The cover of the New York Post on Thursday showed an image of the World Trade Center exploding into flames on Sept. 11, more than 17 years ago.
The target of the tabloid’s ire? Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, who has become a frequent target of criticism, harassment and outright Islamophobia from the right wing since her election in November.
Omar (D-Minn.) had made brief remarks about Islamophobia at an event in March that came in the aftermath of the white-supremacist shooting that left 50 Muslim worshipers dead in New Zealand. But after video of the event was published this week, conservative figureheads fixated on the way she had phrased a reference to 9/11, as “some people did something.”
The New York Post took the controversy, which had percolated for days in conservative circles, and amplified it by splashing it across its cover Thursday with a photo of the twin towers.
The decision touched off a storm of indignation and anger among liberal commentators online. Many felt the newspaper, which has a history of incendiary front pages, had overstepped the bounds of acceptability. Others said they thought that the cover amounted to incitement of violence against Omar, who has faced a growing number of threats.
“Disgusting,” wrote Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo.
“Ugly and so fundamentally dishonest,” tweeted writer Jill Filipovic. “This is not in any way a fair representation of what she said. The hate for a black Muslim congresswoman is simply astounding.”
“It’s absolutely vile bigotry, which could very possibly incite violence against Muslims,” Ryan Cooper wrote in the Week.
Omar made the remarks in question at a March 23 banquet held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil-liberties organization that is a frequent target of the far right.
Her speech came a week after the mass shooting in Christchurch, which officials have called an act of terrorism.
Hundreds of people protested Omar outside the banquet, with chants that included “Burn the Koran,” “Ilhan Omar go to hell,” and “Shame on you terrorists.”
She used her speech to talk about Islamophobia, and she did not mince words about President Trump, saying she believed that he played a role in fueling “hate against Muslims.”
“For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” she said. “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange and that I am trying to make myself look pleasant. You have to say that this person is looking at me strange, I am not comfortable with it, and I am going to talk to them and ask them why. Because that is the right you have.”
(CAIR was actually founded in 1994, as The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler noted.)
But conservatives have focused on the description of 9/11 as “some people did something.”
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), a former Navy SEAL, helped amplify the controversy, retweeting a snippet of Omar’s remarks Tuesday and writing, “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something.’ Unbelievable.”
The next day, Brian Kilmeade, a host of “Fox & Friends,” questioned Omar’s loyalty, saying, “You have to wonder if she is an American first.” Those comments echoed those made recently by another Fox host, Jeanine Pirro.
Other conservative figureheads, including Donald Trump Jr., joined in.
“This woman is a disgrace,” Trump Jr. tweeted Thursday.
Many Democrats have come to Omar’s defense.
“It’s horrible what they’re doing,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told reporters Thursday. “Frankly, this is getting to a level that is beyond politics or partisanship.”
Ocasio-Cortez said the use of an image of 9/11 in such a way was also irresponsible.
“To circulate all around New York City an image that is incredibly upsetting and triggering for New Yorkers that were actually there and were actually in the radius and that woke up one morning or were in their schools and didn’t know if they were going to see their parents at the end of the day, to elicit such an image for such a transparently and politically motivated attack on Ilhan,” she said, trailing off. “We are getting to the level where this is an incitement of violence against progressive women of color.”
On Twitter she noted that Omar was a co-sponsor — one of 213 — of a bill to reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
“She’s done more for 9/11 families than the GOP,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) called the New York Post’s cover a “pure racist act."
Rupert Murdoch’s outsize influence on the United States’ political discussion is increasingly the subject of scrutiny, with the New Yorker and the New York Times focusing investigations on Fox News in recent weeks.
The New York Post, which did not respond to a request for comment sent to a spokeswoman, has largely avoided this kind of critical attention in recent years, aware, perhaps, of President Trump’s unpopularity in the city. But the newspaper has a long record of controversial front pages and headlines.
Another cover that drew a comparable level of criticism was one it published in the days after the Boston marathon bombing.
The cover showed two men — a teenager and a man just a few years older than him — at the Boston Marathon, with the headline “BAG MEN,” seeming to suggest the two were potentially suspects in the case.
"Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon,” the headline also said. But the two men, Salaheddin Barhoum and Yassine Zaimi, in a lawsuit they later filed against the New York Post, said they were never suspects in the case, nor had they ever been sought by law enforcement in connection with it.
“[T]oday’s front page of the Post is a black mark in the annals of newspaper history, and it shows that the Murdoch paper deserves no benefit of the doubt,” Ryan Chittum wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review. “Any pretense of professionalism — as thin as it might have been — is gone.”
The New York Post later settled the defamation lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.
Another front page about Muslims and terrorism, which the newspaper circulated online was also heavily criticized. “MUSLIM KILLERS,” it blasted across one of the versions for its front page after the San Bernardino shooting.
Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.