Nine years of insanity, and journalism shares the blame

It is nine years now since the day America lost its mind. Since the day a small band of hate-filled terrorists opened the door to madness, and our nation walked right through. Since the day when the entire world was moved to stand as one (a French newspaper proclaimed: "We are all Americans!") but we didn't notice because we were filled with grief, fear and rage.

For a moment on that day, we forgot our differences. Southern crackers and Detroit homeboys and Amarillo cowboys were all Americans, and all New Yorkers.

Sadly, it did not last. Nine years later we are a bitterly divided nation, bankrupted by seven years of war in Iraq and more than eight in Afghanistan, manipulated by political snake-oil salesmen into denying and abandoning the core values we profess to believe in order to protect the core values we profess to believe.

We fell victim to rage, were seduced by the dark side, and were led down a path paved with lies into warfare that, for many, may have felt good, but ultimately strengthened the enemy and led us to today, when "the terrorists have won" is arguably true.

We have lost our shirts and we have lost our souls.

I blame the news media.

Oh, there is plenty of blame to go around.  We could blame the politicians and we could blame ignorance, but there will always be slimy politicians exploiting the crisis of the moment, and there will always be dense people who are not interested in facts.

But it's our responsibility. It is what we signed up for. We who are journalists are supposed to facilitate an informed conversation among the citizenry that leads to sound self-government. If that is our intent, we have measurably failed.

What has transpired is anything but sound self-government and not at all informed.

Nine years after the 9/11 attacks led by extremist Wahhabi terrorists, the average American doesn't know a Wahhabist from a Sufi. And to a loud minority that gets constant coverage, all Muslims, well over a billion people worldwide, are the enemy.

Television news in particular has failed to meet its journalistic responsibilities. Friday morning I saw all the network morning TV shows feature a crackpot hatemonger preacher from Gainesville, Florida, leader of a tiny and inconsequential sect, who planned to burn the holy book of Islam. He was thrown out by his little congregation in Germany, and half of his Florida group has abandoned him. He's a little bug in the big picture, but he was being treated as if he led some broad-based American anti-Muslim movement.

It's a carnival, a circus, a show, a fraud. We have plenty of air time for the drama and almost none for learning.

The cable networks are journalistic frauds, focusing on reinforcing prejudice in order to boost ratings, and all too often abandon even the pretense of seeking truth.

I have often pointed a finger at Fox News, a vile and deeply corrupt organization, but CNN and MSNBC also are guilty, if not equally.

I could blame the Internet, too. It is a neutral technology but the consequences of the global network are profound.

There is a Sanskrit proverb: "The eyes do not see what the mind does not want." The Internet turns that weakness of human nature into a force for proactive, malevolent ignorance. 

People clump together in echo chambers and hear only reinforcement of their prejudices. Islamic radicals use it to recruit teenagers and turn them into walking human bombs. Angry white men hang around on wingnut websites and convince themselves that the president is a Muslim secret agent. Some plot murder. Some merely fantasize.

The Internet amplifies many things, including the worst qualities of humanity. The old media and society at large have not figured out how to cope.

When the terrorists crashed an airliner into the Pentagon, they killed Muslims and destroyed a Muslim prayer room that was inside the Pentagon itself. When the terrorists crashed two airliners into the Twin Towers, they killed Muslims and destroyed a Muslim prayer room that was right there in the World Trade Center.

These facts have been communicated by responsible journalists, but they've been drowned out by a combination of hateful screeching and spineless stenographic reporting that treats the screeching as if it were legitimate.

The 9/11 attack was not an attack on Christianity by Islam, but rather an attack on America by heretics. And yet we have this ginned-up "controversy" over a Sufi community center in Manhattan on "hallowed ground."

Nobody worries about the Ground Zero Titty Bar, or the Ground Zero Amish Market, or the Ground Zero Souvenir Hawker, but (if you believe the "news") huge numbers of Real Americans are inflamed that Muslims dare to profane the sacred soil by planning a community center.

Facts? It's several blocks away from the World Trade Center site, where a Muslim prayer room was crushed beneath the rubble of a high-rise building full of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics and more than a few who never gave a damn about religion.

The entire story is fakery, an arson fire covered by journalists throwing gasoline on the flames.

Shame on you all. Shame on us all.



