The hosts of Fox & Friends were incensed that President Obama quoted scripture in a primetime address detailing his upcoming executive action on immigration, challenging him to a "scripture-showdown" and claiming it's "repugnant" for Obama to "lecture us on Christian faith." But just 48 hours earlier, the Fox hosts were lamenting that Obama doesn't make public expressions of his Christian faith often enough.
Obama quoted lines from the Bible in a November 20 address, explaining the nation's responsibility to reform unfair immigration enforcement policies. He declared, "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger -- we were strangers once, too. My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."
His use of scripture did not sit well with the hosts of Fox & Friends the next day. Co-host Tucker Carlson called it "repugnant" and argued, "For this guy specifically, the president who spent his career defending late-term abortion, among other things, lecturing us on Christian faith? That's too much. That is too much." Elisabeth Hasselbeck attempted to rebut the scripture Obama used with scripture of her own, quoting verses from Proverbs and saying she is "going to get into a scripture-showdown." According to Hasselbeck, Obama used the Bible to guilt people into supporting his executive action, and that's "not what the scholars behind the Bible would interpret as proper use, perhaps."
It was only 48 hours prior to their November 21 broadcast that Fox & Friends criticized Obama for not espousing Christian values often enough.
On November 19, the hosts promoted a "fiery" online op-ed penned by Chuck Norris, echoing his outrage that Obama had not publicly opposed a local school district's decision to remove references to religious holidays on the schools' calendars. The hosts then aired video of former President Ronald Reagan talking about Christmas and his Christian faith, saying, "Chuck Norris' point was, remember the time when American presidents weren't afraid to talk about traditional values, as Ronald Reagan did back in 1981." Hasselbeck remarked that Reagan's religious rhetoric gave her goosebumps.
In an effort to push Fox News' favorite narrative that Christmas is under attack, the network turned to former television star Chuck Norris and former President Ronald Reagan as ammunition for its latest attempt to attack President Obama by casting doubt on his dedication to Christian values and wrongly suggesting he has not spoken publicly about the religious foundations of the Christmas holiday season.
On the November 19 edition of Fox & Friends, hosts read excerpts from a "fiery" online op-ed penned by Chuck Norris, the former star of CBS' Walker: Texas Ranger, echoing Norris' outrage that President Obama has not made public comments on the subject of a Maryland school district's decision to end reference to Christian and Jewish holidays on the schools' vacation calendars rather than include additional vacation days for the observation of Muslim holidays.
"We haven't even hit Thanksgiving, and already the war on Christmas is underway," wrote Norris. Claiming that President Obama has deviated from "the America our Founding Fathers created," his column expressed nostalgia for a time when Republican President Ronald Reagan spoke freely about Christian values during a Christmas speech in 1981:
Let us never forget that there was once a time in the U.S. when people and even presidents weren't afraid to stand for traditional values and encourage others to do the same.
Case in point, President Ronald Reagan, in his 1981 Christmas address, televised and on the radio from the Oval Office for the entire nation and world to hear, said: "At this special time of year, we all renew our sense of wonder in recalling the story of the first Christmas in Bethlehem, nearly 2,000 years ago. Some celebrate Christmas as the birthday of a great and good philosopher and teacher. Others of us believe in the divinity of the child born in Bethlehem, that he was and is the promised Prince of Peace. ... Like the shepherds and wise men of that first Christmas, we Americans have always tried to follow a higher light, a star, if you will. At lonely campfire vigils along the frontier, in the darkest days of the Great Depression, through war and peace, the twin beacons of faith and freedom have brightened the American sky. At times, our footsteps may have faltered, but trusting in God's help, we've never lost our way. ... So let this holiday season be for us a time of rededication. ... Tonight, in millions of American homes, the glow of the Christmas tree is a reflection of the love (of) Jesus. ... Christmas means so much because of one special child."
The hosts of Fox & Friends parroted Norris' column saying "Chuck Norris' point was, remember the time when American presidents weren't afraid to talk about traditional values, as Ronald Reagan did back in 1981," and used the opportunity to highlight a clip of Reagan's speech.
But Norris and Fox's nostalgia omitted the current president's frequent expressions of his Christian faith. Earlier in 2014, President Obama's Easter address contained the following comments about the suffering of Jesus Christ:
OBAMA: For me, and for countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal. We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him. We recall all that Jesus endured for us - the scorn of the crowds, the agony of the cross - all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life. And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly "the least of these" among us, just as He loves every one of us.
From the November 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Discredited former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson appeared on an "endtimes newscast" and entertained the host's suggestion that the United States may soon see "a trigger event" that "justifies a full-blown totalitarian dictatorship where no dissent, no questions are asked." In response to whether such a dictatorship could happen, Attkisson replied: "Gosh, it's hard to say. I just think right now the trend is bad."
