By a wide margin — 66 percent to 29 percent, according to the most recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll — the public is opposed to building that proposed $100 million Islamic cultural center near the site of the destroyed World Trade Towers. This is not a lightly-held opinion: more than half (53%) told ABC news they are “strongly opposed” to building it near Ground Zero, vs. only 14 percent who report being “strongly” in favor. (Scroll to Question 30.)
So in the face of such obvious public sentiment, are the big broadcast networks reflecting such public sentiment in their coverage? Or are journalists implicitly repudiating their viewers by touting accusations that opposition to the mosque is motivated by America’s supposed “Islamophobia”?
To find out, MRC analysts reviewed all 52 stories about the Ground Zero mosque on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts from August 14 through September 13 — the first month after President Obama propelled the issue into the headlines with his remarks at a White House dinner.
Appearing as a guest on Tuesday’s Larry King Live on CNN, comedian Bill Maher picked up on a recent contention by Newt Gingrich that President Obama is motivated by anti-colonialism which his Kenyan father felt as the Real Time with Bill Maher host smeared the potential 2012 Republican presidential field as racist:
How are they going to out-firebreathe each other? I mean, where this rhetoric has gone to at this point. It’s only 2010, and we’re having Newt Gingrich, as we were talking about before, calling him an anti-colonial Luo tribesman. ... That’s the new Kenyan, Larry. And Kenyan, of course, was code for n*****. But that’s where they are. They can’t say it out loud. But that’s where this whole campaign is going to be. You asked about racism. It’s all about racism. They cannot fathom this idea that there is a black President. And that’s what they are going to fight about.
Maher also declared that, while he personally likes Delaware GOP senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell because she is a "nice person" who used to be a frequent guest on his Politically Incorrect show in the 1990s, that he was also cheering for her and other "tea baggers" to win GOP primaries, declaring that "she's going to get her Christian ass kicked in the general election."
And, as the topic turned to the Ground Zero mosque, while Maher acknowledged that there is a substantial amount of Islamic extremism in the world, he believed using the military against it makes it worse, and suggested that, because 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has already been captured, America should declare victory and New Yorkers should "forget about it." Referring to the 9/11 mastermind, Maher declared:
On the September 11th Saturday Early Show, CBS News Middle East analyst Reza Aslan slammed opponents of the Ground Zero mosque as having "unapologetically politicized" 9/11 and being part of a "whole wave of anti-Muslim sentiment."
While he denounced others for trying to "take advantage of this symbol for their own political purposes," Aslan made his comments only seconds after live coverage of the first moment of silence for victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Co-host Chris Wragge accepted Aslan's characterization of the controversy and responded: "...this is not an opportunity to add controversy into the mix. If there's one day, you know what, to keep our mouths quiet and let's just reflect on the lives lost, today is it, you don't mess with that."
Aslan followed up by admitting: "I'll be honest with you, I hope that there is kind of a backlash against what's going on right now. As you know, at 1pm today there'll be a rally in support of the so-called Park 51 project, at 3pm there'll be this international rally against it. So, I'm hoping that Americans all over the country see these images and think we've gone too far."
He later specifically condemned mosque opponents: "...particularly in the case of this sort of international anti-Islam rally that's being brought by this group called Stop Islamization of America. And they're inviting all these European anti-Muslim politicians in to speak. I mean, that's really now taking this to a whole other level."
Comedian Bill Maher took his anti-religion, anti-conservative views off HBO and into the mainstream Sept. 13 during an appearance on NBC's "Tonight Show." Maher told host Jay Leno he's against the Ground Zero Mosque, because he's "against a mosque anywhere. I'm against a church anywhere, or a Hindu temple or a synagogue."
Maher declared that houses of worship are "places that people go to retell nonsense stories from a time before men understood what a germ or an atom was, or where the sun went at night. They try to telepathically communicate with their imaginary friend. These are places that fleece people, and scare people and they perpetuate mass delusion. We shouldn't build any of them."
But Maher conceded that because the First Amendment protects freedom of religion, "they should be able to build them anywhere."
