Networks Ignore Religion Ban at Ground Zero Ceremony

The major news networks love 9/11 stories. But there's one 9/11 story they won't touch: the exclusion of any religious participation from the Ground Zero memorial service during the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

Mayor Bloomberg has vetoed the presence of religious speakers at the site of Ground Zero during the memorial ceremony on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, provoking a firestorm of criticism among religious leaders. But the three mainstream news networks - ABC, CBS, and NBC - have completely ignored the story.

Since the Wall Street Journal first reported on the exclusion of religion from the ceremony on August 24, ABC, CBS, and NBC have run 71 segments (Nexis searches of 9/11 OR September 11 from August 24 to September 4) mentioning 9/11. Not one of them mentioned the controversy over the absence of religious participation at the Ground Zero ceremony on 9/11.

The networks have shown viewers a Smithsonian 9/11 exhibit and conducted interviews with Dick Cheney and George W. Bush about their response to the attacks. They produced numerous personal and human interest stories, highlighting a camp for children recovering from 9/11 and a widow's book on healing after 9/11.

The networks' silence is all the more deafening since plenty of major news outlets have covered the exclusion of religion from the ceremony. Fox News Channel covered the controversy during numerous segments - The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity, The Five, and Fox News Watch all produced segments on the issue. USA Today's editorial board also covered the debate on September 6. The Wall Street Journal, as previously noted, broke the story. The mainstream networks, however, remain mute.

Bloomberg also refused to invite first responders to the ceremony, citing space constraints. (The networks ignored that story as well; a few days after that story broke CBS instead reported on a camp for children recovering from 9/11.)

Bloomberg's actions are remarkable, given that he supported the building of a controversial mosque near Ground Zero, arguing that "I think it's fair to say if somebody was going to try, on that piece of property, to build a church or a synagogue, nobody would be yelling and screaming." (Port Authority officials in New York City previously quashed the rebuilding of a Greek Orthodox Church destroyed in the World Trade Center attacks near Ground Zero.)

Previous Ground Zero ceremonies on the anniversary of 9/11 were held without prayer. But the ceremony of the 10th anniversary is drawing more attention because of its symbolic value, and religious leaders are asking that their voices be included.

Justifying his decision, Bloomberg argued that "There's an awful lot of people that would like to participate but you can't just do that, once you open it up. So the argument here is that it's elected officials and those who were there at the time and have some influence."

But religion did have a major impact on 9/11. FDNY chaplain Fr. Mychal Judge died while trying to help people in the World Trade Center. Other chaplains of numerous faiths ministered to the wounded men and women of 9/11. And religion was instrumental in helping many through the tragedy of 9/11.

Leaders of religious groups asked Bloomberg to change his mind. William Donahue, president of the Catholic League, called for Mayor Bloomberg to reconsider his decision: "Mayor Bloomberg should reverse his decision, allowing a priest, minister, rabbi, and imam to make a short statement." And Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, questioned Mayor Bloomberg's motives: "Unfortunately Mayor Bloomberg's decision demonstrates the mindless secularist prejudice of the political establishment on our nation's Eastern Seaboard."

Government officials also criticized Mayor Bloomberg's decision. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani argued: "If I were the mayor, and this came up, I'd have a religious presence there." Former New York City deputy mayor Rudy Washington, who organized an interfaith ceremony after 9/11, harshly criticized Bloomberg's decision: "This is America, and to have a memorial service where there's no prayer, this appears to be insanity to me."

These voices have not appeared on ABC, CBS, and NBC.