NEW YORK -- The New York Times harshly criticized the NYPD's Muslim surveillance program in a Sunday editorial, while taking particular aim at Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his full-throated defense of the department amid concerns about violations of civil liberties.
Bloomberg, the Times editorial board wrote, "has reacted in the worst possible way -- with disdain -- to those raising legitimate questions about the surveillance program."
The Associated Press has been reporting on the NYPD's secret Muslim surveillance program since August, revealing a post-9/11 strategy for combating terrorism that included blanket surveillance of where Muslims eat, shop and pray. In more than three dozen articles, the AP's knocked down early claims by the NYPD and Bloomberg that officers were only following legitimate leads of possible criminal activity. The surveillance, according to primary documents obtained by the AP, was far more widespread than initially suggested.
The Times stayed out of the fray last August and has remained on the sidelines for more than six months. But in recent weeks, the series heated up again with new revelations of the New York City Police Department spying on Muslims in Newark, N.J., and on college campuses across the Northeast. Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Newark Mayor Cory Booker have criticized the NYPD's tactics, while Bloomberg -- along with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn -- have staunchly defended them as necessary to keep the city safe from a potential terrorist attack.
On Tuesday, as editorial boards across New York and New Jersey had been weighing in for a week over the latest AP revelations, The Huffington Post questioned why the Times, traditionally very vocal on civil liberties issues, had still kept quiet. While Andy Rosenthal, the Times editorial page editor wouldn't answer HuffPost's questions five days ago, the paper's Sunday editorial now makes clear where the board stands.
"It is a distressing fact of life that mistreatment of Muslims does not draw nearly the protest that it should. But not just Muslims are threatened by this seemingly excessive warrantless surveillance and record-keeping. Today Muslims are the target. In the past it was protesters against the Vietnam War, civil rights activists, socialists. Tomorrow it will be another vulnerable group whose lawful behavior is blended into criminal activity."
In the editorial, the Times asked how Bloomberg could still insist that the NYPD was only "following leads," despite mounting evidence to the contrary, and whether the program is still going on.
"Meantime, we are wondering what happened to the Michael Bloomberg who stood up for fairness and religious freedom by backing a proposed Muslim community center near ground zero," the Times concluded. "We hope that mayor re-emerges soon to restore trust."