WPost vents on Peter King, then does its job

If you are a regular reader of the Washington Post, you have grown used to seeing carbon copies of the same column day after day on the op-ed page. This column starts like this, care of Eugene Robinson:

"There is nothing radical or un-American in holding these hearings," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) claimed ... as he launched his McCarthyite probe of American Muslims. He could not have been more wrong. If King is looking for threats to our freedoms and values, a mirror would be the place to start.

Then, 24 hours later, Dana Milbank sang this chorus once again:

Peter King staged his investigation into the loyalty of Muslim Americans in an appropriate place: a hearing room once used by the House Un-American Activities Committee.

The New York Republican was eager to avoid the Red Scare taint, and he allowed the 84-year-old dean of the House, Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, to open the session with wisdom learned during his time as a chairman. "I kept a picture of Joe McCarthy hanging on the wall so that I would know what it was I did not want to look like," Dingell said, cautioning the committee not to "blot the good name or the loyalty" of Arabs or Muslims.

But the ghost of Tail-Gunner Joe would not be denied.

Let me stress that I recognize that there is no obligation for newspapers to honor the American model of the press in their editorial sections and, in this case, the Post has certainly flown its editorial colors in that location day after day after day, world without end. Amen.

Yes, anyone interested in any kind of meaningful debate about the emotional, complex and murky issues surrounding -- let's pick one topic -- the influence of overseas groups and governments in the funding of new mosques and the salaries of many imams in the United States has had very little reason to scan the work of editorial writers employed by the management of the Post.

So be it.

What GetReligion readers need to know is that, after day one in the hearings, something important happened on A1 in the same newspaper.

That something is spelled j-o-u-r-n-a-l-i-s-m.

Supporters of King and the hearings may grumble that the Post handed the symbolic high ground in the lede to an emotional story told by Rep. Keith Ellison (about the noble death of a Muslim paramedic who was killed as he responded to the attacks on Sept. 11). The story also ends with an anecdote that will cheer those who oppose the hearings.

However, it is impossible to read to the full text without seeing that David A. Fahrenthold and religion-beat pro Michelle Boorstein made a serious attempt to include strong, gripping material from both sides in their coverage of the first day of the hearings. Here is the pivot point in this story, with another Muslim telling a story directly linked to the subject material of the hearings:

Ellison's testimony was the emotional peak of a dramatic, long-awaited hearing, in which Congress was in the spotlight as much as Islam. During more than four hours of testimony, there were other moments of touching depth: Two men told personal stories of seeing loved ones seduced by Islamic extremism.

Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American from Minnesota, described how a nephew turned radical and left to fight with an Islamic militia in Somalia. He said religious leaders had discouraged him from going to the authorities, warning that "you will have eternal fire and hell" for betraying Islam.

The story also included a balanced presentation of King's often fiery views on the activities and beliefs of some -- repeat SOME -- Muslims in the United States.

King did not repeat some of his most controversial statements about Muslims, including an allegation that the vast majority of U.S. mosques are run by radicals. But in his opening statement, he said al-Qaeda had sought to recruit Americans for terrorist attacks and cited a public opinion poll that showed support for suicide bombings among a small fraction of Muslim men.

"The overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans," King said. "But there are realities we cannot ignore."

So it begins. I am sure there will be much that critics on both sides can complain about during these hearings. The issue is whether both sides will be represented in an accurate and fair manner in the coverage. This Post story shows that this hard work is possible, no matter what editors are saying in the editorial pages.

Once again, please use the comments page for actual discussions of this Post story and other mainstream coverage (please share URLs of the good and the bad). Some folks, of course, may need to take their rhetoric bashing either side to some other weblog. There are plenty out there in which to vent.

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