Pouring Gas on the Fire

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This is quite something. Politico just sent out a breaking news alert claiming that President Obama is now ‘backing off’ his support for building an Islamic Center near Ground Zero.

With criticism mounting of his support for the construction of an Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan, President Barack Obama on Saturday defended his decision to wade into the controversy the night before, but backed off from his previous stance. “In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Obama said when asked about his remarks at a White House dinner Friday marking the start of Ramadan. He did, however, emphasize that he was not endorsing the project, just the organizers’ right to build it.

And yet what did the president say just last night? Word for word …

But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.

Perhaps anticipating a response to this effort to create a false controversy, they write in their current front page feature

But his comments Friday night were widely interpreted as an endorsement of plans to build a mosque a few blocks away from where nearly 3,000 Americans perished at the hands of Islamic terrorists on 9/11 – an interpretation the White House hadn’t disputed, up until Obama’s comments in Florida.

This was in response to the president himself clearly making this distinction. He’s not getting into the identity of the builders or whether he agrees on the exact placement. They have the right to build on private property. We’re Americans. We’d don’t discriminate on the basis of religion. Even the AP, more accurately, refers to the president “expanding” on his statement, though perhaps better to say ‘countering willful distortion.’ The CBS version of the AP story says he “expounded” on the issue. (ABC was a bit in Politico’s direction, though nearly as egregious.) Even with the aim of selling copy and appealing to its core readership’s biases, this stands out as a troubling example of organized lying on the part of Politico’s editors. It will be interesting to see who else follows their line.

Late Update: Notably, whereas Politico writes that the White House had made no effort to suggest that the president’s original statement referred to a equal right to build rather than support for this particular effort, the Times says that had indeed done just that. What stands out here is that there is nothing surprising about Obama’s stance since I believe this is the stance of most people who take a 1st Amendment stance on this. Who the people behind the project are is beside the point. Getting drawn into the design of the building is irrelevant. We don’t discriminate on the basis of religion. Call it the American values position.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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