It’s been one year since news figures seized on the story of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Muslim American child in Texas who was taken from his school in handcuffs for bringing a “suspicious” homemade alarm clock to class. Last September, Fox News’ coverage of Mohamed’s arrest revealed a long-held tendency to selectively invoke the language of “school safety” to conveniently push conservative stances on immigration, national security, LGBT rights, and guns, while ignoring threats to the safety of the most vulnerable populations in our schools.
When Fox News talks about “school safety,” the ensuing conversation is exactly what you’d expect from a network with a median viewer age of 68 and a prime-time viewership that’s only 1.1 percent black. For Fox and its viewers, a predictable line exists between those individuals worthy of protection and those who represent perceived threats. Here’s what we’ve seen on Fox since Ahmed’s arrest made headlines last fall.
Fox Pushes Islamophobic Rhetoric While Muslim Students Get Bullied
Fox News Pushed Islamophobic Talking Points In Ahmed Mohamed Coverage
In September 2015, 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested at his Irving, TX, middle school and brought to a local police station in handcuffs after he was reported for bringing a “suspicious” homemade alarm clock to his classroom. In the weeks of national media coverage of the incident that followed, Fox News figures dismissed Mohamed’s traumatic experience and used the incident to justify profiling.
The network aired segments vilifying the child, claiming that progressives were hypocritical or willfully exploitative for suggesting Mohamed’s arrest was influenced by Islamophobia, and hyping so-called connections between Mohamed’s family members and terrorists. The Five co-host Greg Gutfeld summarized this convoluted position: “Try bringing a clock that looks like a bomb to the White House. Actually, no, don’t try it; you’ve seen what they do to people who jump fences. So why is this school’s safety a joke, but President Obama’s isn’t? Because for [Obama], and the media, the story fits the assumption of an America that hates Muslims. Yup, it’s our fault for reacting when a kid brings a wired-up box to a place filled with kids in a state where terror has occurred.”
Muslim Students Are Experiencing More Bullying And Fear Because Of Their Faith
According to a survey conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, classroom teachers are reporting more incidents of identity-based bullying and fear particularly among students from immigrant and Muslim families, a trend that appears to be connected to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric -- which Fox News has actively legitimized for years. A California study released just months after Mohamed’s arrest found that the majority of American Muslim students in the state reported experiencing physical and verbal bullying because of their faith in 2014. An in-depth report from The Guardian explained the trend:
Words are the most common weapon of school bullies, but in the past month, anti-Muslim sentiment in schools is increasingly manifesting in physical attacks, particularly against girls who wear the hijab. On 19 November, three boys allegedly beat up a sixth-grade girl wearing a hijab, calling her “Isis”. A 2014 study by Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) study found 29% of students who wore hijab experienced offensive touching or pulling of their scarves.
Fifty-five percent of Muslim students surveyed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) last year reported that they were bullied at school in some form because of their Islamic faith. That’s twice the national percentage of bullying reported by all students, regardless of their religion. According to the CAIR survey, verbal harassment is the most common, with non-Muslims calling Muslim students terrorists or referencing bombs. But physical assaults also occur.
These incidents are taking a psychological toll on Muslim youth. “At a crucial time in their identity development, they’re suffering from chronic trauma,” says Dr Halim Naeem, a psychotherapist and president of The Institute of Muslim Mental Health. Dr Naeem says that in the past few months alone, he has seen increased cases of depression, anxiety, image issues, paranoia, and substance abuse among Muslim American youth. In the short term, the constant stress wreaks havoc on students’ immune systems and destroys their focus, disrupting learning ability.
Fox Pushes Guns In Schools, But Experts Say That Doesn’t Help
Fox News Believes Having More Guns In Schools Helps Create Safe Environments
In the wake of recent mass shootings, Fox News figures voices have repeatedly pushed arming educators or allowing more guns in schools as a way to improve student and teacher safety, and irresponsibly spread dangerous misinformation about school safety best practices. Immediately following the 2012 mass shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Fox News began calling for teachers to be armed -- even as school security experts, educators, and others argue that bringing guns into schools would make classrooms more dangerous and worsen learning environments for students. When a Texas school district moved to arm some of its teachers in 2014, the network devoted at least two segments to celebrating the decision and pushing the long-debunked myth (peddled by the NRA) that “a good guy with a gun” would prevent mass shootings. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade praised the initiative: “If you want to drop your kid off and know that they are going to be protected, you know at least in that school they are going to be protected.” Last year, Fox & Friends co-hosts again demonstrated a misguided understanding of school safety when they encouraged young children to physically confront gunmen, rather than first try to escape, and then hide -- and only confront the guman as a last resort -- as experts advise in the event of an active shooter situation.
Evidence Shows Guns In Schools Only Increase The Likelihood Of Violence, Especially For Students Of Color
As the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, wrote back in 2014, educators have long expressed an overwhelming desire to keep firearms out of classrooms and to strengthen gun violence prevention measures. Research has shown that greater access to guns in general creates greater risk for accidents and misfires. Gun access corresponds with increased risk of homicide, and gun-related deaths in the home are now the second most likely cause of death for children and teens. There’s also little evidence the presence of armed security staff in schools makes them any safer. Advocates are pushing for better training and reformed responsibilities for these positions to emphasize restorative justice and de-escalation techniques, as well as student and community needs, in order to combat current racial disparities in schools’ use of armed security officers.
Fox Pushes Debunked “Bathroom Laws” That Actually Threaten LGBT Safety In Schools
Fox News Believes Bogus “Bathroom Laws” Keep Children Safe From So-Called “Predators”
Fox News figures have been instrumental in pushing the right-wing myth that gender-inclusive bathrooms in schools allow adult men to prey on children. The network has routinely either fearmongered about schools’ efforts to make their bathrooms safe for all students to use or mocked inclusive bathroom policies altogether. More than two years after Media Matters first debunked the “bathroom predator” myth, Fox News continues to push dangerous rhetoric about nondiscrimination policies. In April, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt hyped the disingenuous claim that nondiscrimination laws could lead to “a grown adult man” with “bad intentions” sneaking into “the little girls’ bathroom.” In May, Sean Hannity mocked inclusive bathroom policies on his radio show, proposing “liberal bathroom areas” where “you can have all the transgendered back-and-forth that you want.” In June, Tucker Carlson called the Democratic National Convention’s gender-neutral bathrooms “disgusting.”
But There Is No Evidence Of Predatory Incidents In School Bathrooms, And “Bathroom Bills” Threaten The Safety Of LGBT Students
After speaking to officials at 23 school districts and four universities that allow transgender students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity, Media Matters failed to find any evidence of incidents of inappropriate bathroom behavior. Law enforcement experts and people who work with survivors of sexual assault have referred to this persistent myth as “beyond specious” and “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
In fact, school officials and educators’ groups continue to support efforts to boost nondiscriminatory bathroom policies and have pointed out the need for LGBT students to have these types of basic protections. Research shows LGBT students overwhelmingly report experiences of bullying in schools today, and efforts to distract from the needs of LGBT students with fearmongering and mockery certainly don’t help. In its guidelines for supporting transgender and gender diverse students, the American Psychological Association recommends that schools provide accessible facilities that match a student’s gender identity as one way to address the high rates of victimization and hostility transgender students report. In fact, opposition to nondiscrimination policies can further stigmatize and single out transgender students, leading to more reports of bullying and an increased risk of suicide. Advocates for survivors of sexual assault have also pointed out that perpetuating the “bathroom predator” myth can have dangerous consequences: Relying on stereotypical predator imagery to talk about sexual assault diverts attention and resources from finding solutions to keep women and girls safe.