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Networks Still MIA on Ground Zero Mosque Funding, Radical Ties

After President Barack Obama came out in favor of the Ground Zero mosque on Aug. 13, the issue gained instant national attention. However, network news stations are still ignoring some of the most pressing concerns of the mosque's critics, including the funding sources of the $100 million construction project and the questionable ties of the mosque's organizer, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

Although at this writing Haaretz.com is reporting that the leaders behind the plan may be ready to abandon it, there has been almost non-stop TV coverage of the mosque since President Obama threw his support behind the project during a celebration of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan at the White House Aug. 13. But out of at least 13 network evening and morning news shows from Aug. 14 and Aug. 15, as well as the morning shows on Aug. 16, only one program – ABC's “Good Morning America” on Aug. 16 – made any mention of concrete concerns over the mosque's funding and potential extremism.

Meanwhile, the networks made sure to cast mosque opponents as indifferent to the Constitution and “Islamophobic.”

But critics of the Islamic center say that there are legitimate concerns. For example, the New York Post reported on Aug. 3 that Rauf “told a London-based Arabic newspaper that he will turn to Muslim nations for funding” to pay for the $100 million mosque. Also, Fox News' Geraldo Rivera noted that the development company that purchased the property for the mosque has a strange financial history. Sharif El-Gamal, the real estate developer who put down the $4.8 million to buy the property in 2006, worked as a waiter at a New York restaurant in 2002, just four years before.

These allegations have prompted politicians like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League to call for an investigation into the mosque's funding.

In addition, Rauf has also made comments that some have called radical, and associated with individuals involved in extremist organizations. Critics say that his background and statements make him a poor candidate to build a mosque in such a sensitive location.

“I wouldn't say that the United States deserved [the Sept. 11 attacks], but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened,” said Rauf on CBS “60 Minutes” on Sept. 30, 2001. “[W]e have been an accessory to a lot of – of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, it – in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.”

Rauf is also “a prominent member of a group that helped sponsor the pro-Palestinian activists” flotilla that initiated a deadly clash with Israeli forces in May, according to the New York Post.

Members of the flotilla included the IHH, a Turkish group with Hamas ties that has allegedly provided weapons to Islamic militants.

But despite these concerns, the only criticism of the Ground Zero mosque that was mentioned in the other coverage was the “insensitivity” of the proposed Islamic center's location.

Also in the network news coverage, some programs bashed critics of the Ground Zero mosque as indifferent to the Constitution and potentially bigoted.

New York's mayor actually came out pretty clearly on this, as well. And a lot of people are applauding him for his political strength because there are many who don't care about the Constitution, just want to jump on what will get to people emotionally on this and connect with them,” said Mika Brzezinski on NBC's “Today Show” on Saturday.

On ABC's “Good Morning America” on Aug. 16, Dan Harris said that, “Muslim activists say they're starting to get more worried about what they call a rising tide of Islamophobia in the country, with increasingly venomous fights over proposed new mosques in places like California, Wisconsin and Tennessee.”

Other reporters labeled Rauf as a “moderate” Muslim, despite reports that allege he has extremist ties.

“What do you do when the actual owners, the people who want to build this, are in the moderate stream of Muslims, did go to the White House, condemned 9/11, condemned extremism, and now they're faced with this situation?” asked Christiane Amanpour on ABC's “This Week” on Aug. 15.

The network news stations also praised President Obama's courage in supporting the Ground Zero mosque, even though it is a politically unpopular stance.

“I talked to a senior white house official,” said John Harwood on NBC's “Today Show” on Aug. 15. “[H]e said [President Obama] had a responsibility to do it but there are some times when following your principles like that is not easy and making nuanced distinctions aren't easy, and one of those is in the middle of a mid-term election.”

And on NBC “Nightly News” on Aug. 15, Chuck Todd said that “[Obama] had to stand up for this at some point, particularly if America is going to keep its moral authority when they try to for instance, criticize other countries for how they treat Christian missionaries and things like that.”

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