Conservative media have rallied behind Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a political activist known for her toxic anti-Islam rhetoric after Brandeis University cancelled plans to grant her an honorary degree. Right-wing media have painted Hirsi Ali as a champion for women's rights, but instead appear to use her views on gender as a rhetorical gateway to attack the religion of Islam and highlight Hirsi Ali's view that Islam is a religion of violence and a "cult of death."
On April 8, Brandeis University announced that it would reverse course in awarding an honorary degree to Hirsi Ali, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) known for her critical views of Islam. The New York Times reported that while Brandeis has invited Hirsi Ali to speak, it could not "overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with" its values, labeling her past statements as the reason it revoked the degree.
Since the announcement, conservative media figures have rushed to defend Hirsi Ali, some using her life experience to explain away her Islamophobic comments. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol called the move an "example of a war on women" and argued that the university had "caved to Muslim thugs." Fox News' Sean Hannity said the university's decision was an "example of left-wing appeasement." On April 10, Fox contributor Monica Crowley asked, "Where are the moderate Muslims? Where are people who, like Ali, have left the faith and are willing to courageously speak about it? And yet when somebody does show the guts and gets out there to do it, this is how they're treated?"
But Hirsi Ali is not moderate in her views of Islam -- once referring to the religion as "a destructive nihilistic cult of death" in a 2007 interview with The London Evening Standard. The New York Times reports that Hirsi Ali has also "advocated the closing of Islamic schools in the West and said that 'violence is inherent in Islam' and that 'Islam is the new fascism'." In a 2007 Reason interview, she also called for Islam to be militarily crushed and suggested the Constitution should be amended to permit oppression of U.S. Muslims.
Hirsi Ali has similarly used her position at AEI to push for antagonistic relations between the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries, even criticizing President Obama for not "associating Islam with extremism." In a 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed, How to Win the Clash of Civilizations, Hirsi Ali highlighted her views that Islam "is at war with America" and wrote that Western civilization "needs to be actively defended" against Islam.
Although Hirsi Ali has been an outspoken advocate for women's rights, her narrative that violence and misogyny are inherent to the religion of Islam is problematic, but it is also what has recently propelled her into the conservative media spotlight. Right-wing outlets such as Fox have been notorious for amplifying Islamophobic voices in an effort to spread fear that Muslims are 'taking over,' while pushing the idea that Islam is adverse to Western values.
Conservative media have greatly enabled anti-Islam propaganda, and have had a significant role in propagating the belief that Islam is a violent religion and is therefore something the United States must fight against. On April 9, Fox host Andrea Tantaros exemplified this when she defended Hirsi Ali by arguing "we are" at war with radical Islam because "they are going to kill us, as the Qur'an states according to Bernard Lewis and many other scholars, they're going to kill us, Sean, until we are all Muslims or ruled by Muslims."
Fox and other conservative voices such as Pamela Geller, Zuhdi Jasser, and the National Review use figures like Hirsi Ali to boost their own anti-Islamic positions as legitimate, giving them cover to continue spreading anti-Muslim hate. Conservative media's rush to uphold Hirsi Ali's story is therefore much more a defense of their own Islamophobic narratives than of Hirsi Ali herself.
Violence against women in any form is a serious issue in many societies, and to limit the discussion by portraying it as a problem specific to the Muslim community, while dehumanizing an entire faith, is irresponsible, inimical to the cause of women's rights, and it is Islamophobic.
As Evelyn Alsultany, author of Arabs And Muslims in the Media and associate professor at the University of Michigan, told Media Matters, Hirsi Ali "has not promoted any kind of true understanding of Islam, but has provided justification for the public and the government to perpetuate racism." Alsultanty explains further:
While she has brought attention to oppression that some Muslim women face, she has done so by simplistically blaming Islam. As a result, she has powerfully contributed to naturalizing the idea that Islam in and of itself is the enemy of democracy and civilization. This idea has serious consequences. It has led to Muslims in the West facing a spectrum of experiences, from hostile questions about their faith to hate crimes. It has provided justification for the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, that has negatively impacted the lives of Muslim women through war.
Communications director to the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Ibrahim Hooper similarly pointed out that Hirsi Ali's rhetoric hijacks legitimate issues and "demonizes Islam." As Alsultany concludes, "we need to find a way to discuss a serious problem -- violence against women in a way that does not present the problem as exclusive to Muslim women."
From the April 9 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Fox News criticized the Supreme Court's decision not to hear a case involving a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to serve a same-sex couple, inviting a hate group leader to condemn non-discrimination laws and asserting that prohibiting businesses from refusing service to gay people is a form of "involuntary servitude."
On April 7, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Elane Photography, a New Mexico studio that was sued under the state's non-discrimination statute after its owner refused to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. Though it's unclear what motivated the Supreme Court's decision, opponents of LGBT equality condemned the Supreme Court for allegedly refusing to protect religious liberty.
