Fox News' Conveniently Confused Standards For Labeling Terrorist Attacks

Fox News has ever-shifting standards for how the Obama administration should respond to terrorist attacks -- a strategic moving of the goalposts that was clearly on display during the network's coverage of the deadly Paris shooting.

On January 7, three gunmen opened fire at the office of the satirical weekly paper Charlie Hebdo, an attack that left 12 dead and 11 others wounded. That morning, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told CNN that based on the information the White House had at the time, the attack “does seem like” terrorism and that it “would condemn that in the strongest possible terms” if it were confirmed. Merely 30 minutes later, Earnest appeared on Fox News and declared, “This is an act of terror,” a designation echoed by President Obama from the Oval Office. Obama expressed his “deepest sympathies to the people of Paris and the people of France for the terrible terrorist attack that took place earlier today,” condemned the actions of “these terrorists [who] fear freedom,” and noted the United States' cooperation with France on counterterrorism.

But to Fox News, describing the attack as terrorism wasn't enough. The network spent the day of the attack in Paris moving the goalposts for how the administration should have responded to the shooting.

Fox initially attempted to portray the change in the White House's characterization as scandalous. During Earnest's appearance on America's Newsroom, anchor Bill Hemmer took issue with the fact that Earnest used the term “act of terror” when earlier he'd used the phrase “act of violence.” Hemmer repeatedly insisted that Earnest justify the change:

The demand soon grew. Claiming that it's insufficient to call the attack terrorism, Fox figures argued the White House “has to say 'Islamist terror.'” According to these personalities, the failure to say “Islamic,” coupled with the White House's “reluctan[ce]” to say terrorism, evidences Obama's soft approach to fighting terrorism.

Moving the goalposts on the proper response to terrorism is a standard chapter in the Fox News playbook. The network obsessively claimed Obama failed to label the 2012 Benghazi attacks an act of terror, despite the fact that he did so from the Rose Garden the day after the attacks. When a gunman opened fire at Canada's War Memorial in October, Fox criticized Obama for refusing to acknowledge the attack was terrorism (despite the fact that he had). And after the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, in December, Obama condemned the terrorists, but Fox wondered why he failed to mention “the Taliban” by name.