Attkisson, author of the upcoming book Stonewalled, was a recent guest on the radio program Trunews. The show describes itself as an "Endtimes Newscast" and "the only nightly newscast reporting the countdown to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ."
Host Rick Wiles, as documented by Right Wing Watch, regularly peddles bizarre and outlandish conspiracies. Wiles has labeled Obama the "Antichrist" and a "stealth jihadist" and called on the military and God to save us from his "tyranny"; claimed "Ebola could solve America's problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion"; warned that Christians in America could soon be "arrested or possibly killed"; and said "Satan launched a D-Day invasion of the United States of America in 2012."
On his October 24 program, Wiles asked Attkisson to predict where things are headed in the United States and if the country might become a "full-blown totalitarian dictatorship":
From the October 29 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Following a series of attacks in North America carried out by suspects with reported beliefs in religious extremism, Fox News figures have called for more aggressive stop-and-frisk policies, profiling of Muslims, and the surveillance of mosques.
From the October 24 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Fox News contributor Allen West believes the Western world should respond to the Ottawa terrorist attack by shutting down "the mosques and Islamic Centers where these individuals are attending" and deporting the imams. West added that closing these places "of so-called worship" is "the only way we send a message into the Muslim communities" that we're "not going to tolerate these snake pits of sedition."
West was speaking on the October 23 edition of BlogTalkRadio's REELTalk. Here's his reaction to the Ottawa attack:
WEST: But I think, Audrey, the real thing that we're going to have to do is the mosques and Islamic Centers where these individuals are attending, when they commit these acts, we gotta shut 'em down. We have to send a message. The imam that's at that mosque or Islamic Center is deported. That place of so-called worship, which is just proselytizing, you know, hate and violence, they have to be shut down. I think that's the only way we send a message into the Muslim communities here in Western Civilization that we're not going to tolerate it. We're not going to tolerate these snake pits of sedition that are, you know, popping up all over the place.
We're not saying, you know, we start shutting down mosques and Islamic Centers. But the ones who are feeding us these violent jihadists, they need to be the ones that are shut down. Like I said, the imams, the mullahs that are there running these mosques and centers, they need to be deported. Because we have to say, this is, you know, a zero-sum game. We're not tolerating it.
West is an Islamophobe. He believes that "Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion. It has not been a religion since 622 AD, and we need to have individuals stand up and say that." He attacked Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who is Muslim, as representing "the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established."
The former Florida congressman has similarly claimed that "Barack Hussein Obama is an Islamist" and "I don't understand where this president's loyalties lie, and I have to ask the question, whose side is he on?"
Despite his long history of incendiary rhetoric, Republican candidates and organizations have been using West as a regular surrogate on the campaign trail.
From the October 20 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Conservative media outlets, led by Fox News, are attacking the city of Houston for subpoenaing a number of local pastors who were part of the right-wing opposition to the city's LGBT non-discrimination ordinance that is suing the city now that the anti-discrimination law is in effect. But their claims that religious liberty should keep the pastors' public addresses secret ignores the fact that subpoenas of parties relevant to a lawsuit are a typical part of the legal discovery process.
Conservative media reacted with outrage to reports that the city of Houston had subpoenaed five local pastors requesting a variety of documents related to their involvement in the legal battle over the city's recently passed Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which prohibits discrimination against LGBT residents. The subpoenas included a request for "all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity."
On October 13, the anti-gay legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a motion to quash the subpoenas, calling them "overbroad" and "unduly burdensome." The motion was reported by Fox News' Todd Starnes, who accused the city of Houston of trying to "silence American pastors" and "deconstruct religious liberty":
I predicted that the government would one day try to silence American pastors. I warned that under the guise of "tolerance and diversity" elected officials would attempt to deconstruct religious liberty.
Sadly, that day arrived sooner than even I expected.
Now is the time for pastors and people of faith to take a stand. We must rise up and reject this despicable strong-arm attack on religious liberty. We cannot allow ministers to be intimidated by government thugs.
Starnes' apoplectic report triggered a wave of conservative misinformation about the subpoenas, with commentators accusing the city government of engaging in unconstitutional bullying and anti-religious harassment. Fox News has covered the story in similarly misleading segments on Fox & Friends, Hannity, and The Kelly File:
But the facts of the case - and normal legal procedure -- don't support right-wing claims of religious persecution:
Fox News' Megyn Kelly dishonestly criticized the Obama administration for allegedly endorsing an anti-terror handbook which advises against referring to terrorists as "jihadis," as it "emboldens them," failing to mention that the Bush administration made a decision to stop using the word "jihadist" to describe terrorists in 2008.
