Cause and effect
Lately I’ve heard numerous opponents of the Park51 Islamic center invoke public opinion polls in their arguments against the project, as polling shows that a majority of Americans oppose locating the facility close to Ground Zero.
Leaving aside that we don’t have a tradition of using popular referenda about minority religions to determine where their houses of worship will be built, their argument should come with another caveat: pundits and politicians who oppose the project have engaged in a months-long campaign — based largely on innuendo, outright falsehood, fear-mongering and bigotry – to manipulate public opinion. Media Matters recently released a thorough timeline of this campaign, which stretches back to late last year
The findings, while shocking in some ways, reflect an all too familiar tactic from a conservative media echo chamber that ignores progressive and moderate voices. For example, between April and August Fox News featured 35 guests who oppose the community center, compared to 11 supporters. Guests made outrageous claims about Park51, calling it everything from an “outrage and an insult” to a “command center for terrorists.”
It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone who opposes Park51 is a bigot (although a recent Washington Post poll suggest that a majority of opponents admit to having unfavorable views of Islam). But if we’re going to have an honest dialogue, we need to admit that public opinion does not evolve in a vacuum, and that concerted misinformation campaigns are, sadly, very relevant to the debate that’s played out over the last 9 months.