Beliefs Brian Pellot: On Freedom Culture Ethics Institutions Opinion

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

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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.

About the author

Brian Pellot

Brian Pellot is based in Cape Town, South Africa.


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  • I take it that Kevin Eckstrom is not jonesing for appearances on Fox (and that PBS has not figured out or does not care what Religion News Service actually is).

    Flagrantly silly article.

  • “Asking Fox News to exhibit a modicum of sensitivity and 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.”

    Well,cohere you have the whole problem.

    The first sentence is a total contradiction of the second.

  • And, just what is wrong with killing the “radical Muslim terrorists”??? How else are we going to deal with them? We had to kill enough of the Germans until they surrendered unconditionally, and we need to do the same with the Moslem aggressors who declared war on us unbelievers 1400 years ago. The judge is absolutely correct. This does not mean that we have to kill all Moslems, just like we did not have to kill all Germans 70 years ago. Let’s face it. We are at war whether we like it or not. We did not declare it; Islam did. We need to recognize that fact and deal with it responsibly.

  • Fawaz, I agree that those who use the teachings of islam to justify behavior that is not in accordance with the rest of humanity unfortunately must be dealt with. Also unfortunate is that that the position they take is such that they leave no room for compromise of any kind.
    However, that is quite different than to say “We did not declare it; Islam did. We need to recognize that fact and deal with it responsibly” Their are millions of muslims who do not condone the behavior of these radicals, so to paint all of islam as being at fault is not correct, and is not dealing with it responsibly. It would be similar to say that the west borough baptist church represents all of christianity, which it does not. My preference would be that all religions go into the dustbin of history, but that is not going to happen today. So, we must deal with those who’s faith based beliefs have negative impact on the lives of others. This not only includes radical islamists, but radical chrsitians, radical buddhists, etc…

  • Strictly speaking, you’re right. We didn’t declare war on radical Islam. Congress hasn’t declared war since Pearl Harbor, despite the large number of wars we have been in.

    Nevertheless, we destabilized the entire Middle East with our undeclared wars in Iraq,afghanistan, and our military non-war actions in Libya, Syria, and so forth. We supported Saddam in Iraq, switching sides back and forth between him and Al Qaeda depending on our targets.

    We will continue to pay the price for that for some years to come.

  • There is not even a shred of untruth to anything Pirro declared. The idiocy of not being able to see the history past and present of islamic tyranny is killing innocent people all over the world STILL. Some of them are even Muslim.

    Pirro is great and no one is her prophet.

  • Sorry Brian. But you’re being naive. Pirro is right. Political correctness and feminism vs. islam are (which are diametrically opposed ideologies) just proves that a divided house CANNOT STAND. Everyone is so concerned with “hate speech”. Its GOOD to HATE what is BAD. Its GOOD to hate EVIL. Its GOOD to HATE LAWLESSNESS. It is GOOD to HATE IMMORALITY. It is GOOD to HATE WICKEDNESS. These evils are ACTUALLY being perpetrated around the globe and your worried about “hate speech”? You’re a fool. It will be your undoing.

  • 3 Muslims have been killed, will FoxNews be called to answer for this garbage? they’re spinning the propaganda wheel and calling it a dispute over parking. Hmmmm.