He also attacked conservatives and Sarah Palin, calling her an "evil dingbat."
Rev. Terry Jones may have announced on Saturday's Today that he wouldn't be burning any Korans, but on Sunday Today, NBC Meet the Press host David Gregory was suggesting Jones wasn't worthy of anyone's airtime: "I don't see why this pastor Jones has any sort of forum or any platform that's worthy of discussion."
Did Gregory lose that debate inside NBC?
When asked by anchor Jenna Wolfe about the Koran-burning controversy, Gregory insisted that President Obama's opposition will have a "big impact," and yet, when asked if this incident would hurt America abroad, he didn't think so (after all, Obama has been so effective at that outreach to the Muslim world):
Rev. Al Sharpton, last seen leading a small leftist counter-protest of Glenn Beck's rally in Washington on August 28, complained on his radio show Friday that Rev. Terry Jones shouldn't have gotten media attention because he's doing "nothing but hatemongering." (Al Sharpton, by contrast, is the Apostle of Love.)
A lot of people wonder why we in civil rights get attention. Now we can produce our following and our members, tens of thousands of people at marches, all kind of stuff and we project an issue that helps people and they say we get too much media coverage. This guy in Florida is doing nothing but hatemongering, has fifty members on a good Sunday and the whole world is standing still. And y’all wonder why I say the media is imbalanced and unfair.
Turning to Smokey Fontaine of the black website NewsOne.com, Sharpton complained that even Barack Obama was forced to address Jones at his press conference:
Last Friday Mika Brzezinski and Morning Joe engaged in some strange and possibly unprecedented TV "journalism." They invited Terry Jones—the potentially Koran-burning pastor—on the show via live feed, gave former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham the chance to lecture him about Christianity and implore him not to proceed with his plan . . . then summarily cut the feed without giving Jones the chance to say word one in response.
"We don't really need to hear anything else" declared Mika, as she shut down the pastor's microphone.
A number of bloggers, including NB's own Matt Hadro and me, noted and criticized Mika's bizarre move. But there was Joe Scarborough on the show today, mockingly writing off Mika's critics as "crazy people."
Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein is generally a careful reporter, not prone to outbursts of liberal bias. But the general liberal-media bias that ignorance breeds "Islamophobia" came through between the lines in a Monday story on the aftermath of the Koran-burning publicity stunt week in Florida:
In fact, like much of the country, Gainesville's racial and religious diversity is minimal. Personal contact with Muslims is limited.
Nationally, more than half of the respondents in a recent Pew poll said they knew little or nothing about Islam. In that vacuum, violence overseas in the name of Islam defines that faith for many.
The implication is that truly learned people who have diverse human contacts have no logical reason to be concerned about the negative impact of Islam. (The story is not yet online.)
Appearing as a guest on Friday’s Countdown show, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe – formerly of Newsweek – referred to the debunked story that was retracted by Newsweek in May 2005 which had incorrectly claimed that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a Koran down a toilet to intimidate Muslim prisoners. But Wolffe did not inform viewers that the story was untrue as he accused conservatives of a double standard for criticizing Newsweek’s inaccurate Koran desecration story from 2005 while not being aggressive enough in condemning Pastor Terry Jones’s declaration that he would burn the Koran on September 11. Wolffe:
I'm struck all the time with this story about the experience of those of us who worked in Newsweek – not the least of whom is Mike Isikoff now at NBC News who wrote a story about the abuse of the Koran in Guantanamo Bay, and there were riots and people died and the overwhelming torrent of abuse from conservative, the echo chamber, more than elected officials I think, certainly from conservative media, was that Newsweek had lied and people died. That's what they said.
Newsweek’s erroneous story inspired riots and a significant number of deaths in 2005 before it was retracted by the magazine, although, as previously documented by the MRC, Newsweek buried its retraction.
On Saturday’s Fox News Watch, after host Jon Scott displayed a political cartoon that depicted the aggressive overreaction of many Muslims to Pastor Terry Jones’s threat to burn a Koran on September 11, liberal FNC analyst Alan Colmes suggested that a "very similar reaction" from Christians would result if a Muslim announced the intent to burn a Bible. Despite the reported riots and death in places like Kabul, Afghanistan, Colmes initically doubted that there had been calls for "Death to America" as a result of the Koran-burning controversy.