Thank you for cutting past the BS and saying what needed to be said. For highlighting the fear mongering, the hate and media driven insanity which is stripping this country, and others, of it's freedoms and liberties, one ratings increasing lie at a time.

Well written piece until your own political prejudice leaked out, which is the base cause of what you are railing about. Sadly, your hatred for Fox is an excellent example of the nastiness that you so much detest. Your point is excellent - all media outlets are accountable i.e. NYT, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, CNN, USA TODAY, etc. None more than others. Unfortunately Mr. Yelvington - you are an excellent example of your own point.

Some worthwhile journalism that counters the screeching:

Ted Koppel: "The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response. And over the past nine years, the United States has blundered into the 9/11 snare with one overreaction after another."

New York Times: "Fanatics can come from anywhere, Gainesvillians will tell you, but why did this one have to come from here?"

CNN: "Ultimately, they discovered that America still embraces immigrants and the nation is filled with welcoming and loving people."

New York Times: "Opponents of the Park51 project say the presence of a Muslim center dishonors the victims of the Islamic extremists who flew two jets into the towers. Yet not only were Muslims peacefully worshiping in the twin towers long before the attacks, but even after the 1993 bombing of one tower by a Muslim radical, Ramzi Yousef, their religious observance generated no opposition."

Haaretz, quoting Donna Marsh O'Connor, who lost her pregnant daughter in the WTC attack: "I never go to the ceremony at Ground Zero, because it was used for political purposes for several years, and frankly, it is excruciating for me to see it replayed in this way. I have spent 9/11 speaking out on certain issues, I have spent 9/11 at home with my family, trying to forget that 9/11 is a day when everybody remembers this horrific crime, as most of us live with it every single day of our lives. I have spent it at my daughter's grave. I will never, however, think that it’s okay to participate in this ceremony until it’s said that the way 9/11 was used at a nation is over. And on that day, I might participate." (O'Connor leads a survivor family group that supports the Park51 community center project.)

Dan Gillmor: "Yes, traditional media organizations should be more responsible. But in the world that now exists, we can’t count on them to be. So maybe we, the audience, have to take some responsibility on ourselves, being more literate about media techniques, especially the kind used to persuade or manipulate audiences."

Bill Loving had this response to my post:

Excellent screed, Steve. I agree with you 100%.

The next step is to diagnose why it turned out this way and prescribe what to do about it. The news media in the U.S. has been intimidated into going along with the mob by the canard of "liberal media bias," which is just code for "The Media Must Parrot the Views of the Republican Party." Liberal bias is The Big Lie of our age, concocted by the Right Wing as a club to keep the media in line.

What is needed is a return to crusading, unapologetic Progressive journalism, the kind that stood up to the mob and helped bring about things like child labor laws and civil rights, and helped end a pointless war and bring down a corrupt president. No more stenography, no more focus groups: Investigate. Publish. Repeat.

The Right is trying to take over the news media and control the conversation to advance its agendas. So far it has been very successful. It's time to fight back. This is war, and no time to cling to "peacetime" conventions like unbiased journalism that gives equal time to all sides.

That's my 9/11 rant.

New Yorker, You accuse Steve of exhibiting prejudice by attacking Fox and not including other media outlets. Please read the rest of the sentence: I have often pointed a finger at Fox News, a vile and deeply corrupt organization, but CNN and MSNBC also are guilty, if not equally. Did you miss it, or did your own political prejudice cause you to skip that? Ideology is the framework by which we assess whether something is true or false. We all do it, Steve, you, me. It's worth thinking about our own ideological frameworks from time to time to think about what we might be editing out. I'm not lecturing you. I'm just trying to get past some of the nonsense where we're overly aware of prejudice in the 'other' side but unaware of our own. Frankly, I find both the Democratic and Republican, Fox and MSNBC, arguments facile. They're spewing soundbites while home burns. We've got problems. How are we going to solve them? Not like this.

Thank you so much for this elloquent post. I would like to share it. With full credit and links, of course.

I was a sophmore in college on 9/11. I was 18/19 years old. My entire adult life has been under an America divided. It makes me weep sometimes.

I blame blogs. Really. Myself, included.

The things I liked the most about what you wrote is that it captures exactly how I feel: despairing, deeply concerned, unable to find any easy answers, trying to stay optimistic, but finding it quite hard. Thank you for calling this whole mess exactly what it is. So many times people in the media deflect even the slighted shred of criticism. Thank you for not shying away from it.

