Fleeing from terror and indiscriminate violence in parts of the Middle East, millions of people have packed up and left their homes to start safer lives for themselves and their families elsewhere. But if you tuned into Fox News anytime in the last year, you'd think the refugees themselves -- many of them Muslim -- were responsible for the violence. In fact, painting Muslims as terrorists, radicals, and tacit supporters of ISIS, baseless demonization of Islam was the channel's modus operandi in 2015. And it wasn't just right-wing media. CNN also joined the smears, asking a Muslim human rights lawyer if he supports ISIS, questioning a Michigan mayor if she's afraid of her majority Muslim-American city council, and forcing responsibility for the recent attacks in Paris onto an innocent French Muslim.
From berating a teenager for his interest in technology to inventing so-called "no-go zones," watch how the media fearmongered about Muslims in 2015:
As Columbia Journalism Review explains in their annual list of the worst journalism in 2015, the media has a special responsibility to get these stories right and not perpetuate Islamophobia, as inaccurate and "reactionary coverage" can "influence policy makers to take drastic measures under the guise of popular fears."
An investigative report by The Intercept explained how national and local media outlets uncritically repeated a false right-wing story that claimed a Muslim American veteran was arrested in Turkey for his connection with the terrorist group ISIS. The story originated from a right-wing blog that used anonymous sources with no knowledge of why the veteran was detained. Saadiq Long was not arrested for or accused of having a connection with a terror cell and currently faces no criminal charges.
In November, PJ Media published a story claiming that Long, an American veteran who received media attention after he was secretly placed on no-fly list, was "arrested in Turkey as part of ISIS cell."
Fox News, RedState, and right-wing anti-Muslim figures like Pam Gellar, Robert Spencer, and Ann Coulter also pushed the story. Local media in Oklahoma, where Long's family resides, also joined the conservative media outlets repeating the false story.
The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hassain debunked the PJ media story in a December 10 Intercept post reporting that "the widespread smearing of Long as having joined an ISIS cell, is completely false" (emphasis added):
A RIGHT-WING BLOG called "Pajamas Media" published an article on November 24 claiming that Saadiq Long, a Muslim American veteran of the U.S. Air Force, was arrested in Turkey for being an ISIS operative. Written by Patrick Poole, a professional anti-Muslim activist and close associate of Frank Gaffney, the article asserted that Long "finds himself and several family members sitting in a Turkish prison -- arrested earlier this month near the Turkey-Syria border as members of an ISIS cell." Its only claimed sources were anonymous: "U.S. and Turkish officials confirmed Long's arrest to PJ Media, saying that he was arrested along with eight others operating along the Turkish-Syrian border. So far, no U.S. media outlet has reported on his arrest."
Long's purported arrest as an ISIS operative was then widely cited across the internet by Fox News as well as right-wing and even non-ideological news sites. Predictably, the story was uncritically hailed by the most virulent anti-Muslim polemicists: Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, Ann Coulter, and Sam Harris. Worst of all, it was blasted as a major news story by network TV affiliates and other local media outlets in Oklahoma, where Long is from and where his family -- including his sister and ailing mother -- still reside.
But the story is entirely false: a fabrication. Neither Long nor his wife or daughter have been arrested on charges that he joined ISIS. He faces no criminal charges of any kind in Turkey.
To begin with, it's irresponsible in the extreme to spread claims that someone has been arrested for joining ISIS without a very substantial basis for believing that's true. That's a claim that will be permanently attached to the person's name. The people who uncritically spread this "report" had nothing approaching a sufficient basis for doing so, and worse, most of them simply repeated the assertion that he was an ISIS operative as though it were verified fact.
Beyond that, the only outlet to have "reported" this claim about Long and his family is Pajamas Media. Does anyone find that to be a credible news source, let alone one credible enough to permanently vilify someone as an ISIS member? The specific author of the report, Poole, swims exclusively in the most toxic, discredited, anti-Muslim far-right swamps -- he's a favorite of Frank Gaffney, last seen as the prime mover of Donald Trump's "ban Muslims" proposal -- and it is nothing short of shameful that so many people vested this anonymous smear with credibility.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump called for a moratorium on Muslims entering the United States on December 7. Trump's statement followed widespread calls from conservative media not to allow Muslim refugees from Syria to resettle in the United States.
