The whole sad story

. . . of how the media empire of our Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch  once again has carried a story from the fringes of the blogshpere to the front pages, beginnng with the NY Post and then broadcast through Fox News. It’s a shabby and disgraceful journey, and it’s timelined by reporter Justin Elliot at Salon. I gave up trying to excerpt, so here it is in its entirety.

How the “ground zero mosque” fear mongering began

A group of progressive Muslim-Americans plans to build an Islamic community center two and a half blocks from ground zero in lower Manhattan. They have had a mosque in the same neighborhood for many years. There’s another mosque two blocks away from the site. City officials support the project. Muslims have been praying at the Pentagon, the other building hit on Sept. 11, for many years. In short, there is no good reason that the Cordoba House project should have been a major national news story, let alone controversy. And yet it has become just that, dominating the political conversation for weeks and prompting such a backlash that, according to a new poll, nearly 7 in 10 Americans now say they oppose the project. How did the Cordoba House become so toxic, so fast?

 In a story last week, the New York Times, which framed the project in a largely positive, noncontroversial light last December, argued that it was cursed from the start by “public relations missteps.” But this isn’t accurate. To a remarkable extent, a Salon review of the origins of the story found, the controversy was kicked up and driven by Pamela Geller, a right-wing, viciously anti-Muslim, conspiracy-mongering blogger, whose sinister portrayal of the project was embraced by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post.

 Here’s a timeline of how it all happened:

 Dec. 8, 2009: The Times publishes a lengthy front-page look at the Cordoba project. “We want to push back against the extremists,” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the lead organizer, is quoted as saying. Two Jewish leaders and two city officials, including the mayor’s office, say they support the idea, as does the mother of a man killed on 9/11. An FBI spokesman says the imam has worked with the bureau. Besides a few third-tier right-wing blogs, including Pamela Geller’s Atlas Shrugs site, no one much notices the Times story.

  • Dec. 21, 2009: Conservative media personality Laura Ingraham interviews Abdul Rauf’s wife, Daisy Khan, while guest-hosting “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox. In hindsight, the segment is remarkable for its cordiality. “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it,” Ingraham says of the Cordoba project, adding at the end of the interview, “I like what you’re trying to do.”
  • (This segment also includes onscreen the first use that we’ve seen of the misnomer “ground zero mosque.”) After the segment — and despite the front-page Times story — there were no news articles on the mosque for five and a half months, according to a search of the Nexis newspaper archive.
  • May 6, 2010: After a unanimous vote by a New York City community board committee to approve the project, the AP runs a story. It quotes relatives of 9/11 victims (called by the reporter), who offer differing opinions. The New York Post, meanwhile, runs a story under the inaccurate headline, “Panel Approves ‘WTC’ Mosque.” Geller is less subtle, titling her post that day, “Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction.” She writes on her Atlas Shrugs blog, “This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem.” (To get an idea of where Geller is coming from, she once suggested that Malcolm X was Obama’s real father. Seriously.)
  • May 7, 2010: Geller’s group, Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), launches “Campaign Offensive: Stop the 911 Mosque!” (SIOA ‘s associate director is Robert Spencer, who makes his living writing and speaking about the evils of Islam.) Geller posts the names and contact information for the mayor and members of the community board, encouraging people to write. The board chair later reports getting “hundreds and hundreds” of calls and e-mails from around the world.
  • May 8, 2010: Geller announces SIOA’s first protest against what she calls the “911 monster mosque” for May 29. She and Spencer and several other members of the professional anti-Islam industry will attend. (She also says that the protest will mark the dark day of “May 29, 1453, [when] the Ottoman forces led by the Sultan Mehmet II broke through the Byzantine defenses against the Muslim siege of Constantinople.” The outrage-peddling New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser argues in a note at the end of her column a couple of days later that “there are better places to put a mosque.”
  • May 13, 2010: Peyser follows up with an entire column devoted to “Mosque Madness at Ground Zero.” This is a significant moment in the development of the “ground zero mosque” narrative: It’s the first newspaper article that frames the project as inherently wrong and suspect, in the way that Geller has been framing it for months. Peyser in fact quotes Geller at length and promotes the anti-mosque protest of Stop Islamization of America, which Peyser describes as a “human-rights group.” Peyser also reports — falsely — that Cordoba House’s opening date will be Sept. 11, 2011.

 Lots of opinion makers on the right read the Post, so it’s not surprising that, starting that very day, the mosque story spread through the conservative — and then mainstream — media like fire through dry grass. Geller appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio show. The Washington Examiner ran an outraged column about honoring the 9/11 dead. So did Investor’s Business Daily. Smelling blood, the Post assigned news reporters to cover the ins and outs of the Cordoba House development daily. Fox News, the Post’s television sibling, went all out.

 Within a month, Rudy Giuliani had called the mosque a “desecration.” Within another month, Sarah Palin had tweeted her famous “peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate” tweet. Peter King and Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty followed suit — with political reporters and television news programs dutifully covering “both sides” of the controversy.

