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Fox News declares war on responsible journalism in dangerous tirade against Muslims

“We need to kill them.” Fox News host Jeanine Pirro’s us vs. them call to arms against “radical Muslim terrorists” -- and Muslims at large -- is the most dangerous example of hate speech I’ve seen on American television.

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Oh how I wish my headline were the least bit sensational. It’s not.

Fox News boss Rupert Murdoch tweeted Saturday:

That’s not even what I’m referring to in this headline. It gets so much worse.

The same day Murdoch tweeted his “blame all Muslims” missive, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro launched a seven-minute declaration of war that can only be described as dangerous hate speech.

I urge you to read the full transcript, which varies slightly from what Pirro actually said, and to watch the clip for yourself before reading the rest of my piece.

I wish this were satire, but Pirro is dead serious. Even Conservative Colbert (may he rest in peace) would have gotten flack for this direct incitement to violence:

“We need to kill them. We need to kill them, the radical Muslim terrorists hell-bent on killing us. You’re in danger. I’m in danger. We’re at war and this is not going to stop.”

But she’s only talking about radical terrorists, who are obviously the bad guys, right? Where’s the harm? Watch closely.

Pirro weaves a dangerous web in her premeditated screed, conflating a range of viewers’ worst fears.

In the “we vs. them” scenario she sets up and follows right through to the end, “we” at times shifts from Americans to Christians, and “them” oscillates wildly and irresponsibly from “radical Muslim terrorists” to “Arab nations” to “violent jihadists” to Islamic fanatics” to, finally and most dangerously, all Muslims:

“They can kill us, but we can’t hurt their feelings? I’m surprised the president hasn’t signed a new executive order that simply says ‘don’t offend Muslims.’ …

“Our government’s response to the terror threat is to have an interfaith dialogue, to try to understand and empathize with the enemy. And when they want to shut us up, they call us ’Islamaphobes.’

Muslim groups like CAIR and the Nation of Islam have been integrated into our society, Muslims invited to worship at our national cathedral in Washington, DC.

We’re directed by a political correctness that is so bizarre, so disconnected from reality that it does nothing but assist our enemy in our own destruction.

They have conquered us through immigration. They have conquered us through ‘interfaith dialogue.’ And they have conquered us by co-opting our leaders into a position of embarrassment.”

Putting #FoxNewsFacts fallacies aside for the moment (Pakistan is not an Arab nation, for one), let’s focus on the bigger problem. Pirro’s rant is dangerous hate speech.

The Ethical Journalism Network’s five-point test for evaluating hate speech is meant to help journalists assess the inflammatory remarks of sources, but let’s apply it to Pirro as speaker:

  1. The content and form of speech

Journalists should ask themselves if the speech they are quoting (or in this case delivering) is dangerous. Will it incite violence, intensify hatred or lead to prosecution under local laws?

  • Pirro is forcefully inciting violence in her opening lines and throughout.
  1. The economic, social and political climate

Hateful speech can become more dangerous amidst economic, social and political strife. Where insecurity and instability reign supreme, journalists should evaluate what impact quoting hateful speech might have on its intended targets.

  • Pirro is obviously capitalizing on the Charlie Hebdo attacks and laundry lists of buzzwords — “the World Trade Center, U.S.S. Cole., Tanzania, Ft. Hood, Benghazi; Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, Ansar al-Sharia in Libya, Al Qaeda, ISIS” — to terrify a vulnerable audience.
  1. The position or status of the speaker

Journalists should not act as indiscriminate megaphones for hate speech. If a prominent source makes hateful, false or malicious claims, those claims should be scrutinized and reported accordingly.

  • Pirro, an Emmy-winning television personality, is the one making hateful, false and malicious claims in this case. Fox News’ decision to script and air these views unchallenged was grossly irresponsible.
  1. The reach of the speech

Limited off-color remarks in private conversations are unlikely to produce much harm. That changes if hateful remarks are repeatedly broadcast for all to see, a good indicator that the speaker may be trying to deliberately promote hostility.

  • Fox News remains the most popular cable news network in America. I have no idea if this invective is being looped on Fox News (I’m in South Africa without a television), but it’s certainly being circulated online.
  1. The objectives of the speech

Journalists should strive to determine whether speech is deliberately designed to denigrate the rights of others and should know what forms of expression are subject to legal sanctions.

  • Pirro’s vitriolic incitement to mass murder certainly seems to violate the right to life. Given the political climate post-Charlie Hebdo attack, I’d argue that her incitement to murder could be construed as imminent and likely, rendering it illegal, unprotected speech in the U.S.

Susan Benesch, who heads the Dangerous Speech Project, says the most dangerous speech acts occur when the following five factors are maximized:

1. A powerful speaker with a high degree of influence over the audience most likely to react

  • Fox News host, Fox News audience. Check.

2. An audience with grievances and/or fears that the speaker can cultivate

  • Fox News host, Fox News audience. Check.

3. A speech act understood by the audience as a call to violence

  • “We need to kill them. We need to kill them.” Check.

4. A social or historical context propitious for violence – for any of a variety of reasons, including longstanding competition between groups for resources, lack of social or political mechanisms for solving grievances, or previous episodes of violence, especially if they followed inflammatory speech

  • Out-of-control gun violence, previous misplaced revenge attacks on Muslims in America, don’t even get me started on what’s happening in France.  Check, though this is the weakest of the five ticks.  

5. An influential means of dissemination that is the sole or primary source of news for the relevant audience

  • Fox News host, Fox News audience. Check.

By these measures and by my count, Pirro’s remarks absolutely qualify as dangerous hate speech, whether or not they violate the First Amendment’s imminent lawless action test.

Murdoch followed up his “most Moslems” tweet with this gem:

Pirro added in her rant: “…this political correctness will be the death of us.”

Asking Fox News to exhibit a modicum of nuance in its reporting isn’t a call for censorship or for political correctness. It’s a call for responsible, informative reporting from a cable channel that brands itself as news.