From the November 18 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Fox News pundits repeatedly pushed -- and then walked back -- a false narrative propagated by an anti-Islam blogger that an "ISIS-linked" Twitter account warned of the Tennessee shooting prior to the attack.
Fox News reported that an "ISIS-linked" Twitter account warned of today's shooting in Tennessee before it happened, but the tweet in question was sent after the attack had ended. The falsehood was propagated by anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller before spreading through conservative media
Four Marines were killed when a shooter fired on two military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Fox News reported that the attacks may be connected to ISIS because an ISIS supporter purportedly discussed the shooting on Twitter before it happened. Fox host Sean Hannity repeated the false claim on his radio show.
In fact, the tweet Fox News referenced was posted well after the shooting had already occurred. Mashable editor Brian Ries first pointed out the discrepancy.
On Your World, Fox's chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge reported, "the last investigative thread I would mention at this point is that we're taking a hard look at a Twitter account -- an ISIS-linked Twitter account -- that seemed to have foreknowledge of the shooting in Chattanooga. The tweet went out at 10:34 with the hashtag Chattanooga referring to American dogs and a likely shooting. This of course was about 15 minutes before the shooting took place."
On his radio show, Fox News host Sean Hannity also referenced the inaccurate information.
HANNITY: We have a report from Robert Spencer's Jihad Watch, that he's put together -- a timeline regarding today's, what they are now calling a domestic terrorist act in Chattanooga. We have four Marines that have been killed. By the way, our thoughts, our prayers are with the families and the entire military community there. According to the AP, the shooting started around 10:30, 10:45. The Islamic State tweeted a warning about the attack, posted at 10:34 a.m. The ISIS tweet specifically mentioned Chattanooga, which is an obvious reference to the attack. If it's true that ISIS was taking credit for the shooting at the exact same time, or maybe slightly before the shooting commenced, that would be pretty strong evidence of a connection. And Spencer reminds us the Islamic State has called on Muslims to murder American military personnel here in the U.S.
The source of the claim is conservative blogger Pamela Geller, who has a long history of anti-Muslim activism.
Geller made the claim on Twitter and on her blog, writing, "This morning an ISIS supporter tweeted this at 10:34 am -- the shooting started at 10:45." The report cited by Hannity from Jihad Watch cites Geller as the source. Spencer has often worked with Geller on anti-Muslim projects.
But the tweet was posted at 1:34 p.m. Eastern time, not 10:34 a.m., as Geller asserted. According to news reports, the shooting "unfolded at two sites over 30 minutes" and started "around 10:45 a.m. ET."
The image of the tweet she references on her blog appears to be stamped with the Western time zone -- Twitter time stamps are based on the user's time zone, not the time zone of the person who made the tweet.
Media Matters took this screenshot of the ISIS supporter's Twitter account at 5:13 p.m. ET, and it shows that the post was made 4 hours previously (near the 1 o'clock hour Eastern time).
Conservative blog Weasel Zippers also made the erroneous conclusion about the tweet in a post headlined, "Islamic State Account Tweets Warnings About Chattanooga Moments Before Shooting Began."
UPDATE: After this story was published, Fox News began to pull back on their allegation. From Special Report with Bret Baier:
BRET BAIER: Let me be careful about the tweet to the ISIS-related account. In Garland, Texas we know that it came out before the shooting, before that happened. In this case, the time stamp does say 10:34, but we don't know if that's Pacific time, Mountain time, Eastern time, so we have to be careful about it coming out before the shooting. Point is there are ISIS accounts that are pointing directly to this incident and touting it as one of own.
UPDATE #2: On The O'Reilly Factor, this story was addressed at least three more times.
At the top of the Factor, O'Reilly reported the "sensational" ISIS tweet story, even after admitting it wasn't "exactly clear whether it's accurate."
Midway through the show, Catherine Herridge reappeared and admitted that "there are now some questions about the time stamp on one of the ISIS tweets earlier today." When O'Reilly pressed her on how she learned about the tweet, she said, "I first saw it this afternoon, it was part of the social media that was circulating."
At the end of the Factor, Special Report anchor Bret Baier clarified the timing of the tweet, saying that "all indications now are that it came out after the attack." When O'Reilly asked if that meant the ISIS tweet story was "a bogus situation," Baier replied, "yeah."
