Accuracy in Media

On November 26 Orlando Sentinel reporter Willoughby Mariano broke a story about a battle pitting an Islamist group, which calls itself the Universal Heritage Foundation, against a local Christian pastor.  Pastor Lee Wasson filed a lawsuit claiming he was the victim of bias because his Christian school was evicted from some property owned by a Muslim firm so that the Islamic group might obtain it.  It seems like a local story, but it has national implications.

At the center of the story is the charge that the Islamic center actually rolls out the welcome mat for Muslim radicals.  The Sentinel flits around this issue like a nervous mosquito, noting that the Islamic group stirred controversy by holding a conference and inviting Muslim leaders “described by critics as radicals who hate Jews and Christians.”  This use of the phrase “described by critics” seems to put the Sentinel at a safe distance from the controversy.  The Sentinel might as well have said “Critics would describe them as radical, but we never would.”  Indeed much of the article takes the position that it’s just too difficult to sort out these claims.

The Sentinel portrays the Christian pastor as a simplistic figure taking a “black-and-white” stand when it comes to identifying radicalism.  By contrast, the “sophisticated” Sentinel has a wishy-washy approach that is representative of how the national media are responding to perceived and actual threats of Islamic radicalism. This approach keeps them clear of any controversy. They’d rather be safe and shallow than publish the truth.

Ironically, the Sentinel ran an article in late 2002, two years ago, detailing some of the radical speakers invited to this Islamic center, including the chief cleric of the grand mosque at Mecca who had previously called Jews monkeys, apes and pigs.  Islamic leaders told the paper that they didn’t know how such people were invited in the first place.  That was good enough for the Sentinel.

Zulfiqar Ali Shah, who accuses Pastor Wasson of being xenophobic, then got on a flight to Toronto to appear at another conference which was scheduled to be headlined by the same racist cleric from Mecca who called for the termination of the Jews.  Shah is former president of the Islamic Circle of North America, which has been described as the North American branch of Jama’at-i-Islami.  That’s a Pakistani group that calls Bin Laden the hero of the Islamic world and which raises money for jihad throughout the world.  Tayyab Yunus, a Muslim youth leader and the webmaster for the Florida group, urged parents at one Islamic conference to “send your children to fight Jihad in Chechyna” against Russians.

The Sentinel has staked out its wishy-washy ground, and it’s the same swamp occupied by many news organizations across the country.  While such subject matter demands great caution, the Sentinel and the rest of media do local communities a disservice when they fail to seriously investigate the reality and spread of radical Islamic activities.  It might be happening where you live.  You have a right to be concerned.  But do you have a right to know?

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