When does Fox News' ugly Muslim bashing become the story?

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Same chorus, different song.

One month after launching a jaw-dropping campaign of racial discord and warning of a looming, Obama-led "race war," Fox News and the far-right media have turned the page of the hate hymnal and embraced a new enemy: Muslims.

Yes, the bigotry is off the charts. Yes, the purposeful misinformation is almost too plentiful to catalog. And yes, once the again the mainstream press remains mostly mum about the upsetting spectacle being played out for all to see.

The so-called "debate" in the press about the proposed Islamic center for downtown Manhattan is not a serious one. Just like the 'debate' in the press about racism and Shirley Sherrod was not serious. And just like the 'debate' in the press about Michelle Obama's vacation was not serious. They're not debates. They're hate-based witch hunts sponsored by the right wing, and reporters and pundits ought to have the guts to point that fact out.

When is the press going to acknowledge that the rules have changed, and these naked smear campaigns being launched by Fox News and the far-right press have no precedent in our politics and, more importantly, they're changing the way our news agenda is being set?

I mean, c'mon. Pam Geller is now acting as our nation's newsroom assignment editor?

Yes, cover the controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic center -- it's a legitimate story. But in the process, don't play dumb about the proud hate rhetoric that's driving so much of the story. Don't play dumb about the vicious Muslim-bashing that's front-and-center on Fox News as it rallies its base to loathe Arab-Americans, just as it seemed to rally its base to loathe African-Americans last month.

Rather than doing the right thing, the press has taken a pass and pretended the hysterical, relentless religious bigotry that's been let loose by the GOP press isn't newsworthy or deeply troubling. The media silence is deafening and depressing. (And yes, exceptions are noted and appreciated.)

Trust me, folks at Fox News and friends get the message: Full steam ahead!

Discussing NYC Islamic center, Beck asks, "[A]fter you've killed 3,000 people, you're going to now build your mosque"?

Fox Business promotes discredited activist Pam Geller, who says Obama has "an anti-Semitic history"

Morris: Park51 would be a "command center for terrorism"

Beck, Geller push falsehood that Ground Zero "mosque" will open on September 11

Limbaugh on NYC Islamic center: "Why not have" KSM trial there? "Pick the jurors from the congregants"

After stoking fears about Muslim birth rate, Beck says we're on "edge of the precipice," across which is "Dark Ages"

Limbaugh compares NYC Islamic center to Tim McVeigh memorial near Murrah Federal Building

Insert "Jewish" or "Catholic" into the Islamic references above and see if you think the press would make a big deal about a similar Fox News and far-right hate crusade that targeted a different faith in America.

And yes, in case you can't hear it, Fox News' war cry (this week) is this: American Muslims are the enemy!

The amazing thing is we didn't even see this kind of sustained, media-sponsored Muslim bashing in the immediate wake of the September 11 terrorist strikes. Back then, please recall that Fox News merely operated as a slanted, conservative media outlet, not the unhinged hate beast that it is today. And back then Fox News carefully tailored its editorial voice to reflect the Bush administration's, which at the time made some efforts to preach religious tolerance and to not indict all Muslims for the actions of an extreme few; a move that seemed to undercut some of the true, right-wing Muslim-hating media crazies.

And no, it's not like Fox News didn't take cheap shots at Muslims after 9/11. For instance one night on the air, host Bill O'Reilly and professional anti-Muslim snoop Steve Emerson concocted a fantastic tale about how Islamic terrorists may have "assassinated" a Tennessee DMV worker who knew too much. The tale they told was a complete fabrication, though. Nobody was ever charged for the alleged "assassination."

But even back then there at least seemed to be some perimeters that made sure the Islamophobia didn't run rampant around the clock. (i.e. The shot clock was turned on.)

But today, those Republican outreach efforts to Muslims, and the underlying tolerance that fueled them, are long gone, which means there's nobody trying to clamp down on the hate within the conservative movement. Instead, such hate is now celebrated. And so we witness the odd spectacle of a media-led mob out to bash and demonize Muslims (they're all terrorists!) in a way we rarely saw televised even right after Islamic terrorists struck our nation nearly a decade ago.

More importantly, the embrace of the Muslim hate is so amped up because Fox News itself has radically changed from the time of the 9/11 attacks. And specifically, Fox News has changed radically from the time of Obama's election victory over Sen. John McCain. Since Inauguration Day, Fox News has completely flipped its role from conservative media outlet to the Opposition Party with a mean, kneecapping streak.

It's been nearly 18 months since Fox News cut its remaining ties with traditional journalism and began morphing into something quite different, and very disturbing. And what's been made clear during that 18 months is that in its new, purely partisan role, Fox News is not afraid to viciously smear entire groups of American minorities, be it blacks or Muslims. Unlike the version that operated in the wake of 9/11, Fox News today seems to wallow in its every chance to tarnish innocents and to pit Americans against each other, via an onslaught of slanderous misinformation.

As Variety television writer Brian Lowry noted in his recent column, "Fox's Summer of Fear":

Fox News under CEO Roger Ailes has been adept at tapping into deep-seated concerns. And in order to powerfully connect with core viewers, it's not enough to disagree with President Obama's policies; rather, they must be couched as an existential threat to U.S. society.

And yes, there's a connection between the recent race-baiting and today's fresh Muslim-bashing as Fox News remains at the forefront of a long-running smear effort (see "terrorist fist jab") to depict the president of the United States as some sort of Manchurian Candidate whose true allegiance lays elsewhere. The NAACP? The New Black Panther Party? Mecca? That answer bounces around from week to week. But the implication is clear and unbending: Obama is not like you and me, and Obama will destroy the United States the first chance he gets.

He's "anti-American."

Yet once again, you can practically hear the audible justifications: "Well, it's just Fox being Fox." Or, "It's just Rush being Rush."

I realize I'm repeating myself from last month when I asked why Fox News' proud race-baiting hadn't become the story, but honestly, when the most-watched cable news channel relentlessly depicts moderate Muslims as being part of a murderous cult, that's news. When it routinely provides a national forum for a hatemonger like Pam Geller who calls the president of the United States an anti-Semite and claims he's allied with Islamic terrorists, that's news.

And having the most-listened-to radio talk show host in America claim that Muslims want to worship at a house of prayer in downtown New York City so they can proclaim "victory" over victims of a terrorist attack, that's news too.

What Fox News, Limbaugh, and the rest of the GOP Noise Machine are doing today in terms of unapologetic Muslim-bashing is a disgrace. How the press is handling the unfolding story isn't much better.

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