Trump, American Muslims, and the Mainstream Media After 9/11

Once again it's Donald Trump versus the mainstream media, with the focus this time being on the aftermath of 9/11. Trump is being portrayed by the media as a xenophobic buffoon for saying thousands of Muslims in New Jersey had cheered on 9/11 when the Twin Towers collapsed.

Is Trump right? As periodically happens, Trump could have phrased his statement more precisely. Media “fact checkers” (including those who ignore their own publication’s facts) rushed to allege no evidence that “thousands” of Muslims -- across the Hudson River in New Jersey -- had publicly cheered (as opposed to privately cheered) the 9/11 attacks. Well, no surprise there. If such an outrage had happened, even the left-leaning media could not have ignored it. Perhaps Trump was thinking about television images from the Palestinian territories showing thousands of Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks.

Yet Trump may be onto something. Just as significant elements of truth were contained in Trump's badly worded comments about Mexico not sending its “best” (but instead sending many from its criminal class) his comment about cheering Muslims also contains elements of truth.

The story has already progressed through Trump pointing to a Washington Post piece one week after 9/11 (“Northern New Jersey Draws Probers' Eyes”) about the presence of Islamic terrorism in that state over the years -- from the 1993 Trade Center bombing to connections to the 9/11 hijackers; and the article briefly mentioned reports that small gatherings of Muslims cheered as the Twin Towers burned and collapsed. Trump subsequently mocked the reporter who wrote that story when the reporter said he couldn't remember details of what he wrote. And there were allegations that Trump parodied a physical disability the reporter suffers, provoking severe rebukes from media outlets around the world. Trump denied making fun of the reporter's handicap.

Yet consider that just days after 9/11, veteran CBS newsman Dan Rather spoke about small gatherings of cheering American Muslims when visiting the David Letterman show. Asked by Letterman if Muslims were celebrating 9/11, a teary-eyed and emotional Rather remarked that it happened overseas and, yes, at home:

“Oh absolutely, they’re celebrating. There’s one report, this has not been confirmed, but there are several reliable reports there was a cell, one of these cells across the Hudson River, and they got on -- this is the report and I emphasize I don’t know this for a fact – but there’s several witnesses who say this happened; they got on the roof of the building to look across. They knew what was going to happen; they were waiting for it to happen, and when it happened they celebrated. They jumped for joy to see this happen; it was a great triumph. It's inconceivable to me and to you, but David this is what we have to understand as a country; we’re not dealing with the kind of thing we dealt with in any war we’ve ever fought before, because we’ve never dealt with these kind of hateful-to-the-core evil people.”

In retrospect, Rather's comments were remarkable given that he's a liberal – and yet at the time he and other like-minded media figures (together with most every Democratic lawmaker) had a moral clarity right after 9/11 that was subsequently shoved aside as they fretted about a backlash against Muslims (which was non-existent). And though Rather and others had initially praised Bush's reaction to 9/11, they went onto embrace Bush Derangement Syndrome. Did CBS News ever follow up about reports of cheering Muslims in New Jersey – and set the record straight? It appears CBS didn't.

To be sure, in accounts by Rather and the Post regarding cheering American Muslims, the qualifying words “allegedly” and “unconfirmed reports” are used.

Yet something bears repeating: It's strange that neither CBS nor the Washington Post apparently never followed-up on specific reports of public cheering among small groups of Muslims. One plausible explanation is that these scattered incidents did in fact occur, but that the mainstream media failed to follow-up at the time due to journalistic laziness or political correctness. On the other hand, the media soon bent over backwards to promote false claims of a Muslim backlash -- and above all with efforts to find “moderate” Muslims to interview.

Regarding that quest to find “moderate Muslims,” the media initially held up some laughable examples. One media favorite was Anwar al-Awlaki, a closet jihadist. Yes, the American-born son of Yemeni immigrants (the man who inspired many deadly jihadists) was according to a report on National Public Radio, a Muslim who could "bridge the gap between the United States and the worldwide community of Muslim.” And the New York Times even said at the time that al-Awlaki was "held up as a new generation of Muslim leader capable of merging East and West." As al-Awlaki basked in the media's glow, a Pentagon official even invited the popular and charismatic preacher to a luncheon. But as al-Awlaki's true colors were eventually revealed, he found himself on America's terror hit list. On September 20, 2011, he was killed in a drone strike in Yemen.

The media all but ignored early warning signs about al-Awlaki. No matter that soon after 9/11, during a sermon in a mosque in the Washington, D.C., area, he had echoed a refrain heard among large swaths of supposedly moderate Muslims, at home and abroad. Specifically, al-Awlaki condemned the 9/11 attacks...but understood the reasons why. The conjunction “but” was then being used by more than a few Muslims in America – an attitude reflective of global surveys revealing the true feelings of large swaths of Muslims around the world. The clueless media never trumpeted this alarming fact.

Scattered public celebrations among handfuls of American Muslims -- watching the 9/11 attacks from New Jersey -- may well have occurred, even though the media is now determined to discredit such reports that Trump has made a campaign issue in his foot-in-the-mouth fashion. It certainly seems that Dan Rather felt there were celebrations, based on his assertion that there were “several reliable reports” of such cheering – though he added that CBS had not “confirmed” them, whatever that means.

Despite Trump's hyperbole, it's hardly farfetched to say that more than a few American Muslims -- thousands and perhaps millions -- had silently cheered the 9/11 attacks (or at least in their minds believed it was understandable or justified). Certainly, the 9/11 attacks where cheered by the American-hating soul mates of more than a few American Muslims: members of the hardline ideological left. Their most prominent spokesmen at the time included disgraced former University of Colorado ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill and his mini-me counterpart Robert Jensen, a University of Texas leftist journalism professor.

It's unfortunate that Trump's public statements are not more precise;. But he may be onto something worth considering now that the terror attacks in France and Europe seem increasingly likely to come to America.