The Times' Andrea Elliott has a strong piece on the controversy surrounding an Arab-themed public school in New York City, describing the anti-Muslim media campaign that drove out the woman who was supposed to be its first principal, Debbie Almontaser. (As noted in a post last month, Almontaser, a Muslim educator well known for working closely with Jewish and Christian leaders to encourage tolerance in Brooklyn, received an award from Pax Christi Metro New York that recognized her as a peacemaker.) According to the article:"The conflict tapped into a well of post-9/11 anxieties. But Ms. Almontasers downfall was not merely the result of a spontaneous outcry by concerned parents and neighborhood activists. It was also the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. The fight against the school, participants in the effort say, was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle."As the article indicates, Almontaser was forced out because city officials couldn't take the heat this "growing and organized movement" was able to generate through its alliance with a significant portion of the New York media, primarily The New York Post and New York Sun.I would like to add something to that: A big part of the problem was that The Times' voice was so muted. The coverage that accelerated Almontaser's ouster appeared on August 6, 2007. The Post hammered at the story all week, while The Times didn't cover the story until Aug. 11, when it reported that Almontaser had resigned.Today's article is a fine one because it sets the school controversy into a much broader context, as part of a larger attempt to limit the influence of American Muslims in the public square. Its placement on page one indicates how important the paper's editors think it is. But as events developed last year, the story of Debbie Almontaser was ceded to the Post and Sun; things might have worked out differently if the public had been given a more thorough picture at the time of both Almontaser and her critics.The Times has established a context that will aid in understanding similar disputes in the future. But there is another lesson to be drawn from Debbie Almontaser's experience: In this era of Web-driven news, a few strident voices can create a sense of public outcry very quickly. News organizations and others with a responsibility to inform the public need to weigh in sooner, rather than later, so that more thorough information is available as opinions are formed.

Paul Moses is the author, most recently, of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia (NYU Press, 2023). He is a contributing writer. Twitter: @PaulBMoses.

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