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This detail of a Google Maps search shows the distance between the actual location of Ground Zero and the planned location for the Park 51 Community Center project. (Credit: Google Maps)

“The Ground Zero mosque” phrase and idea has dominated headlines recently and stirred up political and media controversy.

But, the numerous headlines, cutlines, quotes and stories about the “Ground Zero mosque” are misleading because the intended development project is a community center, with a mosque among other facilities.  And, it’s near, not at or on Ground Zero.

As YahooNews! Michael Calderone wrote Aug 16, “there is no mosque being built on the site of Ground Zero.  It’s a simple fact, but one that news consumers can be forgiven for missing,” because news outlets keep labeling it the “Ground Zero mosque.”

What is being built is a community center, officially called Park 51.  A mosque, along with a 500-seat auditorium, a library, a restaurant and more, are all planned to be built at the community center.  And, the plans for the site include a public memorial for Sept. 11.  Park 51’s website explains that it is “an independent project led by Muslim Americans” and that it will be “open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community.”

The site is about two blocks away from Ground Zero.  You can see the distance on this Google map search.

Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, who has become well-known through interviews about the project, is considered a “project manager” along with Sharif El-Gamal, the financial backer.

The Online Journalism Review’s Brian McDermott wrote Aug 24 that using the media’s use of the phrase “Ground Zero mosque” actually “violates the most basic tenets of journalism: be truthful and accurate.”

While some stories which lead with “Ground Zero mosque” references do later on explain that the construction is set  for near, not on Ground Zero, McDermott didn’t find that OK.

“Our brains, like search engines, gauge information on a hierarchy, prioritizing headlines and the active nouns and verbs they employ.”  Therefore, readers remember the key, hot button phrase but not the more wordy explanation.

Where did “Ground Zero mosque” term originate?

StinkyJournalism searched on LexisNexis the term “Ground Zero mosque.”  We searched all news stories from Jan. 1, 2008 until Dec. 31, 2009, and the only result was a Dec. 21 transcript from the Bill O’Reilly show.

The story was an interview of the imam’s wife, Daisy Khan, by Laura Ingraham, and the only use of the phrase was in the headline: “Controversy surrounds Ground Zero mosque/cultural center.”

The next reference to “Ground Zero mosque” in our LexisNexis search was a May 11 press release from Stop the Islamization of America issued through PR Newswire.

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“The human rights group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) is hosting a rally at Ground Zero to protest the construction of a mosque at the site of the Islamic terror attack that brought down the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001,” the release reads.

The blog Atlas Shrugs, which is run by SIOA’s executive director Pamela Geller, wrote a few posts about the SIOA press release, but the next mainstream media outlet to drop the term “Ground Zero mosque” in the media conversation was the New York Post, according to our LexisNexis search.

The NYPost’s May 13 “Mosque madness at Ground Zero” article opened with the authoritative, but incorrect:

“A mosque rises over Ground Zero. And fed-up New Yorkers are crying, “No!”

It is incorrect, because the mosque won’t rise “over” Ground Zero.

Other News Outlets

The New York Times has avoided labeling the project “The Ground Zero Mosque.” Yahoo News’ Calderone reported.

“To call it the Ground Zero Mosque not only would give you the impression that it’s on the site of the Trade Center but it might even give you the further impression that it’s part of the rebuilding process to that site,” Calderone reported New York Times standards editor Phil Corbett said.  But, The Times doesn’t have “any formal guidelines” for reporting on the development, Corbett is reported as saying.

Likewise, the Associated Press’s New York bureau assistant chief Chad Roedemeier is quoted as telling Calderone that “our stories have always said ‘a planned mosque near ground zero,” not “a mosque at ground zero.”

Other Mosques

As The New York Times has reported, this planned project wouldn’t bring the first mosque to the downtown area.  Two other mosques — Masjid Manhattan and Masjid al-Farah — have been downtown for years.  “What the two mosques have in common … is that both have existed for decades, largely unnoticed, blocks from the World Trade Center site.”

StinkyJournalism has written to Park 51 for more information and will update with any response.


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There’s No ‘ Ground Zero Mosque’ –There May Be a Community Center NEAR Ground Zero

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