Times Faults Rick Lazio for Mosque Opposition, Downplays Firefighter Protests

The Times suggested Republican Rick Lazio was doing something unseemly in his popular opposition to the mosque at Ground Zero, and downplayed firefighter opposition to the mosque at a Ground Zero protest on Sunday.

Monday's front page featured a story by Michael Barbaro on how Rick Lazio, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, is gaining voter appeal from his strong opposition to the building of a mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks: "Lazio Finds an Issue in Furor Over Islamic Center."

Barbaro, while conceding the popular appeal of opposition, managed by tone to suggest Lazio was somehow engaged in inappropriate politicking, confirmed by the story's text box: "Commercials that appeal to some may risk the alienation of moderates."

Mr. Lazio's relentless opposition to the project - he again attacked the imam behind it during an appearance Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" - is, above all, aimed at Republican primary voters, analysts say. But it risks alienating moderates who could prove crucial in a general election. And it certainly is infuriating many Muslim leaders, who say he is preying on the worst fears of voters; and provoking a backlash from some influential voices in the community of Sept. 11 emergency workers, who say he is exploiting the tragedy.

Nevertheless, Mr. Lazio is pushing ahead with the strategy, even breaking what has been, until now, something of an unwritten rule of politics in New York: never to use images of Sept. 11 in campaign advertisements.

The Times drug up an incident from 10 years ago to make Lazio into some anti-Muslim campaigner:

This is not the first time that Mr. Lazio has thrust Islam into a political campaign. In his 2000 bid for the United States Senate, Mr. Lazio attacked his Democratic opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, for raising money from a Muslim group, some of whose members had defended the radical Islamic group Hamas.

Mrs. Clinton eventually returned the donations. But in the waning days of the campaign, Mr. Lazio's supporters in the State Republican Party made a telephone calls to voters that linked Mrs. Clinton's donors to the terrorism attack on an American warship in Yemen, angering many voters, who considered the tactic over the top.

Also on Monday, in the National section, Michael Grynbaum covered the fiery protest and counter-protest that took place Sunday near ground zero over the proposed mosque: "Proposed Muslim Center Draws Protesters on Both Sides of the Issue."

Although a front-page photo featured firemen and hard-hat construction workers protesting the mosque, only one firefighter made it into the story, quoted three paragraphs from the end. The Times has been very supportive of the health needs of September 11 first responders like the firefighters and police and has attacked Republicans for allegedly short-changing them.

Instead, Grynbaum led with a flattering anecdote about a tolerance martyr attacked by an angry, red-cheeked mosque opponent.

Around noon on Sunday, Michael Rose, a medical student from Brooklyn, approached some of the hundreds of protesters who had gathered near ground zero to rally against a mosque and Islamic center planned for the neighborhood.

Mr. Rose, 27, carried a handwritten sign in favor of the mosque - "Religious tolerance is what makes America great," it read - and his presence caused a stir. An argument broke out, punctuated by angry fingers pointed in the student's face.

One man, his cheeks red, leaned in and hissed that if the police were not present, Mr. Rose would be in danger.

Before any threats could be carried out, the police intervened, dragged Mr. Rose away from the crowd and insisted that he return to the separate area, one block away, where supporters of the project had been asked to stand.

Minutes later, as Mr. Rose was still shaking off the encounter, he turned to find the red-cheeked man back at his side. The man had followed the student up the street, and the two now stared at each other for a tense moment.

Then the man stuck out a hand and, in a terse voice, said, "I'm sorry."

"You have a right," he told Mr. Rose. (He would not give his name.) "I am sorry for what I said to you. I disagree with you completely, but you have a right."

Here's a tidbit about firefighter opposition that was picked up by the New York Post but ignored in the Times on Monday:

Opponents of the project began with a 9 a.m. motorcycle ride, led by several firefighters, to Ground Zero and then proceeded to an 11 a.m. rally around the corner from the Park Place site of the planned 13-story mosque and community center.