Smith: If this is the future of journalism, I don’t want to be involved

Jessica Smith

Jessica SmithWell, there’s always comfort in consistency. Possibly aiming to set a record, Fox News has managed once again to offend the country.

In a recent “Spirited Debate” interview, reporter Lauren Green spoke with religious scholar and author of “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” Reza Aslan. The embarrassing and cringe-worthy array of questions that followed had very little to do with the actual book, and more to do with Aslan’s Muslim faith and his right to discuss Christianity.

Dismissing the fact that Aslan has four degrees, including a PhD in the sociology of religions, Green continued to hammer him with discriminatory inquiries formed by equally incompetent panelists. Although strung together with different words and confusing analogies, each question computed to, “Why would a Muslim write about Christianity?”

Apparently, the experts at Fox learned their investigative tactics from “Mean Girls’” Karen Smith: “So if you’re from Africa, why are you white?”

The whole thing began to resemble a “Saturday Night Live” parody as accusations rolled in that Aslan’s faith made him inherently biased, that his information was falsely parading as original and that he had made attempts to hide his beliefs from the public. The claims were quickly trashed when Aslan pointed out his hundreds of citations and endnotes, as well as his mention of being Muslim on the second page of “Zealot” – which Green evidently hadn’t bothered to read.

As a budding teenage journalist, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a very limited knowledge of the business. That’s why I’m paying for an education instead of, let’s say, interviewing accredited authors on controversial religious texts.

However, if someone were foolish enough to give me the kind of power that Big Four television networks grant, I would like to believe I would at least read a brief synopsis of a guest author’s work before declaring a witch hunt.

While the well-paid reporters at Fox probably sat around patting each other on the back for their groundbreaking discovery that an Iranian-American man named Reza Aslan was Muslim, viewers waited somewhat patiently for a point that would never be made.

It’s that sort of displaced responsibility that fuels the fire of Fox News. Their craving for gotcha journalism overshadows the possibility of reporting substantial news to inspire forums of intelligent debate among viewers. They rely on big reveals and play off misguided fears to deliver some semblance of shock and awe. But where is the journalistic integrity in that?

“Zealot” explores the idea that Jesus was a Jewish peasant who raised a rebellion against the Romans to overturn the aristocratic upper class and seize the political future of Israel. If anyone had bothered to do his or her homework, a serious and thought-provoking conversation could have been conducted about the historical findings alone.

Sadly, another opportunity was missed in the newsroom in favor of the discriminatory persecution that made Fox News relevant in the wake of 9/11. Their bigotry has been losing young viewers for some time, and this latest humiliation can only make matters worse.

Even Aslan is able to maintain his composure regarding a situation too ridiculous to be taken seriously.

“When you’re a brown Muslim from Iran talking about Jesus on TV, you need to keep your cool at all times,” Aslan said in an interview with Kevin Cassidy of The Hollywood Reporter. “If there’s anything that I really hope will happen from this inadvertent viral situation, it is that the veil will have been lifted…and they will see what this news network is all about.”

The real victims of the story are the hardworking journalists behind the scenes at Fox that keep losing face from the rambling right-wing programs that dominate primetime. The network itself is a well-oiled machine that happens to have a few manic figureheads behind the wheel, attracting bad press like a magnet.

I’d like to believe that this incident is truly rock bottom, but something tells me Fox has a long way to fall before it decides to change direction towards bipartisan news without an agenda. While we anxiously await their maturation, we can at least amuse ourselves with their crazy, crumbling demise.

Jessica Smith can be reached at jessicasmith@temple.edu

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