NY Times Reporters Hail Mayor Bloomberg's Weepy Defense of Ground Zero Mosque

The front page of Wednesday's New York edition of the New York Times featured the news that a controversial plan to build a mosque two bocks from Ground Zero was approved by the city's landmarks commission: "Mosque Plan Clears Hurdle In New York - Bloomberg Pleads for Religious Tolerance."

Reporters Michael Barbaro and Javier Hernandez actually led with Mayor Michael Bloomberg's weepy speech about religious tolerance, which falsely asserted that denying permission to build a 13-story Islamic center topped by a mosque would somehow be "denying the very constitutional rights" that New York City police and firefighters died protecting.

And the Times again insinuated that opposition to the mosque is coming mostly from outsiders, while New Yorkers have gotten on with their lives and don't oppose it - a half-truth at best, as shown by results of a poll of New Yorkers.

Times reporters were very impressed with the speech. Both Jodi Kantor and Brian Stelter linked to speech coverage on their Twitter feeds, Kantor praising it as a "must-read" and Stelter calling it "worth reading."

Here's the Times' lead:

As New York City removed the final hurdle for a controversial mosque near ground zero, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg forcefully defended the project on Tuesday as a symbol of America's religious tolerance and sought to reframe a fiery national debate over the project.

With the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop, the mayor pleaded with New Yorkers to reject suspicions about the planned 13-story complex, to be located two blocks north of the World Trade Center site, saying that "we would betray our values if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else."

"To cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists - and we should not stand for that," the mayor said.

Grappling with one of the more delicate aspects of the debate, Mr. Bloomberg said that the families of Sept. 11 victims - some of whom have vocally opposed the project - should welcome it.

"The attack was an act of war - and our first responders defended not only our city but also our country and our Constitution," he said, becoming slightly choked up at one point in his speech, which he delivered on Governors Island. "We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights - and the freedoms the terrorists attacked."

Bloomberg's idea of freedom is quite selective - he can get blubbery over building a mosque near Ground Zero, but as his mayoralty has shown, his love of liberty doesn't extend to gun ownership, smoking in bars, or eating food made with hydrogenated vegetable oil.

National Republican leaders, like the former House speaker, Newt Gringrich, and Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee, assailed the proposal, calling it offensive. On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League, an influential Jewish civil rights group, declared its opposition, distressing many in the interfaith community.

For the second time in recent days, the Times misleadingly implied that it's mostly a bunch of outsiders opposed to the plan:

The disagreement has underscored how differently the World Trade Center site is viewed by those in New York and those outside of it.

In the city, the space has returned, haltingly, to the urban grid, sprouting new office towers and train stops. But beyond New York's borders, it looms as a powerful symbol of the war on terror and the lives lost on that day.

A Quinnipiac University poll from early July found that while Manhattanites themselves approved of the project by a 46%-36% margin, the outer boroughs of New York City (Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island) oppose it. DNAInfo reporter Julie Shapiro wrote: "New Yorkers as a whole weighed in against the mosque, with 52 percent opposing the plans and just 31 percent supporting the project."

The Times again danced around the fact that the funding of the project (Saudi Arabia is rumored to be involved) remains a secret:

There were signs that the intense backlash had left moderate American Muslims uneasy about the plan for such a large center near ground zero.

"There is some ambivalence within the community," said Hussein Rashid, a visiting professor of religious studies at Hofstra University who specializes in Islam in America. "We still want to know who is going to be involved in this. So far, we have heard from just a few Muslim voices. If this is meant to be a community center, who in the community will be involved?"

Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.