CNN and Time Promote Accusation That 'Bigotry' is Driving Mosque Debate

CNN's American Morning and Newsroom programs on Thursday brought on Time magazine's Bobby Ghosh to highlight his "Is America Islamophobic?" article and help promote his accusation that "hate speech" and "bigotry" have "come out into the mainstream" during the course of the debate over the proposed New York City mosque near Ground Zero.

During his American Morning appearance, anchor Kiran Chetry hailed Ghosh's article, which is the cover story of the upcoming August 30th issue of Time, as "a very thoughtful piece." Anchor Ali Velshi, who conducted the second interview of the Time deputy international editor, went further than his colleague: "Okay, you're American- Time magazine is required reading....Bobby Ghosh...wrote the Islamophobia piece that I think everybody is going to have to read because if you are in this country, it's part of the dialogue that we are involved in at this point."

But only days earlier, in an August 3 article about the imam behind the mosque, Ghosh stated that the "last legal hurdle to the proposed Islamic center near the site of the World Trade Center has been removed, but ignorance, bigotry and politics are more formidable obstacles....Criticism [of the mosque] spans the gamut, from the ill-informed anguish of those who mistakenly view Islam as the malevolent force that brought down the towers to the ill-considered opportunism of right-wing politicians who see Islam as an easy target." So the "thoughtful" Time editor whose latest is "required reading" even had the gall to criticize the families and the friends of those who died on 9/11, or who are generally emotionally-touched by the carnage of the attack.

Ghosh didn't speak so sharply during his two CNN appearance on Thursday, but he still went after what he labeled as "hate speech" in the controversy over the planned mosque. During the American Morning segment 15 minutes into the 8 am Eastern hour, Chetry first asked the editor, "Do you believe that this debate...typifies how people feel on larger scale about Muslims in America?" Ghosh seemed to walk back what he said on August 3:

GHOSH: Well, let me clarify. You don't have to be an Islamophobe to have reservations about this particular project. You don't have to be prejudiced to have very genuine concerns about it. But what we have seen in the process of this debate and about mosques- not just here in New York, but all over this country- is that there has been a vicious- some very vicious hate speech has entered the mainstream of discussion in this country, and that is- certainly, we are seeing some Islamophobic views being expressed by people who we wouldn't have expected it from- when you have legitimate political figures comparing the religion of Islam to Naziism. That is something on a scale that we have never seen before.

The Time deputy editor pushed this point throughout this first interview:

Kiran Chetry, CNN Anchor; & Bobby Ghosh, Time Magazine Deputy International Editor | NewsBusters.orgGHOSH: There are lots of people who feel- not unreasonably, they feel emotionally attached to that particular space. There are people who are concerned genuinely for the feelings of the families of the victims at the World Trade Center. There are people who have- as I said, perfectly legitimate reasons to have concerns. But what this debate has done is that has brought out- from previously, what was in the fringes into the mainstream, along with reasonable people- a lot of hate speech and a lot of very vicious hate speech that we haven't heard before.

CHETRY: And not just the mosque debate- the controversy over this one- but we've seen a bit of a change, many say, over the past few years. Any of it linked to the fact that we've seen more instances of either attempted or homegrown terror that we thought- I mean after 9/11, a lot of people said this is a problem the United States doesn't have- what Europe has, problem with radicalization within our borders- and we have the Times Square bomber and a few other thwarted attempts or plots- has that added to this fear and feeling that Islam in America, perhaps, is radical in some way?

GHOSH: Absolutely. There is certainly alarm that has grown in concern and suspicion. But there are also people who are taking advantage of this for political reasons- who are taking advantage of this concern- who are take advantage of the fact that a lot of Americans don't know very much about Islam. It is a very small religion in this country, compared with some other places in the world. So many Americans- and we have a poll that shows this- we don't really know that much about it. So- and now you have people, who for political reasons, are taking advantage of the combination of fear and lack of knowledge, and adding to this- this toxic language, and are spreading- sometimes, knowing full well- spreading lies and misrepresentations about the faith, and are tarring an entire community- an entire religion with the brush- that they are all from- that they're all potentially terrorists. That your neighbor, who is an American citizen, and- by all polling, who's proud to be an American citizen- happens to be a Muslim- may potentially be someone who's plotting against us.

Five and a half hours later, at the bottom of the 1 pm Eastern hour of CNN's Newsroom, Ghosh repeated his main points, and even added an accusation of "racism" against the opponents of the mosque and other Islamic projects in the country:

GHOSH: There's a lot of Islamophobia growing in this country. It's not as bad as some parts of Europe. There are no neo-Nazi thugs going around beating up American Muslims. But there is a lot of hate speech, and it's getting louder and more vicious. And in these mosque protests, not just the one here in the New York, but all over the country- in these mosque protests, we've seen that hate speech take on a new and more venomous tinge to it. And here's the worst part: it's now come out into the mainstream and we're listening to figures- not fringe lunatics, if you pardon the expression- but we're listening to people who are held in wide respect in this country, say things that, in other contexts, would be considered completely inappropriate.

