ABC News’ Shallow ‘Islam for Dummies’ Weekend

It sounded like a good idea: Devoting an hour of “20/20” and a “This Week” town hall discussion to exploring — and perhaps debunking — some of the myths and misperceptions about Islam, which have very much become an issue surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero mosque.”

Billweir But ABC News wasn’t exactly up to the task, other than the most perfunctory, once-over-lightly discussion.

Diane Sawyer and Bill Weir co-hosted Friday’s “20/20,” which offered a fairly nuts-and-bolts examination Amanpour of Muslims in America. Weir, in particular, seemed inordinately excited to discover that many Americans had questions about the topic, which they submitted online. To me, he’ll always be that local sports guy at KABC-TV in Los Angeles who clearly yearned to be doing comedy more than providing scores — and it’s a commentary on the state of broadcast news (underscoring its resemblance, in fact, to the movie “Broadcast News”) that Weir has risen as far as he has.

There was more sizzle, but not much steak, in the “This Week” town hall, in which Christiane Amanpour tried to herd far too many participants, yielding too much cross-talk and not enough insight.

This was the sort of event, frankly, that Ted Koppel excelled at in his heyday, but it would have required more time than an hour and fewer people to truly do the issue justice.

Amanpour is an extremely credible reporter, but after watching her on “This Week” for awhile now, her time in the field hasn’t completely equipped her for this role, which really requires slicing through the B.S. to get to the heart of a discussion. Moreover, the town hall was taped and clearly edited, as “This Week” has more conspicuously appeared since she took over.

Frankly, it’s not fun writing anything that would discourage this sort of exercise, which did seek to bring a level of sobriety to a discussion too often characterized by ranting opportunists on cable news.

But all ABC really did was demonstrate the perceived lack of knowledge among its viewers by virtue of its paper-thin handling of the material. And the saddest part is, they’re probably right.


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