Even as a Florida pastor claimed he was canceling his plans to host a Quran-burning event this weekend, the top rungs of the federal government attempted to minimize the fallout of the explosive scheme.
In an unsolicited statement from his office on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the chorus of the distraught, urging members of the media to use proper editorial discretion and not broadcast Pastor Terry Jones' plans to burn Qurans.
While I will defend any American's First Amendment Rights, our generals in the field tell us that the men and women defending those rights would be endangered as a result of this stunt. If this group insists on going forward, I would hope that members of the media will not reward them with what they crave most: news coverage.
That statement came around the same time that reports emerged that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called Jones to underscore how much of a risk to national security his stunt would be.
By Thursday afternoon, Jones backed away from the cliff, announcing that he would not go through with his 9/11 anniversary antics after all. Almost immediately, however, doubt was cast on the news. Jones claimed he struck a deal with the imam behind the controversial Islamic Cultural Center being planned in downtown Manhattan and that, in exchange for moving the location of the center, Jones would not burn Qurans.
Within minutes, officials at Park51 (the group behind the cultural center) denied that the imam ever talked to Jones and that they are moving locations.
Should Jones reverse course and go through with his Quran burning, it will be telling to see what kind of audience he receives. Even before McConnell urged the Fourth Estate to ignore the affair, Fox News let it be known that it would not be covering the burnings. In a way, the story has become less about the antics of a crazy pastor and more about how the editorial and business structures of modern media outlets enable those antics to be broadcast widely.