The Associated Press has issued rules to its staff dictating how the Cordoba House controversy is to be covered. Those rules seem calculated to obscure the facts and make opponents of the mosque project sound unreasonable:
We should continue to avoid the phrase “ground zero mosque” or “mosque at ground zero” on all platforms. . . The site of the proposed Islamic center and mosque is not at ground zero, but two blocks away in a busy commercial area. We should continue to say it’s “near” ground zero, or two blocks away.
No mosque is going up at ground zero. The center would be established at 45-51 Park Place, just over two blocks from the northern edge of the sprawling, 16-acre World Trade Center site. Its location is roughly half a dozen normal lower Manhattan blocks from the site of the North Tower, the nearer of the two destroyed in the attacks.
I think it’s fair enough for neutral reporting to avoid the term “Ground Zero Mosque”, which is used by the project’s opponents. But is it true that no mosque is going up at Ground Zero? That question ultimately turns on your definition of “Ground Zero”. If Ground Zero means the World Trade Center site only, then the AP is right. However, if Ground Zero refers to buildings in New York that were destroyed or damaged beyond repair due to airplane impacts on 9/11, then the site is indeed on Ground Zero.
The only buildings to collapse on 9/11 were WTC 1, 2, 3, and 7. Several more buildings were damaged beyond repair, including 4WTC, 5WTC, 6WTC, 130 Liberty Street, 30 West Broadway, and 45 Park Place. The latter, at which location the Cordoba House is slated to be built, was hit by the landing gear from United flight 175. The subsequent inspection found that the impact destroyed three floor beams and severely compromised its interior structure.
These facts are important, and the AP should not be trying to hide them. The AP’s document later mentions in passing that the building was damaged on 9/11, but it gives no indication that that damage was far more extensive than that of the countless other buildings damaged on 9/11, and required the building’s demolition.
The AP wants to portray the project as a mosque that just happens to be going up near Ground Zero. If that were true, some people would probably still take offense, but not remotely as many. But the fact is that this location became available precisely because of the damage done on 9/11, and in fact, the developers have said it was picked for that reason. The majority of the American people find that extraordinarily unseemly.
No one has established a link between the cleric and radicals. New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said, “We’ve identified no law enforcement issues related to the proposed mosque.”
The first part is simply untrue. Feisal Abdul Rauf is an apologist for Hamas and blames America for the 9/11 attacks. He wrote a book entitled A Call to Prayer from the World Trade Center Rubble: Islamic Dawa in the Heart of America Post-9/11. And, providing a link to other radicals, an edition of that book was published in America (under a different title) with funding from Muslim Brotherhood front groups.
The second part may well be true, but it is still misleading, as it gives the impression they’ve looked. As far we know, they haven’t.
Here is a succinct summary of President Obama’s position:
Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build an Islamic center in New York as a matter of religious freedom, though he’s also said he won’t take a position on whether they should actually build it.
That is the position he is taking now. Earlier, when he first waded into the controversy, he gave every impression of support for the project.
UPDATE: Frank Gaffney at Big Peace also fact-checks the piece. Interestingly, he claims that Rauf originally called his project the “Ground Zero Mosque”. He doesn’t substantiate the claim, though.
UPDATE: I found a page on the Cordoba Initiative web site that refers to the project as “Ground Zero Mosque and Cultural Center”, which backs up Gaffney’s claim, at least in part. The page is archived here in case it gets airbrushed. (UPDATE: Yep, it’s down the memory hole.)
Also, an NYT story (backing up the USA Today story linked above) confirms that the site’s connection to 9/11 is why it was selected:
The location was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims who bought the building in July. A presence so close to the World Trade Center, “where a piece of the wreckage fell,” said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11.”
Finally, the developers seem to have been not all bashful about referring to the project in terms of Ground Zero, at least until the connection became radioactive.
UPDATE: NPR joins the obscurantist bandwagon, calling “Ground Zero Mosque” a “killer phrase”, meaning a phrase that is politically powerful but inaccurate and misleading. Not once in the article do they mention that the site was available because it was damaged beyond repair on 9/11, nor that the project picked the site because of its connection to 9/11.