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By Willoughby Mariano August 30, 2010

Nathan Deal makes statements about mosque near Ground Zero

The site for a proposed mosque near ground zero in New York may be more than 800 miles away, but that doesn't mean Georgia politicians are detached from the controversy.

In an Aug. 19 article in The Marietta Daily Journal, candidates lined up to denounce its construction two blocks away from the scene of the Sept. 11 attack.

Democratic nominee for governor Roy Barnes said it is too "painful and divisive" to build a mosque there. Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson called it "insensitive and inappropriate." Mike Crane, a Republican running for Congress, said it was "not appropriate, decent or honorable."  

Republican gubernatorial nominee Nathan Deal said this: "As governor, I don't want New Yorkers telling Georgians what to do with our land. I'll return the favor by staying out of their business."

"Candidates differ on mosque near 9/11 site," the Daily Journal's headline concluded.

That afternoon, The Associated Press posted an article with a different headline: "Barnes, Deal oppose mosque near ground zero." Deal called the mosque "an insult."

Did Deal change his opinion on the mosque?

AJC PolitiFact Georgia switched on our trusty Flip-O-Meter, which measures whether a politician's position has shifted.

Deal's opinion never wavered, his spokesman Brian Robinson said. As a candidate, he knows New York's decision is outside his purview. As an American, he finds it offensive. 

What Deal told the AP was simply more comprehensive than the view he expressed to The Marietta Daily Journal, Robinson said. 

To verify Robinson's assertion, we reviewed Deal's public statements and contacted Daily Journal reporter Jon Gillooly, who wrote the article.

AJC PolitiFact Georgia searched for public statements by Deal on the mosque prior to the Marietta article. We found none.

After the article ran, Deal made statements to the AP and WABE, Atlanta's public radio affiliate.

Neither news outlet treated Deal's statements as a shift in his position. Both said his statements "went further" than those he made to the Daily Journal.  

When we approached Gillooly, he gave us a copy of his e-mail exchange with Robinson. He also described how he reported the story and the Deal camp's response to it.

On Aug. 18, Gillooly e-mailed politicians asking what they thought of the mosque. The poll asked three questions:

"Do you think a mosque should be allowed near Ground Zero?", "Why or why not?", "What’s the alternative?"

Robinson and Gillooly confirmed the following:

Robinson replied to the e-mail with Deal's two-sentence response. Gillooly did not ask a follow-up question. The paper printed the quote in its entirety Aug 19.

That day, Robinson complained about the headline's use of the word "differ." He also asked whether Deal could expand on his statement for the online version of the story.

The paper declined to change the article and gave Deal an opportunity to write a letter to the editor. Robinson said he didn't take the paper up on its offer.

That afternoon, The Associated Press sent out its own story on the subject: "Barnes, Deal oppose NYC mosque."   

Deal said that as "a potential governor of the state of Georgia" he didn't have a say in what happens in New York.

"I don't think government officials from one place should be telling government officials from someplace else what they ought to be doing," the Gainesville Republican said.

"But as an American, I am absolutely opposed," Deal said. He called construction of the mosque two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood "an insult."

"It keeps the wounds of 9/11 alive," Deal said.

Deal made a similar comment to WABE.

So did Deal give an incomplete airing of his thoughts to the Marietta newspaper? Or did he actually switch positions?

Although Deal's statements to The Marietta Daily Journal, Associated Press and WABE aren't identical, there is no evidence his opinion actually changed. 

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There is also no indication he supported the mosque, or held no personal opinion on the mosque, prior to his interview with the Daily Journal.

Plus, it's possible for Deal to say without contradiction that, as a governor, he would stay out of New York's business, but personally, he opposes the mosque.

We rule there was no significant change in Deal's position. In other words, No Flip.

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Nathan Deal makes statements about mosque near Ground Zero

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