It is not located at Ground Zero (or in Ground Zero). Close, but no cigar. Some media outlets have consistently gotten it wrong.
In covering the growing controversy over the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, the national media, led by the big cable networks, have by default shaped the increasingly heated debate by repeatedly referring to the project as the "Ground Zero mosque." An MSNBC spokesman said that describing the project is a "show-by-show decision," while a CNN spokesperson said the network guides anchors in written copy to refer to the project as "an Islamic center that includes a mosque that is near Ground Zero, or is two blocks from Ground Zero." Of course, political pundits may stray from the network's phrasing and inaccurately describe the location of the planned building at the center of the furor.It's little wonder that there is so much opposition to the project when you've got people thinking that the project is happening within Ground Zero.
But Phil Corbett, the New York Times' standards editor said, "Given how politically volatile this discussion has been, we think it's important to be accurate and precise," in explaining the paper's consistent references to the planned structure being two blocks from the Ground Zero site.
The "Park51" project, as it's officially dubbed, is in fact planned for a site two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers fell, amid other lower Manhattan establishments whose names have never featured the words "Ground Zero." If built, the 13-story community center and mosque project will be one of hundreds of buildings located within blocks of Ground Zero — a densely populated area that already includes a couple of mosques, along with less "hallowed" institutions, like strip clubs, bars and Off Track Betting operations.
But Park51 is getting all the attention downtown — and now, nationwide. President Obama affirmed the constitutional right to build a mosque on private property Friday, breathing new life into an already long-raging controversy. In covering Obama's recent remarks — and the past couple months of debate — the media's played a pivotal role in framing the issues at hand. Here's a rundown of how the media covered the debate as it took shape.
Location, location, location
News organizations make conscious decisions when they describe a construction work-in-progress as either located on the site of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history or two blocks away. The New York Times — except for one blog headline — has consistently described the mosque in headlines as not being built at Ground Zero but "near" the site.
Corbett, who oversees the Times standards on such questions, told The Upshot that he hasn't issued any formal guidelines but has discussed that particular phrasing with editors.
"To call it the Ground Zero Mosque not only would give you the impression that it's on the site of the Trade Center," he continued, "but it might even give you the further impression that it's part of the rebuilding process to that site."
The Times appears to be in the minority, judging by headlines related to Obama's remarks.
Many news organizations ran headlines this past weekend describing a "Ground Zero mosque," including the Associated Press, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Fox News, New York Daily News, Politico, and AOL's Politics Daily site. (Yahoo! News, linking to an AP story on the remarks, similarly went with "Ground Zero mosque.")
Several other news organizations routinely place "Ground Zero" in quotation marks, which is more of shorthand way of describing the debate without pinpointing the location.
Still, shorthand also plays a significant part in how the media frames debates. Anyone who's picked up a newspaper or turned on cable news has likely heard about the "Ground Zero mosque" and the controversy surrounding it. It's perhaps the simplest way to jump into a story that's now lasted more than two months.
Throw in mendacious lies that claim that the Cordoba House proponents are somehow affiliated with Hamas, and you've got a vicious mix.
Meanwhile, there are reports that Gov. Paterson will meet with SoHo Properties to discuss possible alternative locations for the community center and mosque, but other reports discount that SoHo Properties would consider alternatives.
Politicians continue chiming in. Some Democrats are annoyed that President Obama took a stand because it has become a wedge issue for the GOP to exploit with November elections looming.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle are engaging in the usual demagoguery and pandering for votes. That includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who faces a tough reelection battle, and various New York congressional races:
And via Newsday, Rep. Steve Israel, the Democrat in NY-2, said, "While they have a constitutional right to build the mosque, it would be better if they had demonstrated more sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims. I urge them to do so before proceeding further."It's almost a given that everyone is operating under the belief that the proposed project is located at (or in) Ground Zero, rather than near it, and that there's somehow an area beyond Ground Zero that is sacrosanct for such construction.
Rep. Tim Bishop, whose NY-1 district has three GOP challengers duking it out, said, "As a New Yorker, I believe ground zero is sacred ground and should unite us. If the group seeking to build the mosque is sincere in its efforts to bring people together, I would urge them to seek an alternative location which is less divisive. I dispute the wisdom of building at that location, not the constitutional right."
It's political pandering. Pure and simple. And it's still wrong.
Yet, there are some politicians who are demanding an end to the pandering. That includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who got slammed by some on the right wing for taking the principled stand.
Here's something else to consider about Gov. Paterson's potential meeting with SoHo Properties to discuss locating the mosque somewhere other than at 47-51 Park Place.
Community Board 1 approved the project. Community Board 1 governs all of Lower Manhattan and all of the Financial District, the area around Ground Zero and Battery Park City. Where else in Lower Manhattan would this center be acceptable? Three blocks away? Four?
Some people simply wont be satisfied with any distance, but it isn't the distance - it's the religion of those proposing the project. For them, it wont matter where it's located near Ground Zero.