A Colorado Media Matters review of coverage on the controversy over the letter Republican U.S. Rep Tom Tancredo sent to Pope Benedict XVI found that Colorado newspapers generally misrepresented the substance of the letter. The papers largely omitted the fact that the letter attacked the Islamic religion, not just "radical Islam."
In reporting on the controversy surrounding the recent letter that U.S. Rep Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton) sent to Pope Benedict XVI regarding the pope's critical remarks about Islam, major Colorado newspapers generally have misrepresented the substance of the letter. A Colorado Media Matters review* of coverage focusing on the criticism by Nayyera Haq, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. John Salazar (D-Manassa), of Tancredo's letter found that the newspapers largely omitted the fact that the letter includes passages attacking the Islamic religion in general, not just "radical Islam" or factions such as Al Qaeda.
In response to the controversy surrounding the pope's remarks, Tancredo's September 20 letter stated, "I hope that you will resist calls to apologize for these statements - as they accurately describe the motivation of radical Islamists who replace the religious and political pluralism of the western world with a modern day caliphate." After urging the pope not to apologize for his comments, Tancredo attacked Islam as a whole, claiming, "Like you, I believe any reformation of the Islamic faith is highly unlikely because it would require a radical reinterpretation of the Koran, something that you have correctly noted would be nearly impossible as Muslims view the Koran as a document that cannot be interpreted by man."
Tancredo ended his letter:
Again, I hope you will resist calls from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Al Qaeda to apologize for the factual observations you cited last week. Whether we want to admit it or not, the western world is locked in a struggle against radical Islam whose practitioners and adherents are inextricably linked to terrorism. If we are to successfully defend ourselves against the desire of our enemies to impose a caliphate on the world, we must first be willing to openly identify them.
In fact, Tancredo's letter did more than urge the pope to resist calls "to apologize." It also attacked the Islamic faith in its entirety, a fact several Colorado newspapers have failed to note.
As the Rocky Mountain News reported on September 21, "[Tancredo's] letter drew an angry response from Nayyera Haq, communications director for Rep. John Salazar. Haq, who is Muslim, stressed in an e-mail that she was speaking for herself and not for her boss." The News reported Haq's September 20 email as follows:
"As a man, Tom Tancredo has always been articulate in expressing his hatred of Islam and immigrants - no surprise there," Haq said. "In his arrogance, he chooses to disregard the existence of millions of law-abiding Muslim American citizens. What is surprising is that as an elected representative, someone who should be working towards our collective safety, Tancredo chooses to throw more fuel on the fire with his hateful words."
"Tancredo is being irresponsible with his congressional authority and is knowingly creating a more dangerous environment for all of us. Congressman Tancredo should focus more on building bridges with the progressives in the Muslim world rather than burning the few bridges we have left."
The same News article also noted that Tancredo's letter "cited four quotations from the Quran that he believes prove the point the pope was making, including calls to 'smite' unbelievers and 'slay the idolaters wherever you find them.'" A Rocky Mountain News article from September 22 also reported, "Tancredo's letter, which included criticisms of specific passages in the Quran, drew a strong response from Nayyera Haq, the communications director for Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo."
But subsequent reporting in the Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post and The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction, failed to note the portions of Tancredo's letter that disparaged Islam in general and had prompted the criticism from Haq.
On September 23, the News reported the comments of Scott Tipton, Salazar's Republican challenger in the 3rd Congressional District race, who "urged Salazar, who is Catholic, to do something about 'out-of-control' staff member Nayyera Haq." The News also reported, "Earlier this week, Haq angrily commented in a personal e-mail on a letter from Tancredo to the pope. Tancredo urged the pope to 'resist calls to apologize' for quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor who said, 'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.'"
Similarly, a News article from September 26 reported that the controversy between Haq and Tancredo "erupted last week after Tancredo wrote Pope Benedict XVI, urging him to stand his ground and 'resist calls to apologize' for remarks he made on holy war that incensed Muslims."
Another News article from September 27 noted Salazar's defense of Haq and reported that "The flap started last week, when Tancredo, R-Littleton, sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, urging him not to apologize for a speech that quoted a 14th Century Byzantine emperor saying that Muslim prophet Muhammad brought 'things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.' "
A September 27 Denver Post article reporting on Salazar's defense of his staffer also stated that Haq's criticisms of Tancredo "were related to Tancredo's recent letter to Pope Benedict XVI urging him not to apologize for remarks the [P]ope made about Muslims."
Moreover, several articles in The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction also omitted the substance of Tancredo's letter. A September 22 Sentinel article reported, "Salazar's director of communications, Nayyera Haq, 24, criticized Tancredo's "hateful" words that she said would harm progressive Muslims and inflame relations when Tancredo wrote to Pope Benedict XVI. Tancredo urged the pope not to apologize over a recent speech in which he quoted a 14th century emperor who suggested Muhammad had inspired "things only evil and inhuman."
The Sentinel also reported on September 23, "Nayyera Haq, Salazar's spokeswoman, took Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Littleton Republican, to task for his letter to Pope Benedict XVI. Tancredo urged the pope to resist calls to apologize for his speech in which he quoted a 14th century emperor's criticisms of Islam."
Furthermore, on September 26 the Sentinel stated, "Haq criticized Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Front Range Republican, for his letter supporting Pope Benedict XVI, who had quoted a 14th century emperor that condemned Islam."
In contrast, The Pueblo Chieftain reported on September 26 that "Tancredo's letter quoted portions of the Quran that calls for violence against non-believers and noted that Al Qaeda had warned the pope in response that 'You and the West are doomed.'" The same article also quoted Tancredo's comments in which he disparaged Islam by claiming, "Whether we want to admit it or not, the western world is locked in a struggle against radical Islam whose practitioners and adherents are inextricably linked to terrorism."
As Colorado Media Matters previously noted, Post columnist David Harsanyi on September 28 misrepresented criticisms of Tancredo for his letter attacking Islam. Harsanyi's column falsely suggested that Haq and 6th Congressional District Democratic candidate Bill Winter objected to Tancredo's criticisms of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Al Qaeda. In fact, the full context of Haq's and Winter's statements makes clear that both were objecting specifically to portions of the letter that attacked the Islamic religion in general.
*Rocky Mountain News website searches: haq AND tancredo; The Denver Post website searches: haq AND tancredo; The Daily Sentinel of Grand Junction website searches: haq AND Tancredo; The Pueblo Chieftain website searches: haq AND Tancredo; The Gazette of Colorado Springs website searches: haq AND Tancredo; Nexis searches: "haq" AND "tancredo" AND "letter" OR "salazar"; Google News searches: haq tancredo