Fantastic Fail at Fox

One of the things I really appreciate about being a journalist is that you can cover many different topics.  I’ve covered random things from pee-wee sports to international development to eyebrows to recovering lost pets.  Yes, when you pay your dues you have a strict beat – the school board, a certain neighborhood, a losing hockey team in the third poorest city in the country.

But after a while your beat grows into a Dave Brubeck covered by Miles Davis jazz riff, rather than the metronomic dictation of death by excel.  If you get high enough up the journalism food chain, your beat becomes a very vague or large concept, like my brother’s – which is parts of MENA or, say, religion. As of 2010, 84 percent of the world’s population (5.8 billion people) was religiously affiliated, mainly divided among 8 groups which included Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindi, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and others, including indigenous faiths.[1]

In her interview with scholar Reza Aslan, Lauren Green of Fox News commits several fails in terms of the journalism expected of someone as educated as she is, and who is at the professional level she is. Professionally, there is an expectation that she would have researched Aslan and his book, looking for pros and cons in his argument, examining his background and reading all available information on him.  She stopped at his faith – Islam. Aslan clearly calls her out on this in several ways.

Not only does Aslan suggest that Green read the book at some point[2] but within two minutes into the interview he is opining on a critical factor of both academia and journalism. “ Because it is my job [to know about Christianity as well as Islam] as an academic.  I am a Professor of Religion, including the New Testament.”  Implicit in his tone is the expectation that there is a need in his profession as well as hers, for no bias or as little bias as possible. And that this ethical obligation also should exclude his faith, as Green seems more preoccupied with why a Muslim would write about Jesus, than the opinions offered in the book.

When Green challenges Aslan on disclosing his faith (he contends it’s on page 2, she contends he doesn’t openly admit to being a Muslin in media), the Religion professor subtly raises an attack on the bias with which she confronted him.  He not only suggests its unfair to assume an agenda because of faith, but also challenges the reporter to find media where his faith is not mentioned.  Green has no problem mentioning his faith, yet FoxNews would not return a call or email asking what Green’s own faith, or denomination is.  Based on the fact that her blog is conservative and fundamental in her position on the bible, she goes a little farther right that the 26 percent of Minnesotans (her home state) who are mainline Protestants[3].

Later in the interview, Green mentions “several scholars” who she has interviewed whose points differ from Aslan’s.  This is a totally acceptable interview technique, if you have those points and the scholarly credentials at your fingertips.  Green did not.  She also quotes a comment left on as a contradictory expert viewpoint to Aslan’s. Would you interview Bill Belichick after a loss and quote some armchair quarterback who left an anti-Belichick comment on a fantasy football board?

Green eschews her solid professional background to engage in the Palin Model (But I’m a Beauty Pageant Winner!) to continue to build her faulty argument.  She compares a Muslim writing about Christianity and Jesus, to the sheer insanity of “a Democrat promoting democracy writing about a Republican.”  She won’t be interviewing Doris Kearn Godwin (Team of Rivals) any time soon.

[1] Drawn from The Global Religious Landscape, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

[2] Bear Grylls media survival tip here – ideally, if you’re going to interview on a book, read it before the interview happens.

[3] Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

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