Origin of the GOP’s “Ground Zero Mosque” Fear Mongering

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Movement Conservatism is consumed by conspiracy theories. They invented the tin-foil hat. Everything from the John Birch Society warning that flouride in your drinking water is a Communist conspiracy, to "death panels" being in the health care reform bill, to president Obama being a "secret Muslim" born in Kenya. These people live in a land of delusion detached from the reality-based world.

A vast body of academic literature exists exploring this history, of which Richard Hofstadter's 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" is the most famous. Hundreds of books and articles have chronicled the rise (and fall) of an unceasing march of disparate conspiracy-based movements that, at different points in American history, have trembled before and warned against imaginary threats posed by Catholics, Mormons, Jews, American Communists, Freemasons, bankers, and U.S. government officials and agencies. Top 10 Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories.

So it should come as no surprise that the most recent ginned-up conspiracy theory, the "Ground Zero Mosque" (It's not a Mosque and it's not at Ground Zero) had its origin in the wingnuttia blogosphere.

Given the long history of wingnuttia conspiracy theories, one has the right to ask the mainstream news media, the supposed "gate keepers" of what is news and what is nonsense, why do they so consistently take their "news" lead from what are not credible sources of wingnuttia conspiracy theories? There has been an epic failure of our news media "guardians" in recent years.

Justin Elliott at Salon.com has put together a timeline of the "Ground Zero Mosque" conspiracy theory at How the "ground zero mosque" fear mongering began – Ground Zero Mosque. The timeline demonstrates how a lie takes wing in wingnuttia, and through amplification in the right-wing noise machine, spreads like a contagion to the mainstream news media:

[A] Salon review of the origins of the story found, the controversy was kicked up and driven by Pamela Geller, a right-wing, viciously anti-Muslim, conspiracy-mongering blogger, whose sinister portrayal of the project was embraced by Rupert Murdoch's New York Post.

Here's a timeline of how it all happened:

  • Dec. 8, 2009: The Times publishes a lengthy front-page look at the Cordoba project. "We want to push back against the extremists," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the lead organizer, is quoted as saying. Two Jewish leaders and two city officials, including the mayor's office, say they support the idea, as does the mother of a man killed on 9/11. An FBI spokesman says the imam has worked with the bureau. Besides a few third-tier right-wing blogs, including Pamela Geller's Atlas Shrugs site, no one much notices the Times story.
  • Dec. 21, 2009: Conservative media personality Laura Ingraham interviews Abdul Rauf's wife, Daisy Khan, while guest-hosting "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox. In hindsight, the segment is remarkable for its cordiality. "I can't find many people who really have a problem with it," Ingraham says of the Cordoba project, adding at the end of the interview, "I like what you're trying to do." . . . After the segment — and despite the front-page Times story — there were no news articles on the mosque for five and a half months, according to a search of the Nexis newspaper archive.
  • May 6, 2010: After a unanimous vote by a New York City community board committee to approve the project, the AP runs a story. It quotes relatives of 9/11 victims (called by the reporter), who offer differing opinions. The New York Post, meanwhile, runs a story under the inaccurate headline, "Panel Approves 'WTC' Mosque." Geller is less subtle, titling her post that day, "Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction." She writes on her Atlas Shrugs blog, "This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem." (To get an idea of where Geller is coming from, she once suggested that Malcolm X was Obama's real father. Seriously.)
  • May 7, 2010: Geller's group, Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), launches "Campaign Offensive: Stop the 911 Mosque!" (SIOA 's associate director is Robert Spencer, who makes his living writing and speaking about the evils of Islam.) Geller posts the names and contact information for the mayor and members of the community board, encouraging people to write. The board chair later reports getting "hundreds and hundreds" of calls and e-mails from around the world.
  • May 8, 2010: Geller announces SIOA's first protest against what she calls the "911 monster mosque" for May 29. She and Spencer and several other members of the professional anti-Islam industry will attend. (She also says that the protest will mark the dark day of "May 29, 1453, [when] the Ottoman forces led by the Sultan Mehmet II broke through the Byzantine defenses against the Muslim siege of Constantinople." The outrage-peddling New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser argues in a note at the end of her column a couple of days later that "there are better places to put a mosque."
  • May 13, 2010: Peyser follows up with an entire column devoted to "Mosque Madness at Ground Zero." This is a significant moment in the development of the "ground zero mosque" narrative: It's the first newspaper article that frames the project as inherently wrong and suspect, in the way that Geller has been framing it for months. Peyser in fact quotes Geller at length and promotes the anti-mosque protest of Stop Islamization of America, which Peyser describes as a "human-rights group." Peyser also reports — falsely — that Cordoba House's opening date will be Sept. 11, 2011.

Lots of opinion makers on the right read the Post, so it's not surprising that, starting that very day, the mosque story spread through the conservative — and then mainstream — media like fire through dry grass. Geller appeared on Sean Hannity's radio show. The Washington Examiner ran an outraged column about honoring the 9/11 dead. So did Investor's Business Daily. Smelling blood, the Post assigned news reporters to cover the ins and outs of the Cordoba House development daily. Fox News, the Post's television sibling, went all out.

Within a month, Rudy Giuliani had called the mosque a "desecration." Within another month, Sarah Palin had tweeted her famous "peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate" tweet. Peter King and Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty followed suit — with political reporters and television news programs dutifully covering "both sides" of the controversy.

Geller had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

At the center of this right-wing noise machine is a central figure, the Australian-born Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corp and the owner of the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and the FAUX News Fraudcasting Network. Never has one man provided so much cross-pollination of "the crazy," the conspiracy theories that take wing in wingnuttia, and spreads it like a contagion to the mainstream news media. No man has ever done more damage to the credibility of journalism. If journalism is to survive, it needs to innoculate itself against the contagion of Rupert Murdoch and his media empire.

UPDATE: How the mainstream media has failed us: Steve Benen points out at The Washington Monthly:

I noticed the cover story in the last issue of Newsweek had a five-word headline over a photo of 9/11 devastation: "A Mosque at Ground Zero?" Of those five words, four are wrong — it's not a mosque, and it's not "at" Ground Zero. American news consumers who only casually keep up on current events very likely walked by Newsweek at the check-out aisle and started to form an opinion, unaware that the only accurate word in the headline was "a."

It's a reminder of one of the most painful aspects of our discourse: we're constantly having debates over issues that exist only in the imagination of deceptive conservative hacks, who happen to excel at propaganda. There are, for example, no "death panels." "Terror babies" don't exist. There's no such thing as a "death tax."

* * *

Everything about this debate is largely a sham, cooked up by conservatives who hope to pit Americans against each other in advance of an election cycle.

The bare minimum of a sensible, constructive public discourse is a base of reality to build upon. At this point, we're not even close.

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