Terry Jones, an eccentric Florida pastor, announced in July that he planned to burn a stack of Korans on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. In early September, the media gave him his 15 minutes of infamy, ensuring that his publicity stunt would be successful. He ended up canceling the Koran-burning, but not before provoking one of the most bizarre moments in the history of cable news, on the September 10 episode of Morning Joe.
Courtesy of NewsBusters.org, here's the full transcript of Jones's appearance with Mika Brzezinski, the MSNBC show's co-hostess, and Jon Meacham, recently deposed as editor of Newsweek:
Brzezinski: We've really been debating whether or not to do this. Joe [Scarborough, the other co-host] says "no," he doesn't think it's a good idea at all. He might be right. The Florida pastor, threatening to burn copies of the Koran tomorrow, is now saying his plans are "on hold," after a local imam told him that the proposed New York Islamic center near Ground Zero would be moved. And joining us now from Gainesville, Florida, is pastor Terry Jones. And the reason we're doing this is my worry is that the pastor's going to have blood on his hands if he goes forward with this plan. So Jon Meacham just has a quick message for you, sir. Jon?
Meacham: Pastor, I just wanted to--this is Jon Meacham. I just wanted to suggest that Jesus said the night before he was handed over to suffering and death that he ordered his disciples to love one another as he had loved them. That was his central commandment, and as he died, he said that "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." The central message of the New Testament is forgiveness, and to put oneself in the place of another. And so I would simply appeal to you, as a fellow Christian, that the course you suggested is going to be incredibly dangerous, and would ask you to desist in the name of New Testament theology.
Brzezinski: All right, well said, Jon Meacham, and Pastor Terry Jones, we appeal to you to listen to that. And we don't really need to hear anything else, so thanks.
Jones appeared onscreen but was cut off before he could say a word. What was the point of the exercise? If Meacham had a message for Jones, he could have delivered it in a private phone call. If he wanted to editorialize, Jones's on-air presence was superfluous. MSNBC brought Jones on simply so that Meacham make a show of his righteousness. Instead, the crazy pastor ended up looking more dignified than either the smarmy Meacham or the shrill Brzezinski, both of whose behavior was utterly unprofessional.
Meacham's insufferable smugness was all too familiar to anyone who had been following the fight over the Ground Zero mosque, which President Obama elevated into a national controversy in August. That was when he said, at a White House Ramadan dinner, that he backed the constitutional right to build a mosque. It was not exactly a brave position to take in front of a mostly Muslim audience, and the next day, as it became clear that the public saw the mosque plan as insensitive and provocative, the president turned tail. He said he wouldn't express an opinion as to whether building a mosque near Ground Zero was a wise thing to do.
But liberal commentators, joined by a few politicians like New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, were not so reticent. A New York Times editorial denounced "Republican ideologues" who "spew...intolerant rhetoric," though it gave a pass to Democrats, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who also argued the mosque should be built somewhere else. The paper did chide Obama for failing to assert "the wisdom of going ahead with the project, which developers said is intended to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together." It added: "Mr. Obama and all people of conscience need to push back hard."
If the intent of the Ground Zero mosque is "to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together," it was already a failure on its own terms. But the Times betrayed its own lack of interest in conciliation by urging the president to "push back hard."
When, in early September, a local poll found that two-thirds of New York City residents thought the prospective mosque was too close to Ground Zero, the Times itself pushed back hard in another editorial:
New Yorkers, like other Americans, have a way to go. We stand with the poll's minority: the 27 percent who say the mosque should be built in Lower Manhattan because moving it would compromise American values.
The snooty tone was bad enough, but to take the full measure of the Times's boorishness in dressing down New Yorkers, consider who conducted the poll: the Times itself. That's right, the reason we know that two-thirds of New Yorkers oppose the Ground Zero mosque is that the New York Times asked them. Some of those who answered were quoted by name in a news story:
"My granddaughter and I were having this conversation and she said stopping them from building is going against the freedom of religion guaranteed by our Constitution," said Marilyn Fisher, 71, who lives in the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn. "I absolutely agree with her except in this case. I think everything in this world is not black and white; there is always a gray area and the gray area right now is sensitivity to those affected by 9/11, the survivors of the people lost."...
Richard Merton, 56, a real estate broker who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, exemplifies those mixed and seemingly contradictory feelings.
"Freedom of religion is one of the guarantees we give in this country, so they are free to worship where they chose," Mr. Merton said. "I just think it's very bad manners on their part to be so insensitive as to put a mosque in that area."...
"Personally I would prefer it not be built at all, but if it is going to be built it should be at least 20 blocks away," said Maria Misetzis, 30, of the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn.
At the very least, the Times owes Marilyn Fisher, Richard Merton, and Maria Misetzis an apology. These people did not seek out the controversy. They were minding their own business when the Times came to them and asked their opinions, only to hold those opinions up for derision.
WHICHH, COME TO THINK OF IT, is a synecdoche for the entire mosque debate. The developers pitched the idea as a symbol of reconciliation. No thank you, said most Americans, a mosque at that location makes us uneasy. The liberal media and political elites, always certain that they know best, determined to harangue the country--and the city--into submission.
When that didn't work, Feisal Abdul Rauf, imam of the prospective Ground Zero mosque, came up with another idea. In a September 8 interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien, he abandoned his conciliatory rhetoric and recast his plan as a protection racket. If he doesn't get his way, he said, "anger will explode in the Muslim world."
He followed the Times's advice: "Push back hard."