Why did Florida pastor Terry Jones garner all that media attention last week for threatening to burn Qurans on Saturday's 9/11 anniversary? I believe it's because network swells had spent weeks trying to frame opponents of the ground zero mosque -- also known as the Lower Manhattan Islamic community center -- as stupid anti-Islam bigots, but that story line wasn't sticking. So networks found a stupid anti-Islam bigot in Florida who had nothing to do with the mosque, but who reinforced their political view.
Two people died in protests in Kabul. If Jones had gone ahead with his stunt, pundits would have blamed him -- not themselves, not those who committed acts of violence -- for any bloodshed. It is a sad day in journalism when a huckster Holy Roller with a 50-person parish exhibits better judgment than many in media.
The Sunday talk-show types still don't get it. "Meet the Press" host David Gregory lamented "the demonization of the other." Said guest Reza Aslan, "Anti-Muslim sentiment in this country is at unprecedented levels. We all know this. ... Let's call a spade a spade for a moment. If you are painting 1.5 billion people with the same brush of violence and extremism, you're a bigot."
Last week, Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent announced that he had found "clear evidence that there's a direct link between public anti-Islam sentiment and public opposition" to the ground zero mosque. A Washington Post poll reported that 49 percent of Americans have generally unfavorable views of Islam and 66 percent oppose the Islamic center. His smoking gun: Two-thirds of those 66 percent have generally unfavorable views of Islam.
Funny. In 2002, after the priest-child sex abuse scandal erupted, an ABCNews/Washington Post poll found that 52 percent of Americans -- including three in 10 Catholics -- expressed an unfavorable opinion of the Roman Catholic Church. Now, I don't recall pundits referring to the majority of Americans as anti-Catholic bigots who are too stupid to know that most priests are not pedophiles. They likely figured, negative stories yield negative poll numbers.
Consider Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who shot to death 12 soldiers and one civilian in 2009. Ditto Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, the Nigerian arrested for trying to blow up a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas. Add the attempted Times Square and New York subway bombings. Islamic extremism was the common thread in those stories -- which makes it amazing that Islam polls better today than the Catholic Church in 2002.
At Friday's news conference, President Obama was righteous when he said, "We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts." He then talked about the millions of Muslim Americans who are "fellow citizens," neighbors and friends. "And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?"
It's a true shame that Obama fails to exhibit such understanding toward, say, people in Arizona who support federal immigration law, or oppose putting a mosque near Islamic extremism's great crime. For such people, Obama has no problem with odious stereotypes.