On the October 15 edition of The Kelly File, Kelly hosted National Review Online's Andrew McCarthy to discuss the State Department's Twitter "endorsement" of a handbook that aims to prevent the recruitment of young people by terrorist groups. Kelly quoted the handbook, which was created by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and two Canadian Muslim organizations, as saying jihad is "noble," and said that "our State Department sends this out saying, enjoy." McCarthy stated that this is "the position of the Obama administration. It has been from the beginning of the administration," and criticized CIA chief John Brennan for saying in 2010 that "we can't use the word 'jihad' in connection with terrorism because jihad is a noble concept in Islam."
But this shift in language used to discuss terrorism predates the Obama administration. In May 2008, UPI reported that "U.S. officials are being advised in internal government documents to avoid referring publicly to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups as Islamic or Muslim, and not to use terms like jihad or mujahedin, which "unintentionally legitimize" terrorism." The report continued:
Instead of calling terror groups Muslim or Islamic, the guide suggests using words like totalitarian, terrorist or violent extremist -- "widely understood terms that define our enemies appropriately and simultaneously deny them any level of legitimacy."
By employing the language the extremists use about themselves, the guide warns, officials can inadvertently help legitimize them in the eyes of Muslims.
"Never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahedin' ... to describe the terrorists," instructs the guide. "A mujahed, a holy warrior, is a positive characterization in the context of a just war. In Arabic, jihad means 'striving in the path of God' and is used in many contexts beyond warfare. Calling our enemies Jihadis and their movement a global Jihad unintentionally legitimizes their actions."
"There are some terms which al-Qaida wants us to use because they are helpful to them," Daniel Sutherland, who runs the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, told United Press International in an interview.
"This is in no way an exercise in political correctness ... we are not watering down what we say."
Fox has attacked the Obama administration for adopting this uncontroversial understanding of jihad in the past. In 2013, Sean Hannity asked if Brennan was "stupid and naïve" for describing jihad as a legitimate tenet of Islam. In 2010, Fox host Brian Kilmeade called a ban on references to jihad "insulting" -- again, without noting the Bush administration's similar policy, which former Bush advisers said laid the groundwork of the Obama administration policy.
Fox News entirely ignored a Vatican report described as "stunning" by religious leaders which suggested that the Catholic Church should welcome and appreciate gay people, despite the network's track record of using religion as an excuse for discriminating against gays and lesbians.
On October 13, an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops at the Vatican released a preliminary document suggesting that the church should be more welcoming and accepting of gay people, stating that gay people have "gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community":
Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?
The document has been described as a "pastoral earthquake" and a "stunning" change in tone for the Catholic Church on the issue of homosexuality. Both CNN and MSNBC devoted significant airtime in the 48 hours following the document's release, discussing its implications for the Catholic Church, the legacy of Pope Francis, and even domestic GOP politics.
But on Fox News, the "pastoral earthquake" went completely unnoticed. According to an Equality Matters analysis, Fox News didn't report on the story once on either October 13 or 14:
Conservative media are attacking actor Ben Affleck for comments he made objecting to disparaging generalizations about Islam during a heated exchange with HBO host Bill Maher, using their dialogue as ammunition to continue claiming that the religion has a unique connection to extremism and that Muslims have not done enough to root out religious zealotry.
From the October 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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CNN host Chris Cuomo argued that professor of religion and author Reza Aslan's heated arguments against anti-Muslim bigotry on CNN recently demonstrated "what people are fearful of when they think of" Islam.
On September 29, Aslan was a guest on CNN Tonight, where hosts Alisyn Camerota and Don Lemon discussed what they called the "primitive treatment in Muslim countries of women and other minorities" while on-air graphics asked, "Does Islam promote violence?" Aslan responded saying he felt CNN was over-generalizing, arguing "you're talking about a religion about 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush":
ASLAN: You know, this is the problem, is that these conversations that we're having aren't really being had in any kind of legitimate way. We're not talking about women in the Muslim world, we're using two or three examples to justify a generalization. That's actually the definition of bigotry.
On a follow-up segment on the October 2 edition of CNN Tonight, which noted that the network had taken criticism& for the original interview, Camerota and Lemon acknowledged Aslan's argument but defended the premise of their original segment, saying it was important to "ask the question." CNN host Chris Cuomo agreed. He argued that while the hosts shouldn't generalize, and should distinguish the practice of the religion from the practice of individual nations, Aslan's "tone was angry," so he "wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith, which is the hostility of it":
CUOMO: Also, his tone was angry. He wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it. Look, here's what you guys were exposing yourself to. This is the state of play in journalism today. The Muslim world is responsible for a really big part of religious extremism right now. And they are unusually violent. They're unusually barbaric in the places where it is happening. And it's happening there more there than it is in other places. Do you therefore want to generalize? Of course not. But you do want to call a situation what it is. It's not a coincidence that ISIS begins with an I. I mean, that's what's going on in that part of the world. Doesn't mean other faiths can't be violent and other cultures can't be violent, but you shouldn't be afraid of the question.
Watch the original CNN Tonight interview with Aslan here: