Moderation can be a virtue

Remember back, way back, to August 2010 when the mainstream media was obsessed with the proposed mosque near Ground Zero? It was so fun how nuanced the coverage was, where everyone with even the slightest question about the propriety of its location was labeled an Islamophobe? Well, haven't you ever wondered what happened since then? And why the story just disappeared? Somehow this proposed Islamic Center went from being the stuff of Presidential statements and round-the-clock coverage to being more or less ignored. Weird, isn't it?

There are probably few better examples of how fabricated the "top story" on the nightly news is than what was done with this issue.

It was also weird how coverage focused almost exclusively on public reaction to the Islamic center but very little on the center itself. The whole story erupted because of the way that the center's global fundraising highlighted its proximity to the terrorist attack. But we learned very little about the fundraising or the economics of building the center.

This week, that lack of information strikes me as even odder than it did a year ago. The center is back in the news as part of a rent dispute with quite a shocker on what the center was paying in monthly rent (equivalent to what a 3-bedroom house in the District of Columbia would rent for). Here's the CNN story:

The center, which includes a mosque, drew intense opposition in 2010 from politicians, conservative activists and some families of the victims of the al Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center. The twin towers stood about two blocks from the site before they were destroyed by the suicide hijackings on September 11, 2001, leading critics to dub the project the "Ground Zero Mosque."

The interfaith center's leaders said the project will be a 16-story community center with recreational, educational and cultural programming rooted in a spirit of cooperation and coexistence. City officials refused to block its construction, and Park51 held its grand opening in September.

According to court documents, Park51 has exercised an option to purchase the Con Edison portion of the site for $10.7 million. The center says it has been paying $2,750 a month -- minuscule by New York standards -- under its initial lease. The rent was to be recalculated based on the market value of the property after it renewed the lease in 2008, but disputes over the appraisal lasted until this August.

In September, Con Edison demanded the $1.7 million it said it was owed.

A $10.7 million building was being rented for $2,750 a month? Nice! Apparently the rent was set in 1972.

In any case, stories about this dispute seem to be pretty straightforward, even in the tabloid press. But it would be nice if editors and reporters didn't get so unevenly carried away with stories, either over-covering something or under-covering it. More moderation, please.

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