Frank Rich Hits Rupert Murdoch's Media Empire as 'Islamophobia Command Center'

Can the backlash over the proposed building of a mosque near Ground Zero be laid at the feet of Fox News and chairman Rupert Murdoch? That's the latest wishful thinking to explain resistance, conjured up by Times columnist Frank Rich in "How Fox News Betrayed Petraeus." Rich bizarrely blamed America's strongly negative opinion of the Ground Zero mosque on the "Islamophobia command center" of Murdoch's News Corp, which includes the New York Post and Wall Street Journal as well as Fox News Channel. But in attacking opponents, he also contradicts the reporting of his own newspaper.


The "ground zero mosque," as you may well know by now, is not at ground zero. It's not a mosque but an Islamic cultural center containing a prayer room. It's not going to determine President Obama's political future or the elections of 2010 or 2012. Still, the battle that has broken out over this project in Lower Manhattan - on the "hallowed ground" of a shuttered Burlington Coat Factory store one block from the New York Dolls Gentlemen's Club - will prove eventful all the same. And the consequences will be far more profound than any midterm election results or any of the grand debates now raging 24/7 over the parameters of tolerance, religious freedom, and the real estate gospel of location, location, location.

Hmm. If it's not a mosque, it's a bit strange the Times would run headlines like this on the front page, as it did on August 15: "Obama Enters Debate With Mosque Remarks." In fact, the word "mosque" in reference to the project has appeared in multiple Times headlines.

Rich also failed to mention that, as the Times has mentioned once (and perhaps not again), the Burlington Coat Factory building was damaged during the 9-11 attacks, when a piece of the landing gear of one of the planes used in the attack crashed through the roof. That's close enough to Ground Zero to satisfy most.

So virulent is the Islamophobic hysteria of the neocon and Fox News right - abetted by the useful idiocy of the Anti-Defamation League, Harry Reid and other cowed Democrats - that it has also rendered Gen. David Petraeus's last-ditch counterinsurgency strategy for fighting the war inoperative. How do you win Muslim hearts and minds in Kandahar when you are calling Muslims every filthy name in the book in New York?

If our status in Afghanistan is truly so fragile that mere criticism of the location of a mosque in New York City could swing the battle, then the war is unwinnable anyway and the U.S. should immediately withdraw.

In the five months after The Times's initial account there were no newspaper articles on the project at all. It was only in May of this year that the Rupert Murdoch axis of demagoguery revved up, jettisoning Ingraham's benign take for a New York Post jihad. The paper's inspiration was a rabidly anti-Islam blogger best known for claiming that Obama was Malcolm X's illegitimate son. Soon the rest of the Murdoch empire and its political allies piled on, promoting the incendiary libel that the "radical Islamists" behind the "ground zero mosque" were tantamount either to neo-Nazis in Skokie (according to a Wall Street Journal columnist) or actual Nazis (per Newt Gingrich).

These patriots have never attacked the routine Muslim worship services at another site of the 9/11 attacks, the Pentagon. Their sudden concern for ground zero is suspect to those of us who actually live in New York. All but 12 Republicans in the House voted against health benefits for 9/11 responders just last month. Though many of these ground-zero watchdogs partied at the 2004 G.O.P. convention in New York exploiting 9/11, none of them protested that a fellow Republican, the former New York governor George Pataki, so bollixed up the management of the World Trade Center site that nine years on it still lacks any finished buildings, let alone a permanent memorial.

Rich's concern for 9-11 responders is selective; as we observed yesterday, the Times downplayed the strong presence of firefighters at the mosque protests. Rich's flip and rather nativist comment about those "who actually live in New York" falsely implies that the locals are fine with the mosque. In fact, they also strongly oppose it. A Quinnipiac poll from early July showed New York City voters opposed by 52%-31% the proposal to build a mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero, and there's no reason to think the pro-mosque numbers have improved since then.

At the Islamophobia command center, Murdoch's News Corporation, the hypocrisy is, if anything, thicker. A recent Wall Street Journal editorial darkly cited unspecified "reports" that Park51 has "money coming from Saudi charities or Gulf princes that also fund Wahabi madrassas." As Jon Stewart observed, this brand of innuendo could also be applied to News Corp., whose second largest shareholder after the Murdoch family is a member of the Saudi royal family. Perhaps last week's revelation that News Corp. has poured $1 million into G.O.P. campaign coffers was a fiendishly clever smokescreen to deflect anyone from following the far greater sum of Saudi money (a $3 billion stake) that has flowed into Murdoch enterprises, or the News Corp. money (at least $70 million) recently invested in a Saudi media company.

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