Fox News figures and Republican 2016 hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) are slated to appear alongside Robert Spencer -- one of conservative media's favorite leaders in "Islam bashing" -- at a conference this week, amid cries from Muslim rights groups for Cruz to cancel the engagement.
The Young America's Foundation (YAF) will host the conservative New England Freedom Conference this week in New Hampshire. In addition to Fox Business host John Stossel, Fox contributor Katie Pavlich and Cruz, the event will feature noted extremist Robert Spencer and promised, "If you are interested in public policy, free speech, less government, and a strong national defense, this conference is for you. Along with Senator Ted Cruz, you will hear from Jihad Watch's Robert Spencer about Islamic terrorism and jihad."
Spencer is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Extremist Files as "one of America's most prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists." He's a prominent figure with Jidhad Watch and Stop Islamization of America (SOIA) - two organizations deemed hate groups by SPLC.
Spencer was also described by the Center for American Progress (CAP) in a 2011 report on Islamophobia as one of their five top "misinformation experts." The CAP report highlighted some disturbing facts, including that he and Jihad Watch "were cited 162 times in the nearly 1,500-page manifesto of Anders Breivik, the confessed Norway terrorist who claimed responsibility for killing 76 people, mostly youths," and quotes former Nixon adviser and deputy director of the National Security Council Robert Crane in describing Spencer as "the principal leader... in the new academic field of Islam bashing."
His anti-Islamic rhetoric has solidified Spencer a place as a right-wing media darling, turned to by Fox News and conservative sites like National Review Online as a go-to expert on Islam despite his extreme leanings. Fox turned to Spencer as recently as January to spew Islamophobia during a discussion about the deadly attacks on satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Appearing on Hannity, Spencer cited the "much higher" birth rate of Muslim populations to fearmonger that "Sharia enclaves" will "inevitably grow and continue to grow until, finally, that's all there is."
It is for extremist rhetoric such as this that Muslim advocacy groups like The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) have called on Cruz to cancel his upcoming appearance with Spencer at YAF. In a March 24 press release, the group pointed to the designation of Spencer's organizations as hate groups by the SPLC as one of the reasons why Cruz should step back from the event. "As the first Republican to declare his candidacy for president, CAIR recommends that Senator Cruz reach out to members of the American Muslim and other U.S. minority communities to better understand their issues and concerns, " explained CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw.
Fox News has responded to the attack on the satirical French paper Charlie Hebdo by inviting notorious Islamophobes to appear as guests in discussions about Islam, terrorism, and immigration.
In the week after the attack, Fox News hosts themselves produced shockingly Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric. For instance, Sean Hannity wondered if the U.S. should "insist" on assimilation from Muslim immigrants, and Bob Beckel admitted, "I'm an Islamophobe." But it's not just the hosts: Fox has given many media figures with a clear record of Islamophobia a platform in the week following the Charlie Hebdo attack, making the debate on the network drastically more extreme.
A self-styled "terrorism expert," Emerson prompted outrage and ridicule in Britain by claiming in a January 10 appearance on Fox News' Justice with Judge Jeanine that Birmingham, the second-largest city in the United Kingdom, is "totally Muslim" and a place "where non-Muslims just simply don't go in." Birmingham is, in fact, 22 percent Muslim. Emerson has also appeared on Fox News on at least three other occasions since the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, including an appearance on Hannity the night of the attack in which he declared Europe "finished" because of its supposedly high numbers of non-assimilated Muslims.
Even before British Prime Minister David Cameron said that Emerson is "clearly an idiot" because of his comments, Emerson had little credibility on terrorism. During coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, Emerson claimed on Fox that the suspect was a Saudi national -- a claim that was later thoroughly discredited. After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Emerson claimed that it had "a Middle Eastern trait" because it "was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible." Emerson also said that Oklahoma City was "probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East."
Gabriel is the founder of ACT! for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says has "eagerly tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim rage and done what it could to fan the flames." She has appeared on Fox several times since the Charlie Hebdo attack, despite her history of extreme Islamophobia. Gabriel was a guest on the January 7 edition of Hannity, where she said that Muslims in Europe "started multiplying" after World War II and did not assimilate and that Europe is "paying the price" because it "ignored the cancer growing within its body when it was at Stage Two." In her appearance on the January 8 edition of The Kelly File, she argued that the "Islamic religion" forbids Muslims to assimilate.
