Here's a story you probably missed last week:
On Tuesday night, The Daily Show did a segment about terrorist groups in the Middle East ... and correspondent Jessica Williams made a joke about a new terrorist super group forming that had "one member each from ISIS, Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, Hamas, One Direction, and the Zetas drug cartel."As a result of this, for quite a while on Friday, four of the top ten trending topics in the U.S. on Twitter were hashtags protesting an insult of One Direction's lone Muslim member that never actually happened:
Most people giggled and chuckled at the satire. Or at the very least they smiled casually.
One Direction fans, however, were livid. And now they are basically asking for Jon Stewart's head on a stick.
Apparently Jessica mentioning One Direction in a bit about terrorists made the fans jump to the conclusion that she was calling member Zayn Malik, who is Muslim, a terrorist....
Do I have to explain the joke? It was in reference to the fact that, out of nowhere, we were suddenly told that ISIS is the most dangerous terrorist organization out there -- and then we were told that, no, the Khorasan Group, some heretofore unknown recombinant form of Al Qaeda, is even more dangerous. The joke has nothing to do with One Direction having a Muslim member. It's quite possible that the joke was written by someone who has no idea that One Direction even has a Muslim member.
I bring this up because what happened to One Direction's fans on this occasion is what happens to Fox News viewers every day. This happened because some fan misunderstood a joke -- or maybe because some publicist decided to create a social media frenzy out of whole cloth. In any case, it's an isolated event. But at Fox, group hysteria like this isn't an isolated event -- it's a regular occurrence, and it's the result of a deliberate media strategy.
In recent days, for instance, Fox News commentator Ralph Peters has argued that U.S. airstrikes in Syria are being conducted at night because Preident Obama doesn't actually want to kill any terrorists. Panelists on Fox & Friends have suggested that an essay by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a former health care adviser to the White House, about how he personally would prefer not to live past age 75 is a sign that "death panels" could be coming to American health care. Fox Nation is asserting that the Oklahoma beheading suspect is linked to Al Qaeda because the mosque attended by the suspect was run by an imam with ties to an Al Qaeda leader, even though that imam left long before the suspect attended the mosque. The spread of rage-inducing disinformation at Fox is relentless.
I'll say a couple of things on behalf of the teenage girls who misunderstood that Daily Show joke. First, they're young. It's not surprising that they reacted impulsively. The (much, much) older Fox audience doesn't have that excuse.
Also, you've got to give them credit: they know that "Muslim" is not a synonym for "terrorist."
#TheDailyShowGoneTooFar tf you seriously? Do you know what you're talking about? You can't just call someone a terrorist just bc he's muslim— I love/need u cal (@O2lCloudNarry) September 26, 2014
Zayn is such a good person and he never did and never will do anything to deserve this he's a muslim, not a terroist #thedailyshowgonetoofar— ☆J loves N 231Days☆ (@jeniall97) September 26, 2014
But it's way too easy to use media to get people to believe things that aren't true. This Daily Show freakout probably happened because of a mistake. But at Fox, creating such freakouts is policy.