expressions. Can you have the legal right to do something and at the same time a moral obligation not to?

And why is it that the people who that live the closest to Ground Zero seem to be the least resistant to the mosque? And those who may be the furthest away, maybe have never even visited New York City in their lives, are the most adamantly against it?

Our first guest this afternoon, Nate Silver who has been crunching the numbers, a founder of 538.com. It's a pleasure to see you again, sir. Your data basically falls into three categories in your poll. Tell us what you've come up with.

NATE SILVER: Well, I mean, the distinction, like you said, that Obama was struggling with on Friday night is the same ones Americans struggle with themselves, right? Where about two thirds of people think they have the right to build the mosque.

Not terribly controversial. About two thirds of those people also think it's in poor taste. Right? So, you look at the overlap. And there's this one third in between who thinks, "They have the right to do it. But, I'm not sure how I feel about it so much."

And especially with, I guess, with some of this hedging, or the some of the way the media portrayed it as hedging, Obama is in that middle camp, too, right now, but seeming to satisfy nobody in particular.

RATIGAN: You say this falls politically into a similar category as flag burning. Can you explain what the parallels are?

SILVER: Well, sure. Flag burning is something where if you ask people, "Hey, do you like flag burning, right?" I don't think too many people would say- would yes. Or, "Hey, should they build a Hooters down at the shopping mall?

You might say "No, I would rather they didn't." But they're clearly within First Amendment rights. There's not too much debate about that. I mean, you know, some people have said some groups have said, "No they actually don't have the right."

Newt Gingrich said something along those lines this morning. But, for the most part, that's not that controversial. I think Obama went a little bit far in saying "We not only look at the right, the First Amendment's technicality. We should respect their ability to choose how they want to worship and not try and intervene and say, "No, I would rather you not believe a different thing."

 Or that you'd go worship at a different time or a different place. So, he did go a step further than just saying "Hey, it's about the First Amendment." But not quite saying, "Hey, I love this idea."

RATIGAN: What about the distinction between people like myself who have lived in lower Manhattan for many years and worked around Ground Zero, walking with past Ground Zero everyday to and from work for five years straight, who look at this as really not that big of a deal? We deal with a lot of other things.

This isn't that big of a big deal. Versus people in Kansas, California, Alaska, saying "Oh my God. The sky is falling. The Muslims are going to kill us! It's all going to end." But, the people in Tribeca and Soho who are just, kind of, getting a cup of coffee."

SILVER: Well, you know, I think part of it, it shows that polls it shows that people in Manhattan are supportive of the mosque- mosque. Not people in New York overall, but in Manhattan where it's being built.

I think it has to do with the geography of the city. I walked around Ground Zero when the controversy started and kind of scouted out the perimeter. And you would not see the mosque anywhere from the Ground Zero property. It's not really on the way.

It's kind of on a side street where there's a Burlington Coat Factory. It's very dense. And it's not like you're on main street where there's one road to Ground Zero.

RATIGAN: But, doesn't it strike you as funny that the people who would be killed by the theoretical Muslims that are not here are afraid of, the ones who would die as a result of that attack are the ones that are least concerned about an attack from Muslims in that mosque?

SILVER: Well, hopefully some ambitious polls, do a poll of people in the financial district in Tribeca or do a poll of who were victims in 9/11. They're the people who should have a larger say, frankly, than the former governor of Alaska, I think. It is a local issue.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org