Dog Days of August, News in the Doldrums & the Lower Manhattan Mosque

August is not usually known as a great month for news. The President is often on a vacation while Congress has abandoned Washington to return to their districts. Political campaigns are traditionally in hibernation raising money. Families are on holiday and companies generally wait to unveil new products until after Labor Day.

What little news that does occur runs the risk of being beaten to death, rehashed and regurgitated until all that remains is a little drool, spittle that eeks from the lips of pundits and prognosticators, and a second tier of opinion-makers who are not-so-important that they could take vacation lest they might miss their only chance of the year to be quoted.

August news stories have the same foul odor of rotting food left out in the hot sun… stories that stretch on for weeks… when senior executives abandon NYC for the Hampton’s or the Cape leaving more junior news people in charge who embrace, indeed flog same ol’ stories for days and days.  It is so much safer to go with a 2nd, 3rd or 15th day lead than chart a new course or find something more compelling when what’s old and loud can be resuscitated for another lead.

Last August coverage focused on the proposed death panels associated with health care reform.  Stop – if just for a moment – is it really credible that the United States government would propose death panels for its citizens as a matter of public policy?  Does that Mengele-esque concept pass the credulity test?

This August we have the Manhattan mosque.  In a year’s time, with reflection, will this be about a proposed building or rather the question was this suggested mosque about actually building it, or merely asking for permission?  Was the media, in turn much of the public, played by the question – what if we said, “No”?  What if we said there wasn’t the right of freedom of religion or of speech?  What if we had said that we do not honor the tenants of the Constitution, or in outright rejection made it globally clear that we were a nation where there was such repression that the US resembled a nation ruled by religious zealots and where freedoms were not respected?

The musical The Fantastics, music by Harvey Schmidt, book and lyrics by Tom Jones, a play itself about hate and bigotry capture the essence of confusion about what was really what… in a song called “Plant a Radish” they wonder about the mystery of raising children to act and do as their parents want. In a more macro version, did we sing this same chorus asking ourselves what we thought, what we wanted, and what we thought was the question, but in fact, we missed it?

In Washington you usually don’t challenge some one’s plan but rather their motives, that is, you seek to find out the why a particular individual supporting a law or idea is gaining credence and destroy him or her instead of attacking the issue directly.  Here that old standard seems to have been turned on its head… instead of attacking the motives of those responsible we have attacked the plan itself.  The mosque, whether a single room as part of a larger community center, in many ways a Muslim equivalent of a YMCA, is not the issue as much as its proponents wanted to place the question, a challenge, in front of the American people.

Are we truly as good as we would have ourselves believe?  Did we get played by the media, many of whom went into swirl mode trying to breathe life into an emotional reaction instead of looking at what may lie beneath the noise?

And just in passing, supposing this mosque is approved and construction money can be obtained… does any one really expect the trade unions to willingly join in the building process?  Will steel arrive as planned?  Or other building supplies and  crafts people?  Will the NY Fire Department expeditiously sign off on permits and licenses?  In New York, a city renown for its distinct reactions, does any one think this building has a serious expectation of any completion?

This wasn’t about a building, this was about the American process.  Welcome to another August; September begins in just two more weeks.

Author: Peter Shaplen Productions

More than four decades of experience as a journalist, producer, reporter, writer and professor of news, corporate production, crisis management.

2 thoughts on “Dog Days of August, News in the Doldrums & the Lower Manhattan Mosque”

  1. I feel compelled to make a comment about this debate. I just opened up an email from a “born again” relative denouncing, in the filthiest language,the building of the mosque near ground zero. The relative then followed up that email with another waxing poetic about living in the path of Christ. I don’t know whether or not the mosque should be built near ground zero, but I do know that its opponents need to have a serious “come to Jesus” about the language they use in debating this issue. I suspect, in the laws of the universe, that the use of filthy language is as cancerous and damaging to the future of this country than any action taken by perceived enemy.

  2. I really think Nancy Pelosi’s take is the correct one on this: it’s a local zoning issue for the City of New York where the federal government has no constitutional authority at all to act in this matter.

    Where are those Republican yahoos screaming about state’s rights and local control on this one?

    I’ll tell you: They are being hypocrites on this issue.

    — which brings me to… (bear with me, this really is related)

    One of the brilliant inventions of Karl Rove’s PR machine was figuring out the power of words and their emotional impact. Using words as weapons to stir up public panic got a lot done legislatively.

    For instance – Americans in general have no problem with super wealthy trust fund brats being taxed on their inheritances when the billionaire grandpa dies. The estate tax on ultra wealthy was popular for decades.

    Republicans hated it; the public loved it.

    But, Rove’s polling showed if they changed the name of “estate tax” to “death tax” – then most people were against it. So, under Bush and Rove’s PR machine that started pushing for a repeal of this crazy thing called a death tax on FNC and talk radio … the public ate it up. Eventually even many Democrats started saying “death tax” – and Congress passed a law eliminated the estate tax on the super rich .. so now the uber-rich get wealthier and our deficits get bigger. And the RNC gets more donations from duping the poor and the middle class (what’s left of it).

    But, you may ask, what does this have to do with your post about the controversy with the mosque?

    Plenty. I’m pretty sure that those same folks are using foreign-sounding word “mosque” coupled with the as a bogeyman to foment xenophobic fervor again in the election year in an attempt to control this election cycle with division and fear.

    It really boils down to the semantics of ignorant fear.

    –> Build a “mosque” near ground zero? The fundamentalist Christian’s xenophobic heads explode.

    But what is a mosque? It’s a church, right?

    –> Build a “church” near ground zero? No xenophobic button to push. Easy. Mr. Rove’s lessons allow us to decode the message and discard the intended propaganda entwined in the message with semantic mandmines.

    So, I’m no longer calling it a mosque. I’m calling it what it is – a “church” or the “Cordoba House” (it’s official name, by the way, which you *never* or hear in the news). And I’m calling its actions “outreach ministry” and “missionary work.”

    Because that’s what it is – in plain, non-jargon standard American English; it’s the way I was taught to report decades ago.

    Still… when you read that above paragraph where I refused to use incendiary and propagandistic terms such as “ground zero” and “mosque,” you gotta admit Rove was right about the power of labels and mobilizing reactionaries for political gain.

    Still, even for those of us who feel more “enlightened,” than the so-called unwashed masses, the use of common American English words that we can relate to such as – “it’s a community center” for an “outreach ministry” and “missionary work” – makes this whole kerfuffle seem silly now, doesn’t it?

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