WaPo Sees 'Anti-Muslim' Sentiment in Opposition to Tennessee Mosque; Reporter Omits Zoning, Traffic Concerns of Critics

"Nowhere near Ground Zero, but no more welcome: Outcry over mosque proposals in Tennessee and elsewhere could be a sign of rising anti-Muslim sentiment across the country."

With those words, the front page headline* and subheader for an August 23 Washington Post story by Annie Gowen conflated the controversy over the Ground Zero mosque with opposition to other mosques across the fruited plain, namely one planned for Murfreesboro, Tennessee, from where Gowen filed her story. 

Gowen waited until 27th pragraph in the 41-paragraph story to introduce the man spearheading the opposition, "a stocky 44-year-old correctional officer named Kevin Fisher" who "spent his formative years in Buffalo, where a home-grown terrorist cell of Yemeni Americans was uncovered in 2002."

Yet long before she ever got around to quoting Fisher, Gowen set out to portray the opposition to the mosque as the work of intolerant, ignorant rednecks.

"It shouldn't be surprising that there's a negative reaction to this mosque.... [Y]ou can connect it to this global media event in New York, it just reinforces this siege mentality local residents have," Gowen quoted Richard Lloyd of Vanderbilt University in paragraph 16. In the preceding paragraph, Gowen cited a recent Pew poll that found one in five Americans believe Barack Obama is a Muslim as one reason for why "the change in tone" regarding Muslim Americans has been "striking" according to "religious scholars and other experts."

When Gowen finally got around to quoting Fisher, she left a lot to be desired in terms of capturing the subject's opposition to the proposed mosque. For example, Gowen failed to note that Fisher also opposed a Bible theme park that had been planned for the city and that many of his objections to the mosque are grounded not in fear of radical Islam or sharia law but in zoning and traffic issues pertaining to the 52,900-square foot size of the planned facility.

By contrast, Elisabeth Kauffman of Time noted these concerns in her August 19 story:

But if some people in Murfreesboro want the county to reject construction of the new mosque, they also wanted — and won — rejection of a proposed Bible theme park in the city. "It isn't about Islam or religion, it's about where they want to build," insists Kevin Fisher, an organizer of opposition to the mosque who says he also opposed the Bible park because developers wanted to build too close to a subdivision. Along with worries over increased traffic on a road he says is already too dangerous, Fisher says the Center's plans to one day have a cemetery could generate soil and water contamination. Ayash says that while one member of the Center is already buried on the property, without a coffin, "in accord with Islamic custom," it all took place with county and city approval and within health guidelines.

Fisher says that's not good enough. "Each of my concerns is based on legitimate issues. This has nothing to do with anti-Islam; it's not racism. I'm African-American, I know what it's like to be discriminated against. I wouldn't do that to someone." Still, Fisher concedes he didn't object to the construction of the new Grace Baptist Church at the same corner. "That's a much smaller building [than the 52,000 feet complex the Center might one day build] and they don't plan a cemetery."

*The online headline for the story is considerably less weighted with the loaded language of the print headline: "Far from Ground Zero, other plans for mosques run into vehement opposition."

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.