Fox News' Tasteless Exploitation Of ISIS Video

Riding a hollow premise to new uncharted depths, Fox News not only tossed aside its own clearly stated position about airing violent propaganda videos distributed by terrorists, it also became, according to The Guardian, the only American news organization this week to toil in the realm of marketing an execution.

Fox not only aired graphic images of a controversial Islamic State (ISIS) clip on its signature nightly news show, it embedded the gruesome, unedited video on its website, and provided lurid, play-by-play description of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh dying at the hands of his captures. (Shepard Smith: “Eventually the pilot collapses to his knees.”)

This is just stunning. An American news organization hosting on its website an explicit terrorist video that captures the staged execution of an innocent hostage.

How do mainstream organizations handle newsworthy acts of barbarism touted by terrorist organizations? That debate raged last summer when ISIS beheaded American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and hyped the executions via videos.

At the time, the New York Post was considered to have gone right up to edge of good taste with a front page that featured image of Foley just before his beheading, with the executioner's knife at his throat. (By contrast, the image Fox splashed on the screen Tuesday night showed the hostage engulfed in flames; in the process of being killed.) As USA Today media columnist Rem Rieder  noted in August, “There seemed to be wide agreement that making the images available would both dishonor the memory of James Foley and play into the hands of the Islamic State radicals by doing what they wanted.”

Why now?

Recall the words five months ago of  Michael Clemente, Fox's executive vice president of news/editorial, when the beheading videos emerged: “What we try to do is use judgment so that people are informed about what actually happened while showing as little of what took place as possible.”

Now recall the words of Fox anchor Bret Baier less than 48 hours ago: “The reason we are showing you this is to bring you the reality of Islamic terrorism and to label it as such. We feel you need to see it so we will put up one of the images on your screen right now.”

See, if Fox doesn't show ISIS evil in the form of a murder, people won't grasp the “reality.”  

Really? When news consumers learn that cold-blooded killers burned a man alive and then distributed the horrific act on video they don't quite understand what happened? They can't conjure up the ghastly image? Instead they have to be shown the entire execution on a news website to comprehend it? They have to have a Fox News host recreate the murder moment-by-moment in some sort of macabre theater-of-the mind production?

Of course, with this reckless new direction Fox runs the risk of playing right into the hands of terrorist propaganda. Even Fox's own national security reporter, Catherine Herridge, conceded on the air that the latest ISIS snuff clip represents “the crowning glory” of Islamic State propaganda and would serve as an invaluable recruiting tool.

By giving terrorists a national media platform, "[Fox News] are literally - literally - working for al-Qaida and Isis' media arm," Malcolm Nance told the Guardian. He's “the executive director of the Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideology thinktank and an expert on counter-terrorism and radical extremism.” 

Asked about that charge, Fox News EVP John Moody insists Fox isn't “pro-terrorism in our coverage,” and he can't imagine “the person who would look at this video and come away admiring ISIS.” In other words, Moody doesn't seem to understand how terrorism propaganda works around the globe.

As Media Matters has noted, “Before Obama was in office, Fox News repeatedly criticized other media outlets for airing footage they called 'terrorist propaganda,' claiming doing so threatens national security and U.S. troops.” (For the record, Fox media critic Howard Kurtz disagreed with the organization's decision this week to air ISIS propaganda, saying, “I just have a concern that we are helping spread the fear that ISIS so badly wants to spread.”)

Meanwhile, let's note what's also going on: When American  journalists Foley and Sotloff were beheaded by ISIS and their executions were released on video, Fox News deferred airing or hosting images of the men dying at the hands of their captures. And my guess is it's inconceivable Fox would ever put surviving American family members through the horror of knowing a western cable channel was broadcasting images of the ISIS murder of their son or daughter on television, and hosting the unedited execution video on their website. It would be the ultimate sign of disrespect.

Yet Fox suddenly has no hesitation in terms of using the murder of a Jordanian man as the hook for its news broadcasts, and to share all kinds of ghastly images of his death.