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Rory O'Connor Headshot

"News Bias" and the Media Battle Over the Meaning of 9/11

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Nine long years after 9/11, the battle over the meaning of what happened to our city, our country and our world on that fateful blue-crystal morning continues unabated, with the battleground still the swirling nexus of news and politics. As usual, all sides in this cultural clash are employing the very media they consistently accuse of "news bias" to promote their competing visions. Like the "Global War on Terror" spawned by the attacks, the ongoing struggle to interpret 9/11 now appears to be a war without end.

As we approach the 9/11 "anniversary," bigotry and smears against both Muslims and their "militant, anti-Semitic" faith have become distressingly common in prominent media outlets ranging from the New Republic to CNN and Fox News, and from the Washington Post to the Washington Times. Here's just a taste of mainstream media's anti-Muslim rhetoric from the past few weeks, as compiled by Media Matters:

• Peretz questions whether Muslims "are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment." In a September 4 New Republic column, editor-in-chief Martin Peretz wrote: "I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse."

• Buchanan: "[A] Western nation that opens its doors to mass migration from the Islamic world is taking a grave risk with its unity and identity." In an August 24 column, Pat Buchanan also stated: "Prejudice is prejudgment. And if prejudgment is rooted in the history and traditions of a people, and what life has taught us, it is a shield that protects."

• Graham: "True Islam" can't be practiced in U.S. because "you cannot beat your wife, you cannot do honor killing." On the August 19 broadcast of CNN's John King USA, Franklin Graham repeated his frequent attacks on Islam, concluding: "We're not under Sharia law. We're under the Constitution of the United States. And so we're protected."

No rhetoric been hotter, however, than that used to describe Park51, the proposed Islamic center in downtown Manhattan. Newt Gingrich compared it (on the August 16 edition of Fox & Friends) to Nazis erecting a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington; faded rock star Ted Nugent said (in a Washington Times op-ed) it would "attract extremists and radicals -- Muslim voodoo kooks who love death and destruction in the name of Allah -- who will try to harm America;" conservative commentator Cal Thomas described it as a terrorist front in an August 3 column, and also noted in a July 21 post on a Washington Post blog, "A mosque near Ground Zero isn't about honoring the dead, but celebrating their deaths;" ex-presidential adviser Dick Morris called it (in a column) "a terrorist recruitment, indoctrination and training center;" and Fox News contributor Sarah Palin described it (during the August 16 edition of Fox News' On the Record>)as a "stab in the heart" for Americans and a "slap" to 9-11 victims.

On the other hand, despite the near-certainty that Koran-burning stunts and anti-Shariah Law protests by the "informed opposition" featuring signs written in "dripping, blood-red ink" will dominate this weekend's media lineup, charges of "news bias" by the bigots and new "Know Nothings" are already surfacing. Witness the web site abcnewsbias.com, for example, which purports to document how an "ABC employee's role at the rally was to provoke a confrontation with participants so ABC News cameras could record it and then use the footage. The ABC employee was literally making news."

The charges, made by Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition, were later amplified on media provocateur Andrew Breitbart's "Big Peace" web site. Much of what Lafferty "reported," however, is factually untrue. I know because the "ABC employee" in question, John Veit, has worked off and on for my company Globalvision for many years. Veit was working for ABC News as a free-lance audio technician at the rally, and took the opportunity to shoot interviews with anti-Shariah protesters on a personal video camera. Having seen Veit's interviews -- none of which were ever used by ABC in any capacity -- I can assure you that the "opposition" to the purported (and greatly exaggerated) possibility of Sharia law being imposed here in the US was anything but "informed." One memorable clip shows a drunken man wearing a "No Al Qaeda at Ground Zero" t-shirt sitting covered in vomit...

Nevertheless, for his actions, ABC News executives reprimanded Veit. (Senior Vice President Jeffrey W. Schneider‬‪ told me, "He was not instructed to perform interviews or to engage with protestors and was there solely as an audio tech. He has been reprimanded for his behavior at this event.")‬‪ Veit was also denounced on air as a "longhaired... maggot-infested, dope-smoking FM-type" by Rush Limbaugh.

Veit later told me, "While conducting the interviews, I became frustrated by the protesters' inability to provide coherent answers and found the flagrant bigotry and ignorance repulsive." He conceded that his frustration "showed in my tone and tenor," noted that, "The clips I emailed to friends and family were only to show them the extent of the very tempestuous situation at the Cordoba Center and meant to remain private," and concluded by saying, "I feel compelled to respond to the allegation that I was planted there to inflame tensions. The notion that I was barbered, dressed as a protester and sent by ABC to incite hostility is as ludicrous as it annoying. It compromises the integrity of ABC News, albeit to a fringe element, but it is unwarranted."

Just another skirmish, then, in an ongoing media war without end...

Frank Gaffney wrote in his August 26 Washington Times op-ed about the protests, "As I looked out at the thousands of people assembled near Ground Zero on Sunday to oppose the construction of a mega-mosque there, I was reminded of Winston Churchill's famous line that inspirited Britain at the first sign the tide was turning in World War II: "Now, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

If only that were the case! But the odds sadly seem much higher that, just as soon as this year's 9/11 commemorative battle ends, the next one will promptly begin. After all, 2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the worst terror attacks against the United States ever and after all, that means war!