 Geller had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

13 responses to “The whole sad story

  1. She and Mr. Murdoch brought this abomination to America’s attentions. All true Americans thank them for that. I was certainly happy to get some national support since I live in NYC and was outraged by this Cordoba House from the get-go.

    And, if they’re so “progressive” and so interested in cultural exchange, why there, with that name, and on that date even after Americans’ outrage and the offer of FREE property just a bit further away from the site?


  2. [ on that date ] So you believe the fiction of ‘opening on Sept 11, 2011’ ?


  3. It isn’t fiction – or, more accurately – wasn’t fiction. 9/11/11 was the planned opening date. As of August 13th (I just read the synopsis of the meeting moments ago) they changed the minds, supposedly due to funding issues.

    They also claim to be changing the to Park 51 or something similar. And supposedly have changed the plan for the mosque to be just unconsecrated prayer space which means – in their own assertion – that it have sanctuary privileges or uncontrolled access by any and Muslims.

    So, no “Cordoba,” no 9/11, and a bonus that it won’t be a true mosque – as of claims made the 13th. If all that is true and stays true, then I have no particular grievance against them building the center, though I’d never go there myself.


  4. Link to the meeting minutes? There have been many meetings – which one do you mean?


  5. Pingback: No Cordoba House! | Reflections From a Murky Pond

  6. I can’t link to a print-out, Moe. Yeah, some things are still hard copy. The meeting was actually held in late July, 27th I believe but it wasn’t well publicized for reasons that defy sanity.

    The upshot is: Name to be changed to Park 51 and no likely no mosque onsite, just prayer space. The latter is a little vague since there seems to be some disagreement about that point amongst the principles involved.

    Oh…And I traced what might be the source of the problem revolving around the opening date. One of the principles, Daisy Khan (wife of Imam Feisal and Executive Director of he American Society for Muslim Advancement) has said in May that they might “break ground” on the project coinciding with the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

    Funny though that none of the left-wing media refuted the 9/11 opening date claim (they defended it instead) and that Imam Feisal and his partners also failed to claim it false.


    • So much of this is perspective I guess. I have no reason to dispute you re what Daisy Khan said, but I take her comment re breaking ground to coincide with the 10th anniversary as respectful, wanting to be part of the memorializing and make a statement about seeking to improve relations. I’m a little familiar with this group (the Cordoba Institute) and as you’ve no doubt read they are dedicated to Muslim/Christian dialogue – much as the National Council of Christians and Jews in the 60’s and 70’s, whose efforts were so successful here. (Jews were legally discriminated against in those days). They ARE the moderate Muslims whose voices we want out there. Rauf by the way, has served as imam at a mosque in lower Manhattan for years.

      One thing I find very false in this conversation (out there) is all the phrasing of ‘overlooking ground zero’ etc. As a New Yorker, you know very well that two blocks can be a world away and at 7 stories (or is it 13?) this building will be drarfed by its neighbors and won’t even have a view of ground zero.

      Can you at least tell me whose meeting you’re referring to? There were meetings a year or two ago that permitted hte project, there were community meetings to discuss hte project and there was recently (maybe this was hte July 27 meeting) a landmark commission hearing that denied historic landmark status to the old Burlington Coat Factory building at 51 Park.


      • It was the Jul 27 open meeting of the Lower Manhattan Community Board. There was no real point in it, since everything legal had been settled, but people wanted a chance to argue in public and both sides showed up ready for it.


      • As to “overlooking” – I’ll pop over to the site in the next couple of days and check. I can’t remember how tall the Uni. of Phoenix building is, which is all that would be in the way.

        It’s about time I went back there anyway. I haven’t really wandered around my old neighborhood since it happened.


  7. I posted a few days ago about this. I said in so many words that although I disagree with many facets of Islam, muslims have the Constitutional right to build their mosque. I stand by that. However, the more I become educated as to the facts of the situation, the more it indeed becomes obvious to me that the intentions behind the building of this mosque at this paticular site is to fly in the face of America. Alas, I sense we have no legal recourse as to stop them. It is their right, regardless of motive.


  8. One more thing. Timothy McVeigh was a Christian, and he blew up a Government building, destroying many lives. Something tells me that if a christian church was being built even across the street from the disaster site, nobody would care in the least bit. Now, I am not saying that people shouldn’t care that the mosque is being built, God knows that I’m not crazy about it myself. What I am saying is that people need to examine this from all points of view, and do so without bias.


    • And that’s the point. It shouldn’t matter if McVeigh was a priest, that should have nothing at all to do with our attitudes toward Chrsitians.

      In fairness though – unlike the 9-11 terrorists, McVeigh did not commit his crime in the name of Christianity. His gripe was against hte civil governemnt.


    • What if were Westboro trying to open a church in Chelsea or West Village? Or if were some other sects wanting to open one across the street from one of Planned Parenthood’s offices?

      I’d think there’d be some strident complaints in either case irrespective of the legal rights involved.

      Don’t jump to hard on that “poor abused Muslim” bandwagon; the wheels just might come off. 😉


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