If there was any doubt that the furor over the Park51 Islamic community center was largely fueled by politicians and pundits exploiting 9/11 in the midst of election season, now we know for sure. There's hardly a mention of Park51, (yes, it does have a real name other than the inapt "Ground Zero mosque"), in the news anymore, despite there being more actual developments surrounding the center now than there were back then.
Six months ago, in the weeks leading to the September 11th anniversary, the noise surrounding Park51 was so loud and caustic--supposedly on behalf of my and the thousands of other 9/11 family members and victims--that I felt compelled to post a piece on this site condemning the anti-Park51 fabrications and misinformation, even though I'd never spoken publicly as a 9/11 widow before.
I was appalled that a "controversy" created mostly by extremist groups gained momentum from opportunistic politicians and a reckless media who placed more importance on shock value than facts. Remember Terry Jones, whose racist ramblings practically brought this country to a halt? The hundreds of cameras trained on him were there under the guise of covering a developing story, but in reality, the media loves to stick a microphone in front of a raving lunatic. (See Charlie Sheen.)
After my piece was posted, I received a call from a network news producer, who, by way of greeting asked, "Are you the Raina Wallens whose husband was killed on 9/11?" Even though that's not normally how I introduce myself, I told him I was. He then asked if I would go on a local television station that night. They were going to have Imam Rauf on air and they wanted to book one person who was in favor of Park51 being built and one person who was against it. "You're for, right?" he barked at me. Clearly he hadn't even read my post, which wasn't actually about whether I was for or against the Islamic center, but more about my disgust at how people were screaming whether they were for or against it without any regard for the truth. The producer was dumbfounded when I told him I didn't want to be on his show. "You know someone else I can call?" he asked before I hung up.
I suspect the media's need to boil issues down to "for" or "against" is another reason why there hasn't been much focus on any of the current Park51 developments, such as Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf taking a less active role and no longer speaking publicly about Park51, or Muslim scholar Shaykh Abdallah Adhami stepping down as Imam Rauf's replacement after just three weeks, following an airing of a NY1 interview in which he claimed homosexual behavior was often the result of childhood abuse. (Since some of the most vocal anti-Park51 groups, such as the Christian Action Network, are anti-gay, they might be conflicted as to how to respond to this bit of news.)
Here's something that would be nice for the media to focus on: Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), the organization founded by conservative blogger Pamela Geller, and the one largely responsible for making the fight against Park51 a national issue, has been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Now that's news.