An interesting read, but I have to say: I disagree with you on most of your points. What I find especially disappointing is the recurring tendency to cast the opposing viewpoint as prejudice. You have allowed a sense of self-righteousness to creep into your post that makes it difficult to see past. Certainly, you view your perspectives as well thought out and informed (as you should), but you don't admit the same of the opposing perspective. Surely I'm not uninformed and thoughtless in my perspective? You may think the opposing view mistaken, but a simple degree of courtesy would go a long way to encouraging and facilitating the informed discussion you seek. In any case, one point that you make deeply bothered me, and I wondered if perhaps I misunderstood you. You write: The 9/11 attack was not an attack on Christianity by Islam, but rather an attack on America by heretics. And yet we have this ginned-up "controversy" over a Sufi community center in Manhattan on "hallowed ground." Are you conflating the opposition to a mosque on "hallowed ground" with the mistaken belief that 9/11 was an attack on Christianity by Islam? It certainly seems to me to be that way. I think it is hallowed ground, made so by the blood of heroes shed there. Nothing more, nothing less--certainly not in the sense of Christianity versus Islam. I also think that simple, common decency should have deterred the builders of the mosque. There was no need for a controversy, because a simple test of "hey, does this seem like the right thing to you?" should have given the backers pause. Excuse the hyperbole: would you build a museum for the United States Army Air Force in downtown Dresden? Probably not--you might think to yourself, "that's not appropriate." Or how about the "Oppenheimer Center for Atomic Energy" at ground zero in Nagasaki? "Unnecessarily offensive," you might think. I don't think any of us would support things like that. But somehow, any and all opposition to the mosque near ground zero in Manhattan is an oversimplification, a misunderstanding of the events of 9/11, and worse, a "fakery"? I prefer to think of it as a sense of common decency. And I suppose that is just one of many points we disagree on--but if the heart of your post is that journalism is failing the citizen because it speaks with different voices and pushes different views, that to really benefit the citizen, journalism must speak with one voice, push one agenda (the right one, of course), well...then I embrace the failure of our journalists.

Keep up the good work. An echo can start an avalanche. For all of those that thought they had seen the end of the worst of it with our withdrawal of major military presence. Be strong, it very well may become some far more ugly. I pray for our fellow Americans and our species to not push us to defend our lives from the lies of our own people. I know that the diversity and unique brotherhood we have is incredible. see the true face of our nation. I see a people of immense honor. A nation that may soon banish the lies of the nuclear ages American Dream. A place where our differences are what makes us great.. Bless you all.

One of my overnight spammers (whose contributions will not be posted) surprised me by noticing this thread and also noticing the background on the photo of me at the top of this page.

It is the Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία) museum in Istanbul. The current structure dates back to 532, replacing an earlier building as the principal basilica of the Byzantine Empire. It was converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral for about half a century when Crusaders invaded around 1204. In 1453 the Ottoman Turks took control and converted it into a mosque.

This was not one religion conquering another. All Muslims, Eastern Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Protestants, Jews, Mormons, Rastafarians and even the Baha'i are of the same Abrahamic tree, one common religion.

It was members of the same religion conquering one another. Century after century, followers of the same God, adherents to a common line of religious belief, have been killing one another in quests for wealth and power, and justifying it through religious bigotry.

When Americans refer to "the Muslim God" as a "monkey god" and shout "kill them all" as some did yesterday in New York City, it reveals a profound ignorance.

We are all born ignorant. The long climb out requires a learning mind and opportunity. As journalists, we're supposed to help provide that opportunity, but my point above is that we largely have failed to do so, and have drowned out any context by shoving cameras in the faces of bigots and fools and treating the news as an entertainment program.

"Jonathan," above, insists that the Burlington Coat Factory site has become "hallowed ground."

There are only two possibilities: Either it isn't (in which case everybody should shut the hell up), or it is. If it is, how could it possibly be wrong for a Sufi to put a place of worship there?

The implied argument is that Muslims are responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center, which may work if you can't tell one Muslim from another. Few of us would blame Quakers or the Amish for the actions of IRA terrorists, but that's because most of us know the difference. Most of us have no idea what goes on inside Islam. Whose fault is that? The shallow and sensational reporting of this clash of cultures has failed to shed much light.

