Sunday, September 19, 2010


I suppose you could say of me, "once a newsman, always a newsman." Which is why I often, in the past twenty years, have found myself gritting my teeth at blatant distortions and underreporting, and journalistic malfeasance. And I'm not talking about Fox News, which deserves its own place in the Journalism Hall of Shame. No, I'm talking about the other major network newscasts, where reports often totally ignore historical perspective and fact checking.

When I started my broadcasting career in the 1960s, journalists were expected to do their homework before going on the air. One of the few who sticks to that code of honor is NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who was a friend and colleague at KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia. Perhaps it's the circumstances of the 24 hour news cycle that dictates little or no preparation before something is reported and labeled as a "fact" with little evidence that this is really so. But the pressures of getting stuff on the air and filling all that space is no excuse for the total lapse in journalistic integrity visible throughout the media.

Maybe it even goes back to the major deficiencies in today's education standards, with less an emphasis on American History, World History, Geography, Social Studies. These are not considered the "money courses" designed to help students eventually earn a living--unless, of course, they want to become news people.

And with general standards of quality so shoddy, it is no wonder that mere negligence has evolved into propagandizing and misrepresentation. Take Charles Krauthammer of Fox News, The Washington Post, and various other media outlets. I find him interesting and entertaining, I'll admit. He's actually a psychiatrist, and the fact he is confined to a wheelchair, which is rarely apparent ala FDR, is a testament to his courage, which I do admire him for. He is one of the more influential voices of the right, though I much prefer the non-shoot-from-the-hip style of David Brooks. He is also a solipsist, which has become one of my favorite words since I first discovered it in prison in 1997. It's the attitude that you are the only person in the world, at least the only person you can be sure exists. It is a quality often found in habitual criminals and famous pundits.

An example: On August 13th, in The Washington Post, Krauthammer wrote a column titled, "Sacrilege At Ground Zero," in which he stated:
"When recently asked whether Hamas is a terrorist organization, Imam Rauf replied, 'I'm not a politician...the issue of terrorism is a very complex question.'" Talking about leaving important stuff out. But this is part of the narrative right wing opponents of the New York Muslim Center known as Cordoba want us to believe, that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is favorably inclined towards and refuses to condemn Hamas. But I just watched the video of Iman Rauf's interview with Chistiane Amanpour on ABC's This Week, in which the Iman clearly states, "Whoever commits terrorist acts, I condemn--and Hamas has committed terrorist acts."

And you never hear the right wing commentators (and to be fair, it's also underplayed in mainstream media) refer to the Imam's Sufism. He is a Sufi, the mystical form of Islam, and a hated enemy of radical Muslims. In fact, just about a month before the Krauthammer article equating Iman Rauf with the radical extremists, a group of them blew up the Data Darbar Sufi mosque in Pakistan, 42 people were killed, and there have been many such attacks.

I get little indication that the people reporting on opposition to the center near Ground Zero even know what a Sufi is. I've long been an admirer of that tradition, going back to attending dance classes based on Sufism at the Unitarian Church in Miami in the 1970s. And I've often used Sufi stories and jokes, usually termed Sufi Tales, in my seminars. My longtime dear friend, Rupa Cousins, actually is a student of Sufism (while still considering herself a Jew and honoring that tradition). She is trained in one of that discipline's most notable cultural contributions, the dancing turn of the Mevlevi Sufi Tradition (Whirling Dervish) of Turkey, which traces back to the spiritual teachings of noted 13th century Persian poet and mystic, Rumi . Rupa also knows Imam Rauf and his reputation as a peacemaker over a number of years due to her own work as a peace activist and interfaith advocate.

The Imam is a major mover and shaker in interfaith activities between Muslims and people of other faiths. And he is a devout American, just returning from one of a number of diplomatic missions overseas sponsored by the U.S. State Department. One can have serious concerns about the symbolism of a Muslim Center two blocks from Ground Zero without demonizing the man or inciting violent reaction by lying about his spiritual discipline or politics.

Even the Iman says he wouldn't have gone ahead with the proposed location if he had known all the controversy it would stir up. He says he is a man of peace, not controversy. But any decision must be carefully thought out, as moving it could inflame irrational radical reaction around the world.

If this really is to be a center of interfaith cooperation, designed to show the Muslim world that Americans respect their religion and to show non-Muslim Americans that only a handful of the billion followers of Islam are violent nutjobs, then perhaps it belongs close to Ground Zero, and some have even suggested it should be moved closer, become a part of the rebuilt World Trade Center.

There is no excuse for ignorance in reporting, especially on sensitive and controversial issues. And I'll finish with a Sufi story collected by Iries Shah that Charles Krauthammer should read:
One guru tells another, "Always say things that cannot be checked." "Why?" asks the second guru. "Because," replies the first guru, "if you say 'Mars is peopled by millions of undiscernible beings, and I have met them,' people will not dispute it. But if you say, 'It is a nice day today,' some fool will always reply, 'But not as nice as it was yesterday'".

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