Saturday, August 14, 2010

Step Away from the Agenda

Politico is doing a truly appalling job on coverage of the reaction to President Obama's remarks about the New York Islamic center. (I'm sick to death of hearing it called the Ground Zero mosque, because a. it's a lot more than a mosque b. It's not at Ground Zero. If you know anything about New York at all, you know that two blocks is a great distance in defining neighborhoods and distances. )

But that's not the main point. Josh Marshall flagged this first issue a little while ago and I was struck nearly dumb by the idea that Politico was trying to pass off as a "middle American" someone who reaches back into history to discuss the changeover of the Hagia Sophia church into a mosque after the Islamic conquering of Istanbul. Seriously.

In a country where far too many people don't know what the branches of government are, can't tell the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, don't now what the Bill of Rights is and can't name any member of Congress (not even their own, too often), are we really to believe that this "middle American" knows Ottoman/Crusader era history?

That led me to read this really dubious second story by Politico, claiming Obama had backed off his Friday night speech, endorsing the right of Muslim Americans to build on private property. You know, he relied on that pesky First Amendment.

Here's what Politico wrote, and my challenge starts with the headline:

Obama's comments take mosque story national

Really? I thought it went national and international when people like Sarah Palin and Fox News, with their references to the "9/11 mosque" started hurling accusations and demanding "peaceful" Muslims "refudiate" the plan?

With criticism mounting of his support for the construction of an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan, President Barack Obama on Saturday defended his decision to wade into the controversy the night before, but backed off from his previous stance. "In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion," Obama said when asked about his remarks at a White House dinner Friday marking the start of Ramadan. He did, however, emphasize that he was not endorsing the project, just the organizers' right to build it.

Again, really? He backed off? On Friday he said, 
"But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances."

In an effort to head off criticism, widely interpreted as a gutless CYA move*, Politico added this:
But his comments Friday night were widely interpreted as an endorsement of plans to build a mosque a few blocks away from where nearly 3,000 Americans perished at the hands of Islamic terrorists on 9/11 - an interpretation the White House hadn't disputed, up until Obama's comments in Florida.

*Not really. I made up the "widely interpreted" part.

As long as cable and occasionally the networks put these people on TV as "experts," they will continue to shape the political conversation into a he said/she said battle, with no one taking responsibility for anything they say. 

Update: The New York Times, too, hints, very carefully, that Obama somehow is backing off. But read the Friday night Times story very carefully. 

Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site

President Obama delivered a strong defense on Friday night of a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, using a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan to proclaim that “as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.” 

It, including the headline, seems to go beyond Obama's words. Today, it's not Obama backing off. It's the reporters scrambling to get it right, and missing. 

 Update: Media Matters concurs.

Update 2: On the matter of calling it the "Ground Zero mosque,"  a Testy Copy Editor weighs in.

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