Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, host of Justice with Judge Jeanine, recently admitted on a hot mic that the network had recently suspended her. Pirro was referring to when her show was off the air for two weeks after she made bigoted comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), questioning her ability to be faithful to the Constitution because she wears a hijab. Fox News had put out a statement condemning the remarks but never acknowledged that Pirro was officially disciplined.
It’s not just Pirro, however, who has a history of making anti-Muslim attacks. (She once called for mass murder of radical Islamists.) For nearly two decades, Fox personalities have spewed naked anti-Muslim hatred -- and Omar is just their latest target. Fox’s unsuccessful effort to keep Pirro’s suspension quiet underscores the reality that not only are the executives aware that anti-Muslim and other bigotry on Fox goes beyond just one personality or an occasional opening monologue, but also that they’re using this rhetoric as a strategy to generate ratings.
Fox executives likely did not disclose that they disciplined Pirro because then they would have faced pressure to address equally offensive comments attacking Omar and other Muslims made by hosts like Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson. In the context of Fox’s programming, Pirro’s racism hardly stands out. In May, Carlson labeled Omar “a symbol of America’s failed immigration system” and “someone who hates this country.” Months later, he escalated his rhetoric and called her a “living fire alarm” and “living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country.” Arguably, these comments were equally if not more offensive than Pirro’s, and they were widely condemned at the time. But the network stood behind Carlson, who responded to the outcry by doubling down.
Carlson isn’t the only Fox figure who has engaged in racist anti-Muslim attacks on Omar since the Pirro March 9 debacle. Here are just a few other examples:
- March 11: Fox Business’s Trish Regan said Omar “is seemingly anti-American.”
April 10: Fox's Brian Kilmeade claimed, “You have to wonder if she's an American first.”
April 10: Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs said Omar “sounds like she hates America,” Jews, and Israelis.
April 15: Hannity’s guest Bernard Kerik claimed that Omar “is infatuated with Al Qaeda, with Hamas, Hezbollah.”
July 10: Carlson’s guest Brooke Goldstein said that if Omar “wasn't a member of Congress, she would be a member of the KKK.”
July 12: Fox Nation’s Todd Starnes said Omar and other immigrants should take “a one-way plane ticket back to whatever Third World hellhole you came from.”
July 15: Fox contributor Newt Gingrich asked if Omar “dislikes America this much, why is she here?”
August 16: Fox Business guest Zuhdi Jasser suggested that Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) want to see Israel “wiped off the map.”
- August 19: Host Laura Ingraham’s guest Qanta Ahmed claimed Tlaib and Omar have a “grotesque Holocaust envy.”
Anti-Muslim bigotry on Fox News is no accident; it’s policy, and it goes back over a decade. In 2006, Hannity attacked newly elected Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) for planning to use the Quran for his swearing-in to Congress and quoted from a column that compared Ellison’s plan to use the Quran to someone using the “Nazi bible,” Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He asked, “Where does this stop?” In 2010, Fox & Friends’ Brian Kilmeade declared that “not every Muslim is an extremist, a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim.” Fox News was, of course, the central nervous system that spread birtherism, a smear championed by Donald Trump going back to 2011. On-air personalities have repeatedly endorsed mosque surveillance and called for Muslim internment. Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Jon Scott once warned Muslims: “If you don’t want to be portrayed in a negative light, maybe don’t burn people alive and set off bombs.” The network is also a cozy home for representatives of extremist anti-Muslim groups ACT! For America and the Center for Security Policy.
Executives at Fox can’t and won’t admit to suspending Pirro because it would create a domino effect that could strike at the heart of their hate-for-profit scam, force them to answer difficult questions about the network’s lack of editorial standards, and put their entire prime-time lineup in jeopardy. Pirro’s inadvertent disclosure that she was suspended by the network suggests that Fox’s leadership is aware that on-air bigotry is both the network’s greatest asset (in terms of support from our decaying boomer president) and liability (consider the ongoing advertiser exodus). Fox’s business model is collapsing in on itself and Pirro’s March meltdown is only a tiny window into the crisis.
Correction (10/23/20): This piece originally attributed a quote from the April 16, 2017, edition of Fox & Friends Weekend to co-host Pete Hegseth. In fact, the statement was made by co-host Jon Scott.