VELSHI: Have you been able to come up with contexts to give examples of where it would be appropriate- inappropriate? Where we wouldn't use this kind of language to talk about another identifiable group?

GHOSH: I don't think any identifiable group but the Muslims in this country. I don't think Newt Gingrich could say that- could compare them with Nazis. I think that would be considered- he- it would never occur to him. But as somebody who I spoke to during the story told me, Islamophobia is now the accepted form of racism in this country. Muslims feel that people are allowed in the public sphere to say whatever they want to say about Islam, and they can get away with it.

The editor then gave an example of what he saw was "hate speech" against Islam and/or Muslims:

Ali Velshi, CNN Anchor; & Bobby Ghosh, Time Magazine Deputy International Editor | NewsBusters.orgGHOSH: Things did get quite a lot worse after 9/11. We weren't paying that much attention because there was a war coming. There was enormous human tragedy in the city. And so, we didn't pay that much attention when someone like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell compared the prophet Muhammed to a terrorist, and somebody else said he was a pervert. But if you were a Muslim-American, you were paying attention. Then things did quiet down, and to a substantial degree, the credit goes to President Bush, who made it clear right from the get-go, from the 12th of September-

VELSHI: Our war is not with Muslims-

GHOSH: It's not with Muslims. It's a religion of peace. It's just a small band of extremists that we are fighting. But then more terrorist acts took place- more recently, there have been acts committed by Muslim-Americans. America went to war in two Muslim countries. You started hearing about suicide bombings on television every day. So, a certain fear and sense of alarm crept in, which is all right- which is permissible. But then you have people who have made it their business to capitalize on that sense of alarm for political gains- who have stoked up this thing and sort of deliberately spread very poisonous lies about the religion and about the people who practice that religion, and put it out there into the public theater.

So Robertson and Falwell's historically-accurate assertion that Mohammed was a 7th century-version of a terrorist, particularly in his treatment towards the Jews of the Arabian peninsula, is "hate speech" in Ghosh's book. Furthermore, it is completely legitimate to point out that Muhammad was a pervert according to many culture's standards, as his wife Aisha was betrothed to him when she was six or seven years old, and their marriage was consummated when she was nine or ten, according to the very hadith writings held up by Islam. One might guess it's "hate speech" to point that out as well.

Velshi, who worried on Wednesday's Newsroom that if a government helped moved the site of the planned mosque, other governments would "entertain petitions of moving Catholic churches away from the Oklahoma bombing site," since Timothy McVeigh was baptized Catholic, actually helped forward some of the editor's talking points later in the interview:

GHOSH: Four in ten Americans have a negative view of Islam, and that's a very dangerous proportion. And so, some of the challenge for the Muslim community is to communicate better, is to give a better sense of what Islam really is, is to persuade people that they're not all to be tarred with one brush. And ironically, that is what the people behind Park 51, the cultural center here in New York- that's what they're trying to do. They're trying to communicate that Islam is not what many Americans perceive. That it is a-

VELSHI: Right-right. But every part of their message has been lost?

GHOSH: At the moment, yes.

VELSHI: The name Cordoba- some people are associating it with Muslim rule and bloody battles, when, in fact, Cordoba was one of the finest times in relations between the major religions.

GHOSH: Exactly right- in interfaith discourse-


GHOSH: And the great mosque of Cordoba that people are talking about and that Newt Gingrich was talking about- the man who built it, the Muslim prince who built it, bought it from a Christian group- paid money for it and bought it from a Christian group. And there was not a lot of alarm and anger raised then. It's- as I said, we- I'm afraid, at this point, no rational discussion seems possible-

VELSHI: Right- it's just too hot.

GHOSH: It will take us a little while, and temperatures have to cool down. Maybe we have to wait for this election to get over (unintelligible)-

VELSHI: What's difficult- and I was going to say- what's difficult is that it's been difficult for people who would like to have a reasonable discussion about this to do so, because they are then lumped with being politically correct or things like- in fact, it's hard. We've heard politicians who have come out in defense of letting this mosque be built sound like they are apologists or some sort. Now, everybody now is backing away from the positions that defend free speech.

GHOSH: No less a person than the president of the United States, which, for many Muslims, is quite disappointing. It will take an act of statesmanship. Statesmanship is when you can rise above the public sentiment and bring people along with you. If we went with the majority, there would still be segregation in this country. If we went with the majority-

VELSHI: Women wouldn't vote in this country.

GHOSH: Exactly- American Jews would still be- still not have all their rights. So, it's time for leadership. It's time for our politicians- and if it doesn't come from politics, it may have to come from somewhere else- it's time for Americans to step up and say, this will not be allowed in this country. This country was built on finer principles than this, and we are going- we're not going to tolerate this kind of prejudice, this kind of bigotry, and this kind of Islamophobia.

-Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.