We Need to Stop Using Fox News as an Alibi for Trump’s Islamophobia
Fox News is a godsend for US journalism. Not because it is a purveyor of critical investigative reporting, of course, but because it provides an in-house scapegoat for the US news media to “explain” the rise of a candidate like Donald Trump. When Fox News and Trump recently engaged in a very public battle, many pundits noted (with a fair degree of schadenfreude) the perversity of watching Frankenstein do battle with the monster he had created.
"After almost 15 years of first supporting and then largely ignoring the mass slaughter of Muslims taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the long tradition of stereotyping all Muslims as potential terrorists, the US media now climb on a very high horse and wonder how Trump’s vicious anti-Muslim rhetoric is possible in US politics."
It’s a powerful narrative that contains a degree of truth. But Fox News is also an alibi that gives the US media a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card for their role in setting the social and political groundwork that made Trump’s supposedly impossible rise possible. Yes, Trump has soulmates at Fox News, but to pretend that the views he espouses are somehow disconnected from what mainstream US journalism (and popular culture) have pitched — albeit in a more “civilized” form — to the American people is an exercise in denial.
Trump’s routine is pretty much set: Stick to a set of vague, emotive topics that will play well with your base (usually surrounding things like Muslims, immigration, US power, patriotism and jobs). Then, with these issues in mind, just say whatever you want, no matter how factually incorrect or outrageous. When you get called out on what you have said, (1) simply deny that you lied, (2) repeat the lie, (3) brush the accusations aside as whining, or (4) accuse the person accusing you of bias. And repeat.
But, when we consider the issues upon which Trump focuses, it is painfully evident that he is riffing off of a narrative decades in the making, and a narrative supported by the bastions of supposedly “liberal” media.
As a case in point, it is easy to cast knowing glances at Fox News when Trump suggests shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood, banning all Muslims from entering the United States, or looking a Syrian child in the eyes and telling her/him they are not welcome in the US. But where were large portions of the US news media when hundreds of thousands of Muslim Iraqi civilians were killed as a result of what was a Bush/Cheney neo-colonial failure? This was a war that aggressively and uncritically cheer-led by the US media (not just Fox News), only to have coverage disappear once dramatic pictures of buildings exploding dried up. The problem was that bombs have a disturbing tendency to kill people, including innocent people. But, the media wanted the simple explosion, not the complex aftermath. It was blind, patriotic war porn, and almost everyone was in on it.
Or, for that matter, where was the widespread critical investigation into the sanctions against Iraq under President Clinton that reportedly led to the deaths of up to 500,000 Iraqis? Or, outrage over the fact that then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, when confronted with those numbers said, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” Or, how about the large number of civilians killed under President Obama via the use of drones?
"Yes, Trump’s comments are revolting, but are they more revolting than glossing over the deaths of the equivalent population of a small US city? Are they more revolting than the use of torture, and the fact that so many Americans considered these clear human rights violations to be acceptable because the subjects were Muslim and the acts supposedly 'protected' America?"
There are two things that link a large number of these mass killings: the “War on Terror” and the fact that the vast majority of those killed were (and are) Muslims. Would the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have been so willing to tolerate upward of a million deaths over the past 20 years had these victims been Christian? Had the victims been white Christians, would the US media have been quite so acquiescent and unquestioning in the face of such bloodshed? And, would the US media have been so muted had drones killed innocent white, Christian civilians in Paris or London rather than in Yemen?
Yes, Trump’s comments are revolting, but are they more revolting than glossing over the deaths of the equivalent population of a small US city? Are they more revolting than the use of torture, and the fact that so many Americans considered these clear human rights violations to be acceptable because the subjects were Muslim and the acts supposedly “protected” America?
Let us admit the fact that the silence of the US media in the face of these deaths and violations paved a fair amount of the road upon which Trump now drives. The silence is also a de facto signal to the US population that these are lives — to borrow Herman and Chomsky’s term — “unworthy” of our attention.
And how did we get there? For US journalism, in the battle between good and evil, there is no objectivity in supporting evil, and no subjectivity in supporting good.In other words, media support for the US is always seen as objective (and thus objectively good journalism), while any critique of the US is always seen as subjective (and thus objectively bad journalism). The joke here is that many US journalists make no pretense of impartiality or objectivity when covering issues such as the war or terrorism. After the invasion of Iraq, the “liberal” journalist and TV icon Dan Rather stated, “Look, when a president of the United States, any president, Republican or Democrat, says these are the facts, there is heavy prejudice, including my own, to give him the benefit of any doubt, and for that I do not apologize.” Even a cursory review of US news coverage after 9/11 would show that Rather’s point of view was not the exception, but the norm.
After almost 15 years of first supporting and then largely ignoring the mass slaughter of Muslims taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the long tradition of stereotyping all Muslims as potential terrorists, the US media now climb on a very high horse and wonder how Trump’s vicious anti-Muslim rhetoric is possible in US politics. And, the blame lies not only with the news media: US citizens have been utterly disinterested in the massive bloodshed committed in their name.
In short, when it comes to Islamophobic rhetoric, US media outrage over Trump is pure hypocrisy.