Scott showed a cartoon from tobytoons.com which ended with a Muslim man shouting "Death to America," and turned to Colmes, asking, "Do they have a point?" The exchange continued:
Dan Rather this weekend smacked down the entire panel of the syndicated "Chris Matthews Show" over the press hyping Pastor Terry Jones's threats to burn Korans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.
"Media in general bear some responsibility here by running so hard with this story so early and putting such comments as you just said not only on the air, but high on the air, giving it play," Rather said.
When everyone on the set - including Matthews, Katty Kay of the BBC, Andrea Mitchell of NBC, and David Ignatius of the Washington Post - disagreed with him, Rather pushed back, "We do have a responsibility, however you want to describe us, as gatekeepers."
He continued, "We could do a better job of putting it in perspective, putting it into context" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
ABC’s Christiane Amanpour used Sunday’s This Week to again shame Americans for their presumed irrational intolerance and Islamophobia as she railed against the ignorance of too many Americans, provided a friendly forum to Iman Faisal Abdul Rauf, whom she prompted to ridicule Sarah Palin, and then brought aboard a group of three “leading thinkers on faith” to “discuss religious tolerance and Islamophobia in America.” That brings Amanpour’s show tally to six guests in favor of the Ground Zero mosque versus zero opposed (four today, two on the August 22 program).
Unmentioned by Amanpour or her guests: A report presented Friday by former 9/11 Commission Co-Chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton about, according to Reuters, a needed “wake-up call about the radicalization of Muslims in the United States.” The report warned: “The U.S. is arguably now little different from Europe in terms of having a domestic terrorist problem involving immigrant and indigenous Muslims as well as converts to Islam.”
At the top of Sunday’s show, Amanpour noted the 9/11 anniversary and used it to frame her agenda: “Nine years later, the growing hostility towards American Muslims.” In a lengthy set-up piece leading into Rauf, Amanpour fretted that “the plans to build an Islamic center close to Ground Zero have whipped up anti-Muslim sentiment” and insisted: “Not since 9/11 has the country seen such anti-Muslim fervor.” She asserted “Muslim-Americans are feeling vulnerable, with attacks on mosques in California, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. And the latest fuel poured on the fire, a threat to burn Korans...” And “these tumultuous events have created a global backlash. From Washington, to the Vatican, to Afghanistan.”
On Sunday’s syndicated Chris Matthews Show, after host Matthews asked if electing a President whose middle name was "Hussein" had "opened a door to better relations with the Arab and Islamic world. Or has it opened a door to more xenophobic American negativity?" the panel mostly agreed that Obama’s election was more of a "net plus" for America’s relations with the world's Muslim population. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius had a dissenting view that "President Obama raised expectations that there would be a different kind of America. That in itself could be dangerous."
After former CBS News anchor Dan Rather argued that "I think it's opened the door to both, but, on balance, and in the main, it's still a net plus in terms of the country's reputation," the BBC’s Katty Kay agreed and implicated President Bush in damaging America’s relations with the Muslim world. Kay: "I agree that it's a net plus, particularly when you compare it with what came before and the invasion of Iraq and how much of a problem that was for America's relations with the Middle East."
NBC’s Andrea Mitchell concurred: "I agree because after the invasion of Iraq and with this President and his multicultural background, it is a net plus."
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius then weighed in with a more pessimistic take:
As liberals tumble over each other extending apologies to Muslims for any American that would even whisper idly about burning a Koran, they should start apologizing for the Daily Kos. On Friday night came a plea from the atheist blogger "qinkilla" to burn all the religious texts, to keep people warm:
I am fine with the Koran being burnt, but only if the Bible and the Torah and any other religious document is included in the prodigious torching. If you've watched the Denzel Washington movie "The Book of Eli" you'd probably think that a braille copy of the Bible could save humanity. Well, in this country, we've got one of 'em in just about every hotel and motel room - and things just aren't getting better.
