Still more slanted coverage in the New York Times of the controversy over a proposed mosque at Ground Zero: First in Saturday's story by intelligence reporter Scott Shane, fretting that public opposition voiced to the speedy approval and building of a giant Islamic cultural center topped by a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero would somehow make radical Muslim extremists, who despise the very existence of America, hate the U.S. even more: "Anti-Islam Protest in U.S. Bolsters Extremists, Experts Say" (Note: This article was compiled from three separate articles prepared for Times Watch).
Some counterterrorism experts say the anti-Muslim sentiment that has saturated the airwaves and blogs in the debate over plans for an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.
Opposition to the center by prominent politicians and other public figures in the United States has been covered extensively by the news media in Muslim countries. At a time of concern about radicalization of young Muslims in the West, it risks adding new fuel to Al Qaeda's claim that Islam is under attack by the West and must be defended with violence, some specialists on Islamic militancy say.
For confirmation of his slanted premise, Shane went to an unlabeled center-left policy group, New America Foundation.
"I know people in this debate don't intend it, but there are consequences for these kinds of remarks," said Brian Fishman, who studies terrorism for the New America Foundation here.
He said that Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric hiding in Yemen who has been linked to several terrorist plots, has been arguing for months in Web speeches and in a new Qaeda magazine that American Muslims face a dark future of ever-worsening discrimination and vilification.
"When the rhetoric is so inflammatory that it serves the interests of a jihadi recruiter like Awlaki, politicians need to be called on it," Mr. Fishman said.
Shane even suggested former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was fomenting radicalism with his opposition to the mosque:
Mr. Gingrich, the former House speaker and a potential 2012 presidential candidate, said in a Fox News interview that "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington," a comment that drew criticism for appearing to equate those proposing the Islamic center with Nazis.
Asked about the view that such remarks could fuel radicalism, Mr. Gingrich sent an e-mail response on Friday that did not directly address his critics but said that "Americans must learn to tell the truth about radical Islamists while being supportive of and inclusive of moderate Muslims who live in the modern world, respect women's rights, reject medieval punishment and defend American laws and the American Constitution." He added that he believed "it is possible to be a deeply religious Muslim and a patriotic American."
Sigh. What doesn't "fuel radicalism" these days, in the view of America-bashers?
Besides, Gingrich isn't the only prominent political name to come out against the project -- several Democrats have as well. Yet the Times has made only muted acknowledgment of the inconvenient fact that prominent Democrats like New York Gov. David Paterson, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former DNC chairman Howard Dean have come out against building the Islamic center so close to ground zero, with Dean calling it "a real affront to the people who lost their lives" on 9-11. Is Democrat Dean also "fueling radicalism"?
Besides the knee-jerk fretting over "fueling radicalism," there's a healthy dose of Manhattan-centric snobbery in the paper's attitude toward opponents of the mosque, who obviously have no clue about what's really going on.
About four minutes from the end of an August 19 "Political Points" podcast at nytimes.com, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg took up discussion of the controversial plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero, explaining how the hicks in the sticks who disapprove of the plan, don't know what's going on, unlike sophisticated Manhattanites (who actually may not like it much either).
Stolberg: "Here's another reason for the disconnect. I think, in New York, especially in Manhattan, people realize that Muslims live and work in Lower Manhattan, in the area where they're seeking to build this mosque and community center, which would also include a fitness center where young people could play basketball or swim or what have you. Out in the country, the news coverage has not been as intense, there are fewer details and it allows for the debate to be reduced to its essence, boiled down to a few words: Mosque at Ground Zero. And those words have become inflammatory around the country and I think the nuances is somewhat lost, frankly."
And a Tuesday column by metro writer Clyde Haberman in support (naturally) of the mosque included this unpleasant nativist sniffing:
Obscured in the fog of this culture war are a few New York realities, perhaps not fully appreciated by outsiders like Mr. Gingrich of Georgia or Sarah Palin of Alaska.
Two blocks may seem like nothing to a non-New Yorker. But anyone who lives or works in Manhattan knows that this distance can be significant. Two blocks is equivalent to several miles in other cities or in the suburbs. Your dry cleaner moves two blocks, and it's so long, pal. He'll never see you again. He might as well have relocated to Yonkers.