August 24, 2013
By Al Kresta
Re: Joseph Yelick’s piece on Saturday debate, Is Islam a Religion of Peace?
As the sponsor and moderator of Saturday’s “Is Islam a Religion of Peace?” debate, I thank Mr. Yelick for actually including some quotations from the debate. However, I must take him to task on two important points.
First: While we had “a frank, no-holds barred debate” as I predicted, it was in no way “raucous” as Mr. Yelick claims. There were no catcalls, no clamoring for red meat, no haranguing and not even a single heckler. Laughter, not anger or fear, was the most commonly expressed public reaction during the talks. Nobody was the butt of crude jokes. All the humor was edifying and self-effacing.
Everyone I spoke to, Muslim and Christian, were impressed by the tone of the debate and the bearing of the audience and debaters. Yelick, however, slanted his characterization to meet the storyline expected by his readership rather than to reflect the experience of the attendees.
Second: His greatest bit of misreporting regards the incident in which I turned down Mr. Spencer’s and Mr. Lewis’ microphones. I did not turn down the microphones (on both participants, by the way) because of Spencer’s “anti-Islamic rants” as Yelick claimed. Let me explain why. In 25 years of broadcasting, I have occasionally turned down a speaker’s microphone if he was talking over the host or another guest. This is no judgment on the speaker. Because speakers are focused on making their points, they don’t always heed the host/moderator’s attempts to move on. Why did I want to move on? My prosaic reason, I’m afraid, will disappoint Mr. Yelick.
Mr. Spencer claimed a particular terrorist had appealed to Islam to justify his actions. Mr. Lewis denied it. Mr. Spencer restated it. Mr. Lewis, again denied it. You get the picture? Mr. Spencer then revealed that there was a video that could settle this question. This is where I stepped in. I said that since this was an empirical question that any “jackass” could settle later that night by going on YouTube, it was time to get to other questions. To inflate this into a judgment on Mr. Spencer’s or Mr. Lewis’ presentation is ludicrous. Both conducted themselves like men convinced of their positions but as gentlemen. They often deferred to one another and were far easier to moderate than most candidates on the campaign trail.
During Saturday’s debate, one of the presenters, a Muslim Turkish columnist said: “Media does not always make misunderstanding disappear.” I couldn’t agree more. Some of Mr. Yelick’s reporting on the Saturday debate only compounds the misunderstandings the debate was intended to eliminate. I invite him or any of Mr. Spencer’s critics to join me on my daily radio broadcast heard on over 230 stations and on Sirius Satellite radio to show us anything from Mr. Spencer’s books or public speeches that can be fairly called “anti-Islamic rants.” I don’t think it can be done. But have at it. I’m game.