I believe sans religion, we'll all be better off....So here's my plan. We spend the next month gathering up all the religious documents in the world -- after all, it's time to let the invisible man go - and we allocate them to cold places, so they can be burned for a good cause...heat.
New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote a short piece on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 that should be must-reading for all Americans on both sides of the aisle.
In fact, I'm sure liberal Times devotees will be just as shocked by "A Lesson From 9/11" as conservatives that take the three minutes necessary to get through it.
After sharing his experience as a New Yorker who was in Manhattan that awful day, Blow marvelously tied it all together with what Americans have fought and died for since our forefathers were colonists:
On Saturday’s Good Morning America on ABC, during a discussion of the Ground Zero mosque and the possibility of Koran burning in Florida by Pastor Terry Jones, after anchor Dan Harris brought up the naive liberal expectation that President Obama would be able to improve relations with the Muslim world because of his family connections to Islam and his inaugural speech reaching out to Muslims, ABC News consultant Richard Clarke suggested that Obama’s inaugural address had "helped a lot" to make America safer before being derailed by recent controversies. Clarke's suggestion came after he had argued that recent events have made America "a lot less safe," with the conversation continuing:
DAN HARRIS: But, you know, there was all this talk when President Obama was inaugurated that here's a man whose middle name was "Hussein," he spent part of his childhood in a Muslim country, he's made a LOT of effort to reach out to the Muslim world, and, in fact, gave an impassioned set of statements on this very issue yesterday. Has none of that helped?
RICHARD CLARKE: Well, it did help. When he said in his inaugural address, "America is not at war with Islam," that helped a lot. But the recent controversies have undone all of that.
Clarke – a former counterterrorism advisor for both the Clinton and Bush administrations who has a history of sharp criticism of the Bush administration’s response to 9/11 – later in the segment vaguely impugned the Bush administration’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks: "We have to anticipate that there will be another attack. And we have to think about what our reaction's going to be when that occurs. Last time, a lot of our reaction was counterproductive."
Imagine for a moment you were the editor of a magazine owned by the Washington Post and Newsweek. Would you a day before the ninth anniversary of 9/11 publish an article with the following headline:
The Talibanization of America Viewed from Pakistan, the rise of U.S. Islamophobia looks depressingly familiar.
Seems rather inflammatory hours before such a solemn day in America, don't you think?
Yet, such was published Friday by Foreign Policy magazine, an affiliate of the Slate Group.
Sadly, the contents - which in paragraph three equated former House Speaker Newt Gingrich with prospective Koran burner Terry Jones - will likely be even more offensive to the vast majority of Americans especially on September 11:
Fire doesn't melt steel--and a Florida pastor apparently isn't capable of burning a Koran without a plot by Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich behind him . . .
On The Ed Show this evening, guest Karen Hunter, responding to a leading question from host Schultz, went deep conspiracy theory, saying she "wouldn't be surprised at all" if the "fingerprints" of Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich were "all over" Pastor Terry Jones' plan to fire up some Korans.
Filling in for anchor Katie Couric on Thursday's CBS Evening News, Early Show co-host Harry Smith introduced a report on opposition to building mosques in some areas of the country: "...they feel like strangers in their own country, Muslims shocked by the growing opposition to new mosques....building a mosque has suddenly become a hot-button issue in many communities."
Smith expounded on the cause of the protests: "The furor over plans to burn the Koran and the building of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero has had ripple effects all across America." Correspondent Seth Doane followed by focusing on opposition to a proposed mosque in Tennessee: "About 250 Muslim families live here in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. For decades, they've lived in peace and have prayed at a small local mosque. But then trouble started brewing over this site, where they want to expand and build a bigger Islamic center."
Doane described the feelings of one Muslim resident: "[Saleh Sbenaty]says even after September 11th, he didn't see hatred like this." Doane added: "Nationwide, more than half a dozen proposed Islamic centers have run into roadblocks, from Temecula, California, to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to the high-profile one near Ground Zero." He did not explain what those "roadblocks" were.
