Fox News celebrated Duke University's decision to cancel planned weekly broadcasts of Muslim calls to prayer from the campus chapel, crediting viewers and outraged citizens' public outcry over the “unequal treatment” being given to Islam relative to Christianity for the university's reversal. But Fox reports glossed over the real reason behind Duke's move: security threats stemming from an anti-Islam backlash to the plan.
Duke University abandoned plans to allow Islamic students to broadcast a weekly call to prayer from the university chapel after receiving a “credible and serious security threat,” according to a university spokesman. Raleigh's WRAL noted that the initial decision to allow the three-minute long calls to prayer “caused a national furor,” citing a Facebook post by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Rev. Billy Graham, in which he attacked Duke's decision because “followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews, and anyone who doesn't submit to their Sharia Islamic law.”
Fox News, which also responded to the initial announcement with outrage, celebrated the university's reversal. On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy validated the public outcry, saying “There is no amplified Christian message ... It just seemed like they were including the Muslim faith, but they were excluding all the others.” He attributed Duke's reversal to viewers contacting the university: “A lot of you made your opinion known, a lot of people contacted Duke, and they have done a 180.”
Co-host Brian Kilmeade consoled Duke's Muslim community by saying, “If you do want to pray at the right time, you can get a watch.”
Doocy briefly acknowledged that a security threat played into the university's decision, but glossed over its impact or the nature of the threat. Later, a news report on Fox's America's Newsroom ignored the security threat entirely, as host Martha MacCallum quipped, “Community outcry prompted this change ... They got some word from donors as well, from what I hear. That helped them expedite that decision.”
While Fox celebrated the successful outcry, Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, told The Atlantic that there were “numerous verified instances of credible threats” against members of the university community:
“My disappointment is primarily directed toward people who find it acceptable to have recourse to violence, even the threat of violence, to make the point they want to make--particularly if they see these threats as being substantiated by their own religious conviction,” Safi said. “We all know about the Muslim community having our crazies, but it seems like we don't have a monopoly on it.”
These threats follow weeks of ramped up Islamophobic vitriol on Fox News and right-wing media as a whole, in which conservatives have largely abandoned even the appearance of tolerance after attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. One Fox host brazenly confessed, “I'm an Islamophobe ... You can call me it all you want. ” He was joined by a carousel of extreme voices pushing myths about the dangers of the Muslim community.
At the same time, conservative media have increasingly downplayed the effect this rhetoric might have on its consumers and even dismissed the idea that Islamophobic sentiment exists. In recent days, radio host Rush Limbaugh denied the existence of any anti-Muslim backlash after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, even as several French mosques were plagued by violence. On January 9, National Review Online's Brendan O'Neill penned a column titled, “Islamophobia Is A Myth,” and wrote, "[T]he idea of Islamophobia has always been informed more by the swirling fantasies and panics of the political and media elites than by any real, measurable levels of hate or violence against Muslims. "The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf refuted this claim and outlined a “pattern of innocent Muslims suffering in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.”
And while Fox News buries the nature of the threats against Duke's Muslim community, it's historically done nothing to stem the hateful speech present on the network. Recent Islamophobic rhetoric follows years of Fox hosts saying things like, “not every Muslim is an extremist, a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim” (Kilmeade). Or, “there is a Muslim problem in the world” (primetime host Bill O'Reilly). Or comparing the religion of Islam to the Antichrist or the Nazis (Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, respectively).
It's impossible to trace the impact of the Islamophobia spewed on Fox, but it's safe to say the network's coverage isn't helping. Particularly when the justification for Fox's outrage -- that allowing the broadcast of a weekly call to prayer wasn't fair to Duke's Christian community -- is on its face absurd. The Atlantic's David A. Graham summed it up best:
The idea that Christianity is doomed if a Muslim call to prayer is heard once a week from the monumental, 210-foot Gothic Christian chapel that dominates the campus is, on face, silly. There's a Christian dean in charge of religious life and weekly Sunday services at the Chapel. The daily 5 o'clock carillon recital (often including hymns and other Christian sacred music) from the tower is loud enough that it interrupted the history of Islam class I had next door.