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Islam-bashing Tampa Bay televangelist Bill Keller highlights disturbing trend in "Ground Zero Mosque" media coverage

7

September

billkeller2.jpgDuring his time on Tampa Bay area TV, televangelist Bill Keller was criticized by sources diverse as Fox News Channel conservative pundit Bill O'Reilly and the Council on American Islamic Relations for his fiery denunciations of Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons and even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Such controversies made it tough for him to stay on local TV stations, forcing him to shift his ministry online.

So it may be a sign of how bizarre the argument over the proposed Islamic prayer and community center near Ground Zero has gotten in New York City, that Keller has emerged as a new voice opposing the project by announcing the effort to build a 9/11 Christian Center in opposition.

According to the New York Daily News, Keller's Sunday prayer service at a nearby Marriott hotel drew about 40 people; hardly a groundswell of support. But anything connected to protests over the project is lapped up by media outlets eager for an incendiary story, so Keller's sharp words have shown up in the Daily News and the Today show this morning. On Keller's website, he says the service was covered by "most of the local New York TV news stations, ABC national news, the three major NY papers (the Post, the NY Times, and the NY Daily News), AP, AOL News, Salon.com, Newsweek, the Christian Post, TV networks from Sweden and the Netherlands, and others."

Indeed, this may be the most disturbing characteristic of the current debate, in which extremists who are normally marginalized now take center stage in alarmist stories centered on conflict. This morning's Today show story was a virtual cavalcade of such oddballs, including a talk show host I'd never heard of hoping the Islamic center was blown up and the Gainesville preacher who has earned prime space on CNN and elsewhere with plans to hold a Koran burning event.

billkeller1.jpgBefore this controversy, Keller had a hard time keeping a TV outlet in the Tampa Bay area. He drew a letter of protest from CAIR in 2007 and saw his show dropped by St. Petersburg CW affiliate WTOG-Ch. 44, after saying Islam was a "1,400-year-old lie from the pits of hell" and calling the Prophet Mohammed a "murdering pedophile." He also called the Koran a "book of fables and a book of lies."

He has also criticized Romney and Fox News host Glenn Beck for their Mormon religion, talk show host Oprah Winfrey for her new age spirituality and even President Barack Obama, who Keller says is not Christian, denouncing him as an enemy of God.

In 2008, Keller roiled a public forum I moderated at the Hillsborough Community College on press coverage of religion by refusing to back away from his controversial comments on Islam. Since the event was co-sponsored by CAIR and the local NAACP chapter, many in the audience objected to what they felt was an intolerant message; later, Keller would say he felt like he was "lynched" due to the criticism he received -- despite the fact that he knew long before the event that he would be facing a skeptical crowd.

Now his website's devotional message for today ends with a plea for help meeting a $20,000 shortfall from 2009, $7,000 needed to continue the prayer services in New York City and part of a $10,000 shortfall from last month.

Given such pressing financial issues, the publicity garnered by his public stand against the Park51 project would seem a gift, bestowed by an array of media outlets eager to draw viewers in the days leading to the ninth anniversary Saturday of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

See this morning's Today show report below:

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[Last modified: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 11:19am]

    

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