The New York Times, perhaps stung by conservative criticism of its timid coverage of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, went along with the liberal masses in mocking Fox News, based on a tweet by Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox (which owns Fox News), and an exaggerated claim by a Fox News analyst. Meanwhile, the Times' own cowardly coverage of the Charlie Hebdo massacre continued.
The unconfined glee came through in the sniping article by Times reporters Stephen Castle and Robert Mackey. The Times' judged its shallow, news-deprived attack on another news organization not just blog-worthy, but print-worthy, placing it on Page 8 of the Tuesday edition: "Fox News Beats a Retreat After Gaffes About Islam."
First, the owner of the Fox News Channel incited an outpouring of ridicule for suggesting that all followers of Islam must take responsibility for the Paris attacks. Then the Fox pundit who is a self-described terrorism expert caused a second wave of stunned disbelief, asserting that some parts of Europe -- including Britain’s city of Birmingham -- have become so Islamic they are off limits to non-Muslims.
By the time the weekend was over, Rupert Murdoch, the chief executive of 21st Century Fox, the owner of Fox News, and the channel’s pundit, Steven Emerson, had retreated. Mr. Emerson went further, issuing an apology to the people of Birmingham, where residents had posted hundreds of jokes via Twitter about his false claims.
Given the British counter-tweeters half-credit for witty ripostes, which the Times eagerly forwarded:
Using the hashtag #foxnewsfacts, Twitter users poked fun at the network by suggesting other things it might also have said: that the name of the city had been shortened to Birming because Muslims do not eat ham; that the nearby town of Alcester “used to be known simply as Cester until all the Muslims conquered Birmingham”; that photos of Queen Elizabeth II and Margaret Thatcher in scarves meant they were observing Muslim law; that the checkered cloth coverings of jam jars showed that even homemade preserves “have to wear hijab.”
In the interview with Jeanine Pirro of Fox News, broadcast on Sunday, Mr. Emerson said that in Britain, “there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim, where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.”
Mr. Emerson also said, “In parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound, seriously, anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.”
In his mea culpa, Mr. Emerson promised to make a donation to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital.
The reactions to Mr. Murdoch’s assertions about Muslims were less charitable.
He posted a message Friday on Twitter that appeared to assign collective blame to all Muslims for the deadly assaults in Paris, asserting that they must be held responsible “until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer.” Members of other religious faiths responded with a mix of rage and ridicule.
“I was born Christian,” wrote J.K. Rowling, the author, on her Twitter account. “If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate.” Another prominent author, Matt Haig, wrote on his Twitter account: “On behalf of white people I’d like to apologize for Rupert Murdoch.”
The Times used a fascinating word to characterize Murdoch's walk-back:
On Sunday, Mr. Murdoch appeared to show some measure of repentance by joining those who had praised Ahmed Merabet, the French police officer killed on camera by an Islamic militant who had helped carry out the deadly assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical newspaper. In a Twitter message, Mr. Murdoch wrote: “Extraordinary scenes in Paris today, but do not forget the heroic sacrifice of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer whose funeral was today.”
While Birmingham is of course not completely Muslim, the Times didn't even mention its own recent, disturbing reporting on extremist Muslim indoctrination in Birmingham schools.
Proving that not all media gaffes are equal at the Times, the paper has yet to mention the ridiculous claim by a guest on the left-wing cable network MSNBC that, as my colleague Matthew Balan noted, "cited Jerry Falwell's lawsuit against porn magazine Hustler in the 1980s as an apparent example of 'religious fundamentalists of all stripes and of nationalities have this penchant to say, we want to be able tell you what you can and can't portray,'" suggesting moral equivalence between that incident (which produced no fatalities) and the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Meanwhile, the Times' own cowardly coverage continued, in Saturday's piece by architecture writer David Dunlap on the history of an old statue of Muhammad taken down from a Manhattan courthouse years ago. An excerpt:
It would have given great offense, had anyone known it was there.
“They probably didn’t know he was there,” George T. Campbell, the chief clerk of the Appellate Division, First Department, said in 1955, when the statue was finally removed out of deference to Muslims, to whom depictions of the prophet are an affront.
(For the same reason, The New York Times has chosen not to publish photographs of the statue with this article.)
After quoting a Times story from 2006 (which did feature a picture of the statue, albeit from the back) hinting enigmatically that it was last seen "lying on its side in a stand of tall grass somewhere in New Jersey," Dunlap underlined the paper's cowering stance:
If the statue is still out there, however, now would not seem to be the moment to uncover it.
Many free-speech advocates would respond that now would be precisely the right moment to uncover it.
Tuesday's paper actually included a solid story by Rachel Donadio, "Charlie Hebdo's New Issue Has Muhammad on the Cover," without including an image of the story's actual subject.