My trip to Istanbul, paid by the International Press Institute, was instructive. I learned about Sufis there. I saw the whirling dance of Dervish mystics. I came away knowing about Mevlana Celaleddin-i Belhi-Rumi, the great Islamic Sufi poet-philosopher who lived some 800 years ago.

Sufis are nonviolent builders of bridges to other religious threads. There are even Sufi Buddhists, as some Buddhists find value in the contemplative principles of the Sufi traditions.

That's the context of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's plan to build the Cordoba House, a context lost when the cameras chase bigots down the street in hopes of catching a video of somebody burning the Koran.

I've written enough. I will close with the Seven Advices of the Muslim poet Rumi:

1. In generosity and helping others, be like a river.

2. In compassion and grace, be like the sun.

3. In concealing others' faults, be like the night.

4. In anger and fury, be like the dead.

5. In modesty and humility, be like the earth.

6. In tolerance, be like a sea.

7. Either exist as you are, or be as you look.

Dervishes in Istanbul.

If there is blame anywhere, it is on the people and governments that have failed to educate successive generations. A well-informed citizenry must first be open to information and knowledge. Without critical thinking skills, eradicated by mass schooling and the likes of "no child left behind", the citizenry can be easily misled by demagogues and snake-oil salesmen. Without education, people can be led to believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 and that weapons of mass destruction existed. The current situation, in the US and many other countries, is a failure of education, plain and simple.

Actually, I didn't "[insist] that the Burlington Coat Factory site has become 'hallowed ground'" That's an intentional misrepresentation of what I wrote, and you know it. Shame on you. There's no doubt that there are many beautiful things about Islam. I do not confuse Sufis with Sunis or Wahhabis (I've spent most of my life around things Islamic, including the first half of it growing up in Muslim countries). I'm not trying to compare this with your trip to Turkey, but there is a tone in your writing that if I just understood what you understand, I'd think differently. Instead, I see both sides. Quoting beautiful poetry from Rumi does not ease the pain that many people feel from 9/11, and berating them for not understanding the different branches of Islam doesn't help. Building bridges is something you do with a sense decency and sensitivity, not just bringing the bridge crashing down on the heads of those on the other side--the Imam acknowledges that, and when he says that if he knew the pain this would have caused, "I would have gone elsewhere," I believe him. Surely you agree?

So. If this is such hallowed ground, why is it going to be at least partially covered with a shopping center? "...The below-grade concourses will include approximately 55,000 square feet of retail space and connect to an extensive transportation and retail network that includes 13 subway lines, PATH commuter trains to New Jersey, and possible future train connections to Long Island and the airports." Oh, yeah. This is America.

Interesting points made by Steve who I have a great deal of respect for. It is ironic about that the picture of the Hagia Sophia came up in the comments because this great Christian Cathedral of a Christian Byzantine Empire that lasted for over a thousand years is symbolic of Islam conquering and converting non-Muslim lands and people that has been a hallmark of Islamic history ever since the Muslim armies burst out of Arabia. My Greek Christian ancestors came from what was Constantinople and no matter what any Muslim says about the tie between Islam and Christianity it is a crime against humanity that has been perpetrated by Turkish Muslims who used Genocide to erase the millions Christians who lived in Anatolia under their rule. The forcible conversion of the Hagia Sophia - holiest church is Orthodox Christianity - is nothing but an act of supremacist ideology of a religion that is based on conquest of one method or another. Sadly there is no poetry by Rumi that can ever mitigate the eggregious actions carried out in the name of Allah.

Well written. I posted this Saturday, thought you might be interested.’s-ransom/

Not so much 'journalism' but paid spin doctors. The number of real journalists who try to objectively report facts about aggressive war mongering are far and few between. This is because it pays nothing, is a thankless job, and most people with the education and drive to be an effective journalist either wind up in a profitable entity that is not interested in fomenting unpopular truths, or use their talents elsewhere to survive. Meanwhile, what we used to call 'conventional wisdom' suffers, which in a democracy, leaves the "focus-of-attention-controls" in the possession of wealth-funded spin doctors who spend a fortune every day to lead the public around by the nose until they vote against their own interest, or are so skeptical they don't take part. Is it a bankrupt fascist plutocracy, or are we laughing the 'powers that be' out of relevance? The choice is ours -- individually, collectively. We have met the enemy and he is us. But we knew that already. Thanks, Yelvington. This needs to be re-stated every year, lest we forget what really happened (and didn't) on 9/11.