In September 2014, Gabriel told an audience at the Values Voter Summit that "180 million to 300 million" Muslims are "radical Islamists who are willing to strap bombs on their bodies and walk into this room and blow us all up to smithereens." In June 2014, Gabriel berated a Muslim student who had criticized members of a Heritage Foundation panel on Islam, calling her a liar and saying, "Your loyalty is somewhere else. It's time we see more patriotism from the Muslim community and less terrorism." A prominent Middle East expert and editor of The Oxford History of Islam called Gabriel "a professional Muslim basher."
Farage is the leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), an anti-immigration party, and has appeared on Fox three times since the Hebdo attack. On January 7, the night of the attack, Farage appeared on Your World with Neil Cavuto, arguing that "the biggest mistake the governments have made" is "promoting multiculturalism" and that "we come from countries with Christian cultures and Christian constitutions, and it's about time we started standing up for that." On January 12, Farage joined the hosts of Fox & Friends to criticize "open door" immigration policies and defend his attacks on multiculturalism. Farage also appeared on Hannity that night, where he warned that Sharia law is being implemented in British Muslim communities.
Farage and the party he leads have a history of extremism on Islam. In 2010, Farage called for burqas to be banned, saying they were a symbol of "an increasingly divided Britain" and could pose a security risk. In February 2014, the party's immigration spokesman, Gerard Batten, said he stood by his 2006 charter for Muslims, a code of conduct that all British Muslims should sign stating they reject violence. The Guardian reported that the charter was once promoted on the party's website.
Gaffney, a Washington Times columnnist and founder of the Center for Security Policy, appeared on the January 12 edition of Justice with Judge Jeanine. He argued that President Obama is "engaged in basically trying to enforce Sharia blasphemy laws" and said that "most of those who are being brought here" -- apparently referring to Muslims -- are bringing "no-go zones" here as their "preferred practice."
Gaffney was once described by the SPLC as "the anti-Muslim movement's most paranoid propagandist." In 2011, he was prohibited from participating in the Conservative Political Action Conference after he claimed it had been infiltrated by Islamic extremists and accused prominent conservative Grover Norquist of being a mole for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Boykin, a retired Army lieutenant general and deputy undersecretary for defense under George W. Bush, was a guest on the January 9 edition of Fox & Friends to comment on a hostage situation at a printing press outside Paris involving suspects in the Charlie Hebdo attack. Boykin argued that these were "sophisticated terrorists" and that what they were doing is "a reflection of what's growing in these no-go zones."
Boykin has drawn criticism and faced consequences for making Islamophobic comments in the past. In 2010, Boykin called Islam a "totalitarian way of life," and in 2012 Boykin called Islam "evil."
Spencer, director of the Jihad Watch website, appeared on Hannity on January 9. Spencer claimed that a "core principle" in Islam is "the idea of emigrating to a new place to conquer and Islamize it, and that's exactly what we're seeing." He also cited the "much higher" birth rate of Muslim populations as evidence that "Sharia enclaves" will "inevitably grow and continue to grow until, finally, that's all there is."
Spencer once stated that it's "absurd" to think that "Islam is a religion of peace that's been hijacked by a tiny minority" and that there is a "doctrine of warfare" in Islam. According to the SPLC, Spencer "engages in fear-mongering through steady reference to theories like 'stealth jihad,' eminent 'Islamization of America,' and the infiltration of Congress by 'Muslim spy interns.' "
Pamela Geller reports on her Atlas Shrugs blog that right-wing lawyer and Obama Justice Department critic J. Christian Adams will be participating in a CPAC 2012 panel presented by her Stop Islamization of America organization. Geller writes of the panel, titled "Islamic Law in America, How the Obama Justice Department Is Selling Us Out":
The Obama Justice Department is not just tolerating, but actively aiding the assertion of Islamic law in the U.S., and the primacy of Sharia over U.S. law. This explosive conference will give the details of that effort and show Americans what we must do now to preserve our Constitutional freedoms.
