"Ad Hominem" Attacks Against a Left-Wing Museum at Ground Zero

Exactly what "ad hominem" attack is reporter Deborah Sontag referring to?

Reporter Deborah Sontag authored the one long article that makes up today's Times' commemorative 12-page section marking the fifth anniversary of 9-11, "Broken Ground - The Hole in the City's Heart."

Sontag's article is for the most part a straightforward chronological narrative about the failures over rebuilding at the site of the World Trade Center - until the section on a proposed museum at Ground Zero ("A Museum Is Derailed").

"Tom A. Bernstein, Mr. Betts's partner at Chelsea Piers, first broached the idea of a freedom museum with development officials in early 2002. The idea had been sparked by a casual conversation with Peter W. Kunhardt, a filmmaker who was producing a PBS series called 'Freedom: A History of US.'

"'Peter and I started talking about how to frame the horror of 9/11 in a bigger story,' Mr. Bernstein said. 'We thought, what if we had an institution devoted to telling the story of the struggle for freedom here and around the world?'

"In May 2003, Mr. Bernstein and his friend Kenneth I. Chenault, the chief executive of American Express and a backer of the concept, met with Governor Pataki. They found him receptive.

"In June 2004, Mr. Pataki, Mr. Bloomberg and development officials announced the selection, from among more than 100 applicants, of the International Freedom Center and three other institutions - the Drawing Center, the Joyce Theater and the Signature Theater Company - as the cultural anchors for the World Trade Center site.

"By that point, Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Kunhardt had invested considerable time into building what they saw primarily as an educational institution, recruiting advisers, conducting feasibility studies and developing the concept.

"With the Drawing Center's leaders, they selected an architect, Snohetta of Norway, which got a $3.25 million contract from the government. In May 2005, Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg unveiled Snohetta's design, which the governor called 'part of a lasting tribute to freedom.'"

"A month later, the troubles began, and, like so much of the controversy at ground zero, it involved ad hominem attack. Mr. Bernstein, like Mr. Betts, is a friend of President Bush. But politically, he is a member of the city's liberal intelligentsia, son of the founder of Human Rights Watch and a leader himself of Human Rights First.

"In June 2005, Debra Burlingame, a memorial foundation board member whose brother was a pilot of the plane that crashed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal calling the Freedom Center 'a multimillion-dollar insult' that would offer a 'slanted history lesson' without telling the story of Sept. 11. Ms. Burlingame pointed out that Mr. Bernstein's human rights organization had sued Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on behalf of the administration's detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"'This is a freedom center that will not use the word 'patriot' the way our Founding Fathers did,' Ms. Burlingame wrote.

"Talk radio snapped up the dispute. At the end of June, Mr. Pataki issued a statement demanding a guarantee that the center would not become a forum for 'denigrating America.' In July, Mr. Bernstein made that pledge. But it was not enough. Mr. Pataki's advisers said that the freedom center did not 'clarify its message' in a way that tamped down the mounting furor."

Did you catch any "ad hominem" attacks by Burlingame or other opponents of the left-wing museum? Neither did TimesWatch, although that's what Sontag is implying.

Last year Times Watch unearthed the Times' hostility toward Burlingame and her mission to keep Ground Zero free of radical politics.