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On the January 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer, while reporting that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was sworn in on January 4 as "the first Muslim ever elected to the United States Congress," said that Ellison's decision to take a symbolic photo of the ceremony with his hand on the Quran was "sparking some controversy." Blitzer's statement echoed previous comments he made about Ellison in which he attributed the controversy to Ellison, and not to those who have denounced him personally and Muslims in general. During the subsequent report on the "controversy," CNN correspondent Jill Dougherty said that when there is a question about a "new U.S. Congressman be[ing] sworn into office" and "when that book is the Quran, there's no easy answer." She later said that "Ellison's choice of the Quran had some critics fuming, including one of his fellow congressman," referring to Rep. Virgil Goode (R-VA). Blitzer made similar comments on the December 21 edition of The Situation Room when, while reporting on a letter written by Goode attacking Muslims and Ellison, Blitzer said that Ellison was engaged in a "war of words" with Goode, as Media Matters for America noted.
In contrast with some of Blitzer's coverage, a December 7 article in The Christian Science Monitor noted that it was Townhall.com columnist Dennis Prager's November 28 column about Ellison's intention to swear on the Quran that "sparked a brouhaha on talk radio, in the blogosphere, and in newspapers across the country." Since the November 28 column, Prager has appeared on MSNBC's Tucker, Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, and CNN's Paula Zahn Now to talk about Ellison's intention to use the Quran.
As in the previous instance in which Blitzer characterized the controversy as being "spark[ed]" by Ellison, onscreen text during the segment read: "Quran controversy."
From the January 4, 7 p.m., edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
BLITZER: Here's another notable snapshot from the power shift in the Congress. Senator and Democratic presidential prospect Hillary Rodham Clinton [NY] was sworn in for a second term today by the vice president, Dick Cheney. At her side, her husband, the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. Among the new lawmakers sworn in today, the first Muslim ever elected to the United States Congress. And at his private ceremony, Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota took his oath on the Quran, a move that's sparking some controversy.
Let's bring in CNN's Jill Dougherty. She's here in The Situation Room with the story -- Jill.
DOUGHERTY: Hey, Wolf. Well Thomas Jefferson had one. He owned it. He studied it, so why can't a new U.S. congressman be sworn into office with his hand on one? Well when that book is the Quran, there's no easy answer.
[begin video clip]
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): It's a tradition that goes all the way back to George Washington, first president of the United States.
CHENEY: Please raise your right hand.
DOUGHERTY: Elected officials taking the oath of office with their hand on a holy book. It's not a legal requirement, it's just a symbol. They swear to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, not religious principles. Christians often use the Bible, Jews the Old Testament. Some don't use anything.
Keith Ellison, the very first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, chose the Quran, the sacred text of Islam, an 18th-century copy from the Library of Congress that once belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Ellison's choice of the Quran had some critics fuming, including one of his fellow congressmen.
GOODE: My personal belief is not to use the Quran.
DOUGHERTY: Congressman Virgil Goode says the U.S. should protect what he calls its traditional values.
GOODE: I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt strict immigration policies.
[end video clip]
DOUGHERTY: Other colleagues of Ellison's say they're outraged by such comments. On his first day in Congress, Ellison shook Virgil Goode's hand saying he was trying to build bridges.