NY Times Hired Former Pro-Muslim Lobbyist to Report on Ground Zero Mosque, Underwear Bomber

A journalist hired by The New York Times to report on a controversial mosque at 9/11's Ground Zero and the failed Christmas Day bomb plot previously held a government lobbying position at the Council on American Islamic Relations.

The Associated Press and ABC News also enlisted former CAIR workers to cover stories involving the Muslim community, raising concerns over whether it's ethical for objective media outlets to hire ex-advocacy group employees to report on the issues they previously championed.

Sharaf Mowjood, who helped pen the Islam-focused articles for The New York Times and the Times' world-affairs paper the International Herald Tribune in December of 2009, worked as a government relations coordinator for CAIR up until at least March of 2008.

Mowjood's gushing, 1,200-word article on the controversial mosque planned for construction near the former site of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks was titled “Muslim Prayers and Renewal Near Ground Zero. All eight of the sources cited in the piece said they approved of the project or lauded its advocate Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

“Those who have worked with him say if anyone could pull off what many regard to be a delicate project, it would be Imam Feisal, whom they described as having built a career preaching tolerance and interfaith understanding,” read the enthusiastically pro-Rauf article, which was double bylined with reporter Ralph Blumenthal.

The proposed ground zero mosque has elicited anger from family members of 9/11 victims who said the project would be disrespectful to the thousands of people murdered in the name of Islam during the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks. However, Mowjood's article made no mention of legitimate criticism against the planned mosque. Instead, it portrayed opponents of the prayer center as sources of potential anti-Muslim violence.

“[T]here is anxiety among those involved or familiar with the project that it could very well become a target for anti-Muslim attacks,” wrote Mowjood and Blumenthal. “Joan Brown Campbell…who is a supporter of Imam Feisal, acknowledged the possibility of a backlash from those opposed to a Muslim presence at ground zero.”

The article's approving tone was consistent with the views of CAIR, an adamant supporter of the ground zero prayer center. “[B]uilding this mosque is the solution, not the problem, because Islam calls for … a culture of moderation,” CAIR's executive director Nihad Awad told the Arab American News on May 22.

But the reporter's background might conflict with the Times ethical standards. The Times' code of ethics says that reporters “should be vigilant in avoiding any activity that might pose an actual or apparent conflict of interest and thus threaten the newspaper's ethical standing.” The Times has not yet responded to requests for comment on whether Mowjood's prior lobbying past constituted a conflict of interest.

CAIR, which calls itself a “grassroots civil rights and advocacy group,” has come under fire in the past for its alleged ties to international terrorist organizations. Lawmakers in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as Federal Bureau of Investigation officials have accused CAIR's founders of supporting Palestinian terror group Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip. CAIR has also sparked criticism for refusing to fully condemn Islamic extremism.

In an article Mowjood wrote for ABC News on the FBI shooting death of a Detroit imam, he even quoted other CAIR members, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). IPT reported that CAIR “has been ginning up allegations about the shooting for months.”

The Times and ABC News are not the only media outlets that have hired a former CAIR employee to write on controversial Muslim issues. The Associated Press also employed former CAIR Canada spokeswomen Hadeel Al-Shalchi to cover subjects like Israel-Palestine relations, the Goldstone report that condemned Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic radicalism.

Al-Shalchi was assigned by AP to cover a dispute over the Qatari-based website Islamonline in March of 2010, reported the IPT. Islamonline is a website tied to the radical Islamic political group the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The [Muslim Brotherhood] website described Islamonline as 'the most prominent voice of the global Muslim Brotherhood,' wrote the IPT. However, Al-Shalchi's story “cast the Brotherhood as moderate and Brotherhood spiritual leader and Islamonline founder Youssef al-Qaradawi as a 'relative moderate.'”

Still working as an Egyptian correspondent for the AP, many of Al-Shalchi's articles do not include the word “terrorist” to describe terrorist organizations, and instead use the words “extremist” or “militant.” In the past, CAIR has campaigned against linking the term “terrorist” with Islam.

In a June 1, 2009 article on U.S.-Middle East relations, Al-Shalchi referred to Palestinian land as being “occupied” by the Israelis – and she included the Gaza strip, which Israel withdrew from in the summer of 2005.

“If Obama wants to rally Muslim support to rein in Iran, analysts say, he will have to prove his good intentions elsewhere,” she wrote. “In particular, he needs to move to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want for a state.”

In the same article, Al-Shalchi refers to the George W. Bush presidency as “one of the darkest periods in U.S.-Muslim relations.”

Al-Shalchi also fails to hide her condemnation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay in an article from Nov. 7, 2008 titled “After years of Bush, Arabs see hope in Obama.”

“Over past years, the bloodshed in Iraq, fears of war with Iran, abuse at Abu Ghraib and prisoners at Guantanamo convinced many that the United States was an anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bully. A feeling of despair and hopelessness became widespread and few believed U.S. policies would ever change,” she wrote.

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