Every once in a while a news story comes along that further widens the schism between right and left in America.
The mosque near Ground Zero is one of those stories.
The two sides are so blind to each others’ perspective that they can’t even agree on the terms to use.
The Associated Press last week issued a memo to staff members with guidelines on the appropriate terminology when describing the mosque’s location.
It shouldn’t be called “the Ground Zero mosque,” AP noted, because it’s not actually located at Ground Zero. The site is two blocks from the former World Trade Center, in a busy retail neighborhood.
Opponents, however, chastised the AP for shying away from that language. It certainly is “The Ground Zero Mosque” in their eyes, because it’s a heinous attempt to poke a stick in Americ’as eye by putting a mosque anywhere near the location of 3,000 deaths caused by Muslim extremists.
It reminds me of the early days of the abortion debate. One side didn’t want to be called anti-abortion – they preferred “pro-life.” The other side didn’t want to be called pro-abortion – they preferred “pro-choice.”
Journalists just wanted to use the language that was the most clear and descriptive – whatever communicates best. But both sides complained the media were biased because they didn’t use their preferred term. It took years for this debate to sort itself out.
When dealing with a hotly controversial subject, fair and unbiased is in the eye of the beholder. There is no way a journalist can stay in the middle – in the eyes of the protagonists.
Use “mosque near Ground Zero” and you’re supporting one side. Use “Ground Zero mosque” and you’re on the other side.
It’s no wonder that surveys continue to show falling public confidence in journalism – whether in newspapers, magazines, TV, radio or the Internet.
Any journalist who succeeds in finding a middle ground while reporting on a subject like the Manhattan mosque (how’s that for a compromise?) is likely to alienate both sides.
For the record, I think the AP did the right thing. They gave the subject the serious thought it deserved and instructed their reporters to use the terminology that is most clear and accurate.
It’s not the Ground Zero mosque – that implies the mosque is part of the 16 acres of Ground Zero property that is currently being rebuilt into offices, homes, parks and a museum.
It’s a mosque near Ground Zero, or more precisely, two blocks from Ground Zero.
Also for the record: I think both sides are right in large part.
The group planning the mosque has every right to build it where they choose, as long as it meets local zoning laws – which it does. I’ve walked that neighborhood and there are numerous churches, temples, synagogues, etc. Remember, we have religious freedom in America. It’s one of our most honored traditions.
At the same time, I think it’s insensitive of the Muslim group to ignore the outcry and insist on sticking with their plans. They could help the cause of Muslims in America by voluntarily deciding to move further from Ground Zero.
America is pretty good at religious tolerance. Despite some hiccups during our history, we generally get along with our neighbors, regardless of their religious beliefs. We don’t have civil wars based on religion, like those troubling much of the world.
But Americans are human, with all the frailities that come with the package. It’s easy to get people riled up by playing on religious faith and the natural human fear of the unknown.
The real villains in this episode are those in politics and the media who are trying to inflame the fires of religious intolerance for political gain.
Together, Muslims and Christians account for a little more than half the people on Earth, with about 2 billion Christians and 1.5 billion Muslims. Neither group is going away; we have to learn to live together.
Responsible politicans and media will find ways to bridge the differences, not inflame them.