After armed gunmen opened fire at a free speech event in Texas on Sunday, all three networks on Monday chided the sponsor organization as "notorious" or "controversial." The American Freedom Defense Initiative created a contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad and while ABC's Good Morning America covered the details of the attack, co-host George Stephanopoulos wondered: "How about the event itself? The organizers said it was organized to take a stand for free speech. Is it fair, also, to call it anti-Muslim?"
Reporter Ryan Owens spun, "A group called American Freedom Defense Initiative, notorious for its anti-Islamic views, hosting this award ceremony to give $10,000 to the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad." He also referred to the organization as "controversial."
GMA's reporting featured the latest news, including Robin Roberts trumpeting "some exclusive information for us this morning" from Brian Ross. Ross offered details on the unfolding story. What he avoided doing was to baselessly speculate. In contrast, on July 20, 2012, Ross falsely smeared the Tea Party, erroneously linking it to a mass killing in Colorado.
Over on Today, Matt Lauer explained that "two gunmen [were] killed following a shootout at a controversial event showcasing drawings of the Prophet Muhammad." Reporter Jacob Rascon reiterated, "The controversial event sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative."
On CBS This Morning, reporter Omar Villafranca used similar language, saying the event was "sponsored by the controversial group the American Freedom Defense Initiative." He added, "The group’s president Pamela Geller has been accused of being anti-Muslim."
The group cited by CBS for labeling Geller is the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that called the conservative Family Research Council a "hate group." Co-host Charlie Rose also noted a "controversial Prophet Muhammad contest."
According to CNN, this is how the group describes itself:
The American Freedom Defense Initiative says it has several tenets, including:
• Freedom of speech, "as opposed to Islamic prohibitions of 'blasphemy' and 'slander,'" which quash open dialogue about jihad and Islamic supremacism, the group says.
• "The freedom of conscience -- as opposed to the Islamic death penalty for apostasy."
• Equal rights of all people, "as opposed to ... institutionalized discrimination against women and non-Muslims" in Sharia law, or strict Islamic law.
A transcript of the May 4 GMA segment is below:
ROBIN ROBERTS: We want to start with We want to start with that news breaking overnight from Texas. Here's a look at the scene this morning. Two heavily armed men opened fire at an event featuring a cartoon contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI there right now as we learn more about the extremists behind that scary attack. We have team coverage this morning starting with ABC's Ryan Owens in Garland. Good morning, Ryan.
RYAN OWENS: Good morning, to you, George. That is the event center behind me and this is a very active scene this morning. You might be able to hear those helicopters up above. The bomb squad, all these hours later, still looking at the suspects' car. They're very worried this morning could be packed with explosives. Just before 7:00 o'clock, a hail of gunfire outside a civic center east of Dallas hosting a controversial art exhibit.
POLICE OFFICER: Get back in the building! Go in the building!
OWENS: People scatter as officers scramble to take down two men who drive up, get out of their car and open fire on police.
WOMAN: We hear boom, boom, boom and a whole bunch of gun shots.
OWENS: A group called American Freedom Defense Initiative, notorious for its anti-Islamic views, hosting this award ceremony to give $10,000 to the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The main speaker at the event, allegedly on an Al Qaeda hit list. This event was well publicized and the group's founder, seen here posing with the S.W.A.T. team before the shooting, shelled out 10 grand for extra security.
PAMELA GELLER: This is an assault on freedom of speech very much like the Charlie Hebdo jihad slaughter.
OWENS: Here in Texas, one member of that security team, school resource officer Bruce Joiner was shot in the leg. He's already out of the hospital this morning.
JOE HARN (Spokesman for the Garland Police Department): Officers that were close by engaged the two men, shot and killed them both.
OWENS: Back inside you can actually see the uncertainty as the event is streaming live.
SWAT MEMBER: We are going to move y'all into the auditorium here in just a minute. I just need everybody to remain calm.
OWENS: People trapped there singing to calm their nerves. The two suspects' vehicle reportedly heavily armed. S.W.A.T teams and an FBI bomb squad with robots spent all night working around the car. The suspects' bodies still on the pavement nearby. And they're still working at this hour. It should be no surprise to hear that there were plenty of threats against this event, given the context of it all but we're told nothing specific. Meanwhile, George, investigators working very hard to identify the two men and their motive for what certainly appears to be an attempted terror attack right here on American soil. George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the event itself, the organizers said it was organized to take a stand for free speech. Is it fair, also, to call it anti-Muslim?
JOBIN PANICKER (Reporter, WFAA-TV): I think you can assume that. Just hearing people off the podium, they saying, you know, "Islam doesn't belong in America" and after they were saying these things there was -- there were loud cheers in the room there.