Good Morning America's Dan Harris on Monday highlighted the worry that the proposed Ground Zero mosque could bring a "rising tide of Islamophobia in the country, with increasingly venomous fights over proposed new mosques in places like California, Wisconsin and Tennessee." [MP3 audio here.]
He repeated the argument of the mosque's proponents, saying, "Defenders point out that also close to Ground Zero are two strip clubs, an adult/lingerie store and an off-track betting parlor."
A follow-up segment with co-host George Stephanopoulos provided a more balanced look. Stephanopoulos talked to Democrat Keith Ellison and Republican Peter King, two congressmen on different sides of the debate. Stephanopoulos pressed both.
This was a change from the August 4 GMA where the journalist lobbied Laura Ingraham that the mosque was a way to demonstrate religious tolerance: "This is a country founded on the notion of religious freedom. What better way to say they [the terrorists] haven't won?"
Representative King also appeared on Sunday's GMA and received a similar question from co-host Bianna Golodryga. She challenged, "Do you not see this as a way to help unite the various faiths here, especially within the Muslim community?"
A transcript of the August 16 segment, which aired at 7:02am EDT, follows:
ROBIN ROBERTS: But, we begin, of course, with the battle over the proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. After standing on the sidelines for a week, President Obama weighed on the issue only to provoke another controversy over what, exactly, he meant. Dan Harris reports now from the site in downtown Manhattan. Good morning, Dan.
DAN HARRIS: Hey, Robin. Good morning. Behind me is Ground Zero and about two blocks that way is where they want to put the new Islamic community center. This morning, the people behind that project say they are very pleased with Mr. Obama. What was a largely local controversy became a bona fide national political issue when President Obama marched into the fray. It started with a speech in which he seemed to support the Muslim community center.
BARACK OBAMA: That includes the rights to build a place of worship.
HARRIS: But the next day, he came out and seemingly walked that back somewhat.
OBAMA: I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.
HARRIS: Daisy Khan, one of the people behind the project appears to be unfazed by that second comment, saying overnight in a statement, "We are deeply grateful to the President's insightful remarks." Mixed responses to the President, however, from family members of 9/11 victims.
DONNA MARSH O'CONNOR (September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows): I think he was absolutely clear in his support of American freedom and liberties and what that means.
JIMMY RICHES (victim's father): He's trampling on the memory of those who were murdered that day by Islamic terrorists.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Shame on you!
HARRIS: Polls show most Americans don't support the community center. Republicans are now pouncing, saying this will hurt Democrats in November.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-Texas): The President himself seems to be disconnected from the mainstream of America.
HARRIS: Some New York Democrats are speaking in the President's defense.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Ground Zero is hallowed ground. Two blocks away, first of all, is not so hallowed ground.
HARRIS: But, many of the country's most prominent politicians, including some potential Obama allies, are staying mum, from Bill and Hillary Clinton to both former Presidents Bush. Defenders point out that also close to Ground Zero are two strip clubs, an adult/lingerie store and an off-track betting parlor. There is also a long-standing mosque just four blocks away.
ZEAD RAMADAN (President, Council on American Islamic Relations): Islam has absolutely no connection to the perpetrators of the crime against our nation on 9/11.
HARRIS: Muslim activists say they're starting to get more worried about what they call a rising tide of Islamophobia in the country, with increasingly venomous fights over proposed new mosques in places like California, Wisconsin and Tennessee. This issue does not appear to be going away, George. Mr. Obama's comments may have guaranteed that.