Fox News’ right wing bias got more attention than usual recently when religion correspondent Lauren Green interviewed author and religious scholar Reza Aslan on his new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. The thrust of the interview can be summed up in Green’s first question and Aslan’s response.
GREEN: You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?
ASLAN: Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament with fluency in Biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades who also just happens to be a Muslim.
The rest of the interview was mostly a repeating of that question and that answer.