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Michael Calderone

Senior Media Reporter, The Huffington Post

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New York Post, Daily News Defend NYPD's Surveillance Of Muslims As New York Times Remains Silent

Posted: 02/28/12 06:08 PM ET  |  Updated: 02/28/12 10:02 PM ET

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New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, gestures while responding to questions during a news conference Friday, Feb. 24, 2012 in New York. The New York Police Department targeted Muslim mosques with tactics normally reserved for criminal organizations, according to newly obtained police documents that showed police collecting the license plates of worshippers, monitoring them on surveillance cameras and cataloging sermons through a network of informants. The documents, obtained by The Associated

NEW YORK -- Bob McManus, editorial page editor of the New York Post, blasted the Associated Press on Tuesday, suggesting that the news organization cares more about winning a Pulitzer Prize than the threat of terrorism.

"It will win its prizes, or not," McManus wrote. "But to the extent its activities undermine a great city's will to protect itself from proven enemies, it may someday have much for which to answer."

McManus' attack was just the latest journalistic broadside against the news organization in response to its ongoing investigation of the NYPD's widescale surveillance of Muslims in New York City, several neighboring states and on over a dozen college campuses across the northeast.

Whether the AP will walk away with a Pulitzer in April remains to be seen, but the news organization already took home the prestigious Polk Award last week. Since August, four AP reporters -- Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan -- have doggedly reported over three dozen articles on the NYPD's secret program to catalogue where Muslims eat, shop and pray. The reporters, relying on primary documents, have also undercut the NYPD's early denials of the program existence and claims that officers only followed leads and did not broadly profile communities based on religion. Most recently, the AP has focused on surveillance of Muslims in Newark and on college campuses across the northeast, while revealing Monday that the White House helped pay for the surveillance through a federal grant program.

The AP's latest revelations have triggered different responses on either side of the Hudson, with political leaders and their local newspapers taking opposite corners in New Jersey and New York. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Robert Menendez and Newark Mayor Cory Booker have expressed concerns with the surveillance program, while the state's editorial boards have condemned it. In New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have offered unwavering support to the NYPD, just as the city's two most boisterous tabloids -- similarly quick to defend last year's NYPD crackdown on journalists -- continue to offer a full-throated defense of Commissioner Ray Kelly and his department.

The Post and the Daily News, which slammed the AP during the start of the series last August, have defended the NYPD, while simultaneously taking shots at the news organization and those raising important questions about civil rights being trampled through a secret spying program.

On Feb. 19, Post columnist Michael Walsh described the AP's reporting as a "journalistic jihad against the NYPD." Last Wednesday, McManus' editorial board described the AP as "see[ing] civil-rights violation lurking in every city shadow," praising Schumer's support of the NYPD's Muslim surveillance three days later. On Saturday, the Post ran an editorial cartoon where bomb-building Muslims call the AP to complain about the NYPD, with Post columnist Michael Goodwin writing Sunday that a "growing gang of loons, ideologues and dupes is lining up to take its whacks at the NYPD."

That same day, the Daily News editorial board wrote that Christie and Booker "should thank the NYPD" and invoked the attacks on 9/11 as the reason the two New Jersey politicians are wrong to question the police department's terror-fighting tactics, which it wrote the AP has "hyperventilated" about.

The Daily News followed up Monday with a front-page headline expressing the view of one of the paper's best-known columnists, Mike Lupica: "Get Lost! Kelly shouldn't apologize for protecting city." Describing the NYPD commissioner as "the best the city has ever had," Lupica scoffed at the idea that "Kelly is supposed to apologize to big New Jersey politicians because they don’t like the NYPD going over to Jersey and occasionally engaging in surveillance of Muslims."

"The journalists of The Associated Press have always been committed to the story of what the government and officials of the government are doing," AP spokesman Paul Colford told The Huffington Post. "New information, based in this case on AP's extensive reporting and documentation, is a good thing and often sets off a robust debate like the one unfolding now in New York, New Jersey and Washington."

"The AP is not passing judgment on the New York Police Department," Colford continued. "We are unearthing information and sharing it with readers so they may consider its value."

While the two New York tabloids argue the surveillance was necessary to protect the city, two New Jersey papers expressed concerns over what the AP unearthed. The Star-Ledger, the Garden State's largest paper, wrote Sunday that the "NYPD probe of Muslims is just plain wrong," echoing its editorial last week that said "from a civil liberties perspective, the surveillance program is a mess."

"Newark residents were targeted, eavesdropped, photographed and mapped by police -- with no allegation of wrongdoing -- profiled by religion or heritage," the editors wrote.

On Monday, the Times of Trenton editorial board asked, "How in the name of all that’s holy can we still be so irrational as to consider Muslims guilty until proven innocent?"

But while these New Jersey newspapers and others in the tri-state area have condemned the NYPD's surveillance tactics –- such as the Buffalo News, NYU's Washington Square News, and Newsday -- one major paper has noticeably stayed out of the fray: The New York Times.

Inside the Times, there's been some puzzlement over why the paper's Metro desk hasn't aggressively followed up on the NYPD surveillance story since August and why its editorial page -- known for taking strong stands in support of civil liberties issues and against police overreach -- has been silent since the AP's series began. Times columnist Michael Powell is one exception. He wrote Tuesday about Muslim-Americans in Newark now "in the throes of a rather un-American fear of speaking."

It's unclear if the Times will weigh in any time soon. When The Huffington Post contacted Times editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal, a spokesperson responded that "as a matter of policy, we don't publicly discuss editorial deliberations or topics that we may or may not be considering."

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