Last week, the media rightfully crowed over U.S. success in killing Osama Bin Laden, an unquestioned bad guy in the war on terror. They noted that intelligence gathered from that raid may have led to an unsuccessful U.S. Predator drone attack on Anwar Al Awlaki, leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen. Unfortunately, while Al Awlaki is very much as bad as Bin Laden, the media haven't always known it.
The mainstream media have recently described this America-born terrorist as a 'central figure' of Al Qaeda and the New York Times, ABC News, and MSNBC have all called him 'radical' when reporting on the recent attempted drone attack. Al Awlaki has been linked to the 2009 Christmas Day Underwear bombing attempt in Detroit, the Fort Hood Shooting and the failed Times Square bombing.
But just 10 years ago they claimed he was a 'moderate' a bridge-builder, and a 'prayer leader.'
When reports surfaced in August 2010 that Al Awlaki was connected to the controversial Ground Zero Mosque in New York, and was the imam of a radical Virginia mosque, the Culture and Media Institute highlighted the fawning coverage Al Awlaki regularly received in those years before President Obama issued a kill-on-sight order for him.
A New York Times article from October 2001 named Al Awlaki as a Muslim leader that was 'capable of merging East and West.' Later in the piece, Al Awlaki was lauded for 'draw[ing] large numbers each week for Friday prayers and sermons.'
That same month, The Baltimore Sun hailed Al Awlaki as a man who 'bridges the two worlds as easily as he shifts from lecturing on the lives of the prophets to tapping phone numbers into his Palm Pilot.'
NPR jumped on the bandwagon, praising Al Awlaki as a 'prayer leader,' asking for his comment on Osama Bin Laden. NPR reported on November 2001 that 'The war of ideas in the Muslim world pits extremists, like Osama bin Laden…and moderates, who want to solve the problems without violence. But right now this war of ideas is a lopsided one, says Imam Anwar Awlaki, the prayer leader at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.'
What's more NPR quoted a political scientist Shibley Telhami who lamented that 'these are difficult days for Muslim moderates,' like Al Awlaki.
Al Awlaki's Virginia mosque, Dar Al-Hijrah, attracted some of America's most vicious enemies: among them, a handful September 11 highjackers, Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hassan, and Christmas Day 2009 Detroit underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. All of these men were in some way connected to Al Awlaki and his 'moderate' mosque.