In 2010, Adams set off a right-wing media firestorm after he left the DOJ, offering since-discredited claims that the Justice Department's actions in the New Black Panther Party case demonstrated racially charged corruption. He has since used his position as a blogger for the right-wing site Pajamas Media, often issuing false attacks on the Obama DOJ for its supposed politicization and "racial agenda," and he recently authored a book on the subject filled with falsehoods, misrepresentations, and baseless allegations.
Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), created in 2009, promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam. The group seeks to rouse public fears by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy "American" values. The organization warns of the encroachment of shari'a, or Islamic law, and encourages Muslims to leave what it describes as the "falsity of Islam."
Anti-Muslim activists have attacked the new TLC reality show All-American Muslim as "propaganda," "a video version of jihad," and "A Little Taqiyya on the Prairie." Television critics, meanwhile, have praised the show for portraying the diversity of the American Muslim community.
In a blog post for National Review Online, Robert Spencer defended himself against charges by the Anti-Defamation League that his organization engages in anti-Muslim activism by saying that it is reasonable to lump the ADL in with other supposed "jihadist apologists."
Spencer's colleague David Horowitz similarly attacked the ADL, saying that ADL president Abe Foxman is "a notorious panderer to left-wing causes" and that the "American Left has joined in what I have elsewhere referred to as an 'unholy alliance,' making itself a valuable ally of the Muslim Brotherhood."
This attack on the ADL can be traced back to a National Review article Spencer and Horowitz wrote claiming that they espouse "a rational fear of Islamism" based on "the misogyny, bigotry, and terrorism promoted by many (but not all) Islamic institutions and religious texts." In doing so, they labeled the Southern Poverty Law Center as "jihadist apologists" and also attacked the Center for American Progress and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Center for American Progress policy analyst Matt Duss responded in a letter to the editor published by National Review by pointing out that, while Spencer and Horowitz attacked other groups in their article, they had not attacked the ADL even though it released a backgrounder earlier this year "declaring that Spencer's group, Stop Islamization of America, 'promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam.' " Duss asked, "Should the Anti-Defamation League also be lumped with the 'jihadist apologists'?"
That led Spencer and Horowitz to do what they had avoided doing in their article: lump ADL in with other groups who are either part of the conspiracy to Islamize America or are unwitting dupes of the conspiracy.
If Pam Geller organizes a protest against the Park51 Islamic community center, but there's no sustained media hype to accompany it, does it make a sound?
Not really. Although Fox News continues to promote Geller, and despite the best efforts of Dick Morris to remind Fox News viewers of Park51 at every opportunity, the issue's draw power has declined remarkably since last August. Geller's first protest against the "Ground Zero Mosque" benefited from a right-wing hype campaign with origins in coverage by the News Corp.-owned New York Post. It soon spread to Fox News and other media, becoming one of the biggest manufactured stories of the summer.
This year the news cycle was less kind to Geller's crusade, which hosted its second rally yesterday timed to the tenth anniversary of 9/11. With the nation focused on remembering and mourning the dead, Geller's protest at its peak drew no more than two hundred people, who barely filled a narrow gated pen on West Broadway, a few blocks from Ground Zero. "Last year's was so much bigger," said a protestor holding a sign reading, Mohammed was a Terrorist. "The media didn't cover this or our issues this year." Among those at the protest who also experienced considerably less media attention in 2011 was Terry Jones, the Florida preacher who made headlines last year for burning a Koran.
The anti-Muslim segment of the conservative media has identified yet another Republican as a traitor to America because he is supposedly too close to Muslims. The current target is Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), labeled as the "5th column candidate" by Pamela Geller because of his ties to Muslim leader Aga Khan IV and others.
From the August 3 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club:
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National Review's Andrew McCarthy has made a habit of citing anti-Muslim activist Robert Spencer as a credible authority -- plugging Spencer's book The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion, for instance. In a recent blog post, McCarthy said that Spencer was the sort of "expert" who should testify at Rep. Peter King's hearings on the "radicalization of the Muslim-American community." McCarthy wrote: "I fear the hearings may turn into a non-event, in large part because they are not hearing from all the right witnesses -- experts like Steve Emerson and Robert Spencer. These experts have been excluded, evidently due to fear of the predictable reaction of the Muslim Brotherhood's American grievance network."
Today, FrontPage Magazine published an interview in which Spencer claims that "the most likely scenario" is that former Rep. Anthony Weiner "did convert to Islam."