One of the Supreme Court's critics was Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), who appeared on The Kelly File with Megyn Kelly to condemn New Mexico's non-discrimination law:
From the April 4 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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From the March 31 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Megyn Kelly's staunch rejection of sexist rhetoric on Fox raises the question of whether she will press Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) on the sexist treatment of his former aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, in a new report on the George Washington Bridge scandal he commissioned.
In the wake of the George Washington Bridge scandal, Christie commissioned the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to investigate and find out who was responsible for the unnecessary lane closures that gnarled traffic for days on the busy bridge. The resulting report largely absolved Christie of responsibility for the lane closings, but has come under fire for the investigator's ties to the Christie administration and their failure to interview key witnesses.
The report also faced heavy criticism for the sexist, "unusually personal" treatment of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former deputy chief of staff. Bridget Anne Kelly was not interviewed by the investigators, however the report nonetheless concluded that she was the only person in the governor's office involved in the lane closings and lobbed a number of personal, sexist attacks against her. From The New York Times (emphasis added):
Gov. Chris Christie, seeking to stanch the damage the scandal had caused to his political fortunes, fired her [Kelly] as his deputy chief of staff after that, calling her "stupid." But the report commissioned by Mr. Christie and released Thursday doubles down on a strategy of portraying Ms. Kelly as duplicitous, weeping frequently and dependent on men for approval and stability.
Though the lawyers who wrote the report did not interview her, they explain her conduct in unusually personal terms -- she is out of the office attending to a family member who had been hospitalized; a brief relationship "had cooled" at the "behest" of the man, Mr. Christie's campaign manager, Bill Stepien.
The report raises these details but does not explain how or why they would have prompted her to send the damning email. It simply concludes that "events in her personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind."
Ms. Kelly's friends also said that they were struck by what they felt was a gender bias in the report, noting that the personal language describing Ms. Kelly is not used to describe David Wildstein, even though he is pegged as her co-conspirator.
Fox News attacked the Obama administration for announcing a delay to the Affordable Care Act that resembles administration delays by other presidents, such as President Bush's 2006 delay of the Medicare Part D penalty.
Referring to gay people as "homosexual" is a practice that's quickly falling out of favor with major news outlets due the term's often pejorative connotation and frequent use by opponents of LGBT equality. But Fox News has yet to update its language when referring to gay and lesbian people.
On March 23, The New York Times published a piece exploring the often derogatory connotation of the term "homosexual." Writing for the Sunday Styles section, the Times' Jeremy Peters noted that experts increasingly view "homosexual" as an offensive and stigmatizing term, even if many people still see the term as relatively "innocuous" (emphasis added):
To most ears, it probably sounds inoffensive. A little outdated and clinical, perhaps, but innocuous enough: homosexual.
But that five-syllable word has never been more loaded, more deliberately used and, to the ears of many gays and lesbians, more pejorative.
" 'Homosexual' has the ring of 'colored' now, in the way your grandmother might have used that term, except that it hasn't been recuperated in the same way," said George Chauncey, a Yale professor of history and an author who studies gay and lesbian culture.
Consider the following phrases: homosexual community, homosexual activist, homosexual marriage. Substitute the word "gay" in any of those cases, and the terms suddenly become far less loaded, so that the ring of disapproval and judgment evaporates.
Some gay rights advocates have declared the term off limits. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, or Glaad, has put "homosexual" on its list of offensive terms and in 2006 persuaded The Associated Press, whose stylebook is the widely used by many news organizations, to restrict use of the word.
George P. Lakoff, a professor of cognitive science and linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, has looked at the way the term is used by those who try to portray gays and lesbians as deviant. What is most telling about substituting it for gay or lesbian are the images that homosexual tends to activate in the brain, he said.
"Gay doesn't use the word sex," he said. "Lesbian doesn't use the word sex. Homosexual does."
Peters highlighted use of the term by anti-gay figures like Rush Limbaugh, whose comments on the "homosexual" NFL prospect Michael Sam and the efforts of the "homosexual lobby" to defeat Arizona's anti-gay discrimination bill smack of contempt.
Use of the term is also pervasive at Fox News - and not just from the likes of the network's hate group mouthpiece Todd Starnes, who recently warned that "Christians are trading places with homosexuals" in the military. Just as the network insists on misgendering transgender subjects, Fox also has no qualms about regularly referring to gay men and lesbians by a term many of them shun.
Fox employees from Megyn Kelly to Sarah Palin continue to use the word "homosexual" to describe gays and lesbians. Fox Supreme Court reporter and pro-discrimination champion Shannon Bream teased a forthcoming segment on "homosexual adoption":
Fox's "Medical A-Team" member and anti-LGBT pop psychologist Keith Ablow uses the term "homosexual sex" while criticizing pro-gay advertisements.
