Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I was going to bring up this New York Times story about the people behind the proposedIslamic cultural center near Ground Zero, but Adam Serwer beat me to it. I think I'd go further in my criticism of the story than Adam does, however:

The New York Times has a new piece up on Faisal Rauf and Daisy Khan, the couple behind the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero that has brought rank Islamophobia into the Republican mainstream:

Daisy Khan, who immigrated, also as a teenager, to Jericho, on Long Island, from Kashmir, married Imam Feisal in 1997. They founded a Sufi organization advocating melding Islamic observance with women's rights and modernity. After 9/11 they raised their profile, renaming the group the American Society for Muslim Advancement and focusing on connecting Muslims and wider American society. They spoke out against religious violence; the imam advised the F.B.I.; his wife joined the board of the 9/11 memorial and museum.

Times report, however, descends into a kind of "liberal" media known-nothingism when it comes to how this became a controversy, suggesting that "a combination of arguable naivete, public-relations missteps and a national political climate in which perhaps no preparation could have headed off controversy." This is a remarkable formula that manages to place the blame everywhere except where it belongs -- on a right-wing smear machine that went into overdrive in an effort to portray Rauf and Khan as terrorist sympathizers, an experience no one outside of contemporary partisan politics could have possibly been prepared for....

The additional point I'd make is that while the unquestionably moderate originators of this project might not have been able to anticipate just how vicious the scorched-earth right-wing campaign against the project would be, there's one institution that could have anticipated this -- the mainstream press, very much including The New York Times.

The story Adam and I are quoting is actually a good one in many respects. Using facts, it conveys an impression of this project's organizers that's 180 degrees different from what you're getting out of the GOP noise machine. But the story should have run a couple of months ago. It was obvious as far back as May that the likes of Fox News, Peter King, members of the "professional right" such as Robert Spencer and Debra Burlingame, and various lesser-known rabble-rousers were working hard to turn this into a wedge issue then. Was it up to the project's leaders to correct all the misperceptions and disinformation? Didn't the non-right-wing press have a responsibility to help correct the record, as soon as this story began to rage out of control?

I know I say this all the time. I know I'm asking far more of the press than it's been known to manage in recent decades. But the take-no-prisoners right is a malign force in American life right now. It spreads lies and poison. People in the media who believe in the press as a disseminator of truth have an obligation to actively recognize and counter zone-flooding right-wing smear campaigns like this one, and do it before it's too late to purge the poison from the body politic.

In this instance, it probably is too late. And that means there'll be more such instances.

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