In what had to be the ultimate in condescension and elitism, MSNBC's "Morning Joe" brought Pastor Terry Jones on the show merely to lecture him on Christianity, cutting him off before he could even respond. Co-host Mika Brzezinski explained to him "we don't really need to hear anything else, so thanks." Newsbusters' Mark Finkelstein first briefly reported on this segment this morning.
Panel member Jon Meacham, the departing editor of Newsweek, briefly preached to Pastor Jones on Jesus' New Testament message of love and forgiveness and then appealed to him "as a fellow Christian" to not follow through with his threats to burn the Koran. Then, before Pastor Jones responded, his live feed was cut and co-host Mika Brzezinski continued with the show, saying that they did not need to listen to Pastor Jones.
"The central message of the New Testament is forgiveness, and to put oneself in the place of another," Meacham lectured Pastor Jones on planning to burn copies of the Koran. "And so I would simply appeal to you, as a fellow Christian, that the course you suggested is going to be incredibly dangerous, and would ask you to desist in the name of New Testament theology."
Washington Post staff writer Anne Kornblut used her question at a White House press conference on Friday to worry that, despite Barack Obama making it a "priority," anti-Muslim "suspicion" still existed in America.
She queried the President, "Nine years after the September 11th attacks, why do you think it is that we are now seeing such an increase in suspicion and outright resentment of Islam, especially given that it has been one of your priorities to improve relations with the Muslim world?" [MP3 audio here.]
Obama's response seemed to echo his infamous 2008 comment about Americans being "bitter" and "clinging" to their guns. He proclaimed, "You know, I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then, you know, fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society. And, so, I think that plays a role in it."
Chris Matthews on Thursday accused Sarah Palin of aiding and abetting Pastor Terry Jones, the man threatening to burn Korans on Saturday's ninth anniversary of 9/11.
For days, Matthews and his colleagues on MSNBC have been calling upon Republicans to speak out against Jones.
On Wednesday, the former Alaska governor did exactly that at her Facebook page and at Twitter.
But this wasn't enough for Matthews who repeatedly on the 5PM installment of "Hardball" attacked Palin for being too "soft" in her admonishment of Jones, and actually accused her of giving the Pastor the linkage between burning Korans and the controversy surrounding the Ground Zero mosque.
Matthews also included House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Oh.) in his pathetic plot (video follows with transcript and commentary):
Both Pat Buchanan and Donny Deutsch have advocated the arrest of Pastor Terry Jones to prevent his possible burning of Korans and the danger to US troops such act would threaten. The paleo-conservative and the New York liberal made common cause on today's Morning Joe. They were outnumbered by Mika Brzezinski, Dan Senor and John Heilemann, all of whom opposed the arrest-the-pastor proposal on First Amendment grounds. Buchanan and Deutsch expressed disregard for the First Amendment implications.
Buchanan asserted that if Pres. Obama were to follow his advice, conservatives would support him and his popularity would zoom 10% overnight.
CNN offered a sneak preview of their upcoming Parker-Spitzer program on Wednesday's Anderson Cooper 360 with the new hosts, pseudo-conservative Kathleen Parker and "Client Number Nine" Eliot Spitzer agreeing that the "well-spoken" Imam Feisal Rauf changed few minds with his recent interview. The two also forwarded their network's charge that "Islamophobia" is growing in the U.S.
Anchor Anderson Cooper began the segment by asking the two about Soledad O'Brien interview of Rauf, which took place the previous hour. Parker, the "Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and noted conservative commentator," as Cooper called her, endorsed his appearance and went on to characterize the two sides of the debate over the planned Ground Zero mosque. In her view, those who oppose it "were going to sort of be looking for ways to convince yourself that he was...trying to be this, sort of, secret jihadist." On the other hand, the supporters of the mosque "understand that he seemed as a reasonable, rational person who's well-spoken and has something important to say."
Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf chose ABC's Christiane Amanpour to spend “several hours” with on Thursday in New York City, and just as she did back on the August 22 This Week when she featured Rauf's wife and an ally, she again served as his public relations agent, forwarding his claims without challenge. After passing along his denial of any deal to move his project, Amanpour gushingly relayed meaningless blather about his great concern: “The imam went on to tell me that this whole issue is so sensitive because he has to really take care of sensitivities here in the United States and abroad.”
Amanpour proceeded to tout that he's now back from an overseas trip “all about interfaith dialogue and trying to reach the moderates,” and he warned, as he did on Wednesday's Larry King Live, that if he doesn't get his way Muslims will murder Americans. Amanpour, however, didn't describe that as a protection racket or suggest he's employing blackmail. Instead, she just paraphrased his spin that his warning -- about his vanity – is “a matter of vital national security” to the U.S.:
He says that this has become a huge international issue, the issue over the Islamic center in Manhattan and also the threatened Koran burning. And so everybody, all over the world, not just here in the United States, is watching. And he felt, and he said to me, that he thought it was a matter of vital national security not to give in or to move that Islamic center.
As the ninth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, and Americans fret about a Pastor they never heard of burning Korans to commemorate the event, people on both sides of the political aisle should be asking a serious question: did the media negligently create this controversy?
After all, Terry Jones has a tiny, 50 member, non-denominational church in Gainesville, Florida.
Should some unknown Pastor - with a following smaller than what's normally in line at an In-n-Out restaurant drive-thru! - wanting to burn Korans generate such a media firestorm that an international incident and our national security are threatened?
As Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel wrote Wednesday, if you knew the real attention-getting background of Jones, the answer would be a definitive "No":
On Wednesday's Rick's List, CNN's Rick Sanchez tried to connect the overwhelming opposition to the planned Ground Zero mosque to a Florida pastor's "Burn a Koran Day" event. Sanchez asked former New York Governor George Pataki, "Do you feel in any way that some of this backlash...led by some fine gentlemen like yourself...has kind of paved the way for that controversy, and if so, do you feel guilty at all?" [audio clip available here]
Sanchez interviewed Pataki during the prime time edition of his program. Just before the bottom of the 8 pm Eastern hour, the anchor raised Pastor Terry Jones's planned inflammatory protest: "Let me ask you one final question, if I possibly can. There's this new hullabaloo going on in Gainesville, Florida, with this pastor who wants to literally burn Korans. And now, we're getting protests in Afghanistan- our generals are saying this guy's going to get our troops killed."
In an interview with Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison on Thursday's CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith implied a link between Ground Zero mosque opposition and a pastor's plan to burn the Koran: "...a line that can be drawn from the...anti-Muslim sentiment that seems to be growing in this country and seems to be festering in the Islamic cultural center....Do you see a line that connects here?"
Ellison, the only Muslim member of Congress, defended the planned mosque: "...in my view, the cultural center in lower Manhattan, the purpose of it wasn't to offend or insult anyone. The purpose was to try to build bridges of understanding...there's no doubt that the people who pull this project together were not intending to insult anyone." The Congressman then agreed with Smith's characterization of the opposition: "...there does seem to be a certain wave of anti-Islamic sentiment."
“Anti-Muslim bigotry is a problem, but it is only exacerbated by the media's tendency to exaggerate and sensationalize it,” the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto observed Wednesday in looking at the media’s focus on the threat, to burn Qur’ans, by one widely condemned Florida pastor with barely a few dozen followers. On Wednesday night, for the second night in a row, two of the three broadcast network evening news shows led with Terry Jones (ABC and CBS on Tuesday, CBS and NBC on Wednesday.)
But what I found amusing is how network journalists decided Sarah Palin, the Pope – and even Pat Robertson – are now sources of wisdom worth publicizing. Over aerial video of the Vatican (screen capture below), Katie Couric teased the CBS Evening News: “Tonight, despite condemnation from the Vatican and a personal plea from Muslims, that Christian minister in Florida is going ahead with plans to burn copies of the Qur'an.”
“This is the news,” an excited Diane Sawyer announced on ABC, “not only is Billy Graham's son Franklin trying to reach out to him, so is Sarah Palin.” Terry Moran relayed how “late today, Sarah Palin tweeted her opposition, writing: ‘Please stand down.’ And long-time televangelist Pat Robertson blasted Pastor Jones this morning.”