And Fox's Bill O'Reilly was recently mocked for a segment in which he attacked the Girl Scouts for "leaning left," seizing in particular on the organization's employment of a spokesman who participated "in a punk rock band with homosexual overtones":
From the March 12 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Just days after concluding a smear campaign against highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile's nomination to the Department of Justice, the right-wing media began working to tar Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, as a "radical" for suggesting that gun violence is a public health issue.
From the March 6 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Fox News is blasting Attorney General Eric Holder for allegedly telling state attorneys general that they don't have to enforce their states' gay marriage bans. In reality, Holder merely instructed the attorneys general that they don't have to defend such bans in court if they deem the laws unconstitutional.
It's unclear if Fox is misreading or simply willfully distorting what Holder actually said, but either way, the network is wrong.
Addressing the National Association of Attorneys General on February 25, Holder stated that if state attorneys general conclude that their gay marriage bans violate core constitutional principles like equal protection under the law, they're not obligated to defend those bans in court. Holder also explicitly stated that attorneys general shouldn't base such decisions on "policy or political disagreements" and should stick to legal analysis of the bans' constitutionality.
Holder's guidance doesn't mean that marriage equality bans won't be enforced while they're still in effect. However, an attorney general does have the option of refusing to defend laws that he or she believes won't survive judicial scrutiny. In such circumstances, other parties may then intervene to defend a law on the state's behalf. That's precisely what's currently happening in the court battle over Kentucky's same-sex marriage ban.
This isn't Fox News' first baseless attack on Holder when it comes to the defense of anti-gay marriage laws. It was only three years ago that Megyn Kelly asserted Holder had decided not to enforce the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) after the Obama administration dropped its defense of the law in court. But the administration kept enforcing DOMA as the law of the land until the Supreme Court struck down its core provision last summer.
Three years later, it appears that Fox remains unable - or unwilling - to get its facts right.
Fox News dedicated its first segment on Gov. Brewer's veto of Arizona's anti-gay bill to an interview with one of America's most notorious anti-gay hate group leaders.
On February 26, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced that she had vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which would have allowed businesses and individuals to engage in legal discrimination by denying services to gay people on religious grounds. Brewer said that the bill "does not address a specific or pressing concern," and that it "is broadly worded, and could result in unintended and negative consequences."
Fox's Megyn Kelly opened the February 26 edition of her show with a segment on Brewer's veto that featured Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council. Kelly gave Perkins a platform to lambast the veto as an example of "how fundamental freedoms are trampled," while citing a New Mexico couple who were prosecuted for refusing service to a same-sex couple as proof that the law differs from discrimination against mixed-race couples in that it "address[es] some very significant problems":
Fox News host Megyn Kelly and senior political analyst Brit Hume were shocked by the suggestion that Arizona's anti-gay law might allow "a Christian doctor who is deeply conservative in his religious views to deny treatment" to patients on the basis of sexual orientation, an interesting change of pace for a network that has no problems regularly defending the religiously-based denial of women's health services.
In a February 25 segment on Fox's The Kelly File, Kelly and Hume agreed that the Arizona law -- which could provide legal protections to religious business owners who deny services and accommodations to gay couples on the basis of their sexual orientation -- went too far because the possibility of denying medical services to gay people was "an order of magnitude greater than the legal right to deny services to a gay wedding":
But neither Kelly nor Hume managed to point out the obvious -- Christian doctors are already enabled to deny services to all women on religious grounds.
After months of championing anti-gay business owners and criticizing efforts to protect gay and lesbian customers from discrimination, Fox News is finally waking up to the consequences of its fear mongering campaign - and it doesn't like what it's seeing.
The Supreme Court's historic decision to strike down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013 left many anti-gay marriage activists reeling. Recognizing that their decade long fight against marriage equality was quickly becoming a lost cause, many anti-gay conservatives turned their attention to an issue that they believed might offer them more traction - the religious liberty of anti-gay business owners.
While opponents of marriage equality have long warned about businesses being forced to serve gay couples, it's only recently that the issue of protecting anti-gay business owners became a rallying cry for social conservatives.
That rallying cry has been largely amplified by Fox News, which in recent months has worked to tout anti-gay business owners as martyrs, victimized by gay activists seeking services for their same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies.
Falsely accusing gay activists of ushering the "death of free enterprise" in America, Fox News has highlighted a number of anti-gay horror stories in which religious business owners have faced penalties for refusing to serve gay customers:
In each of these cases, the business owners were found to have violated their state's non-discrimination laws. And in each of these cases, Fox News depicted the business owners as victims whose religious freedoms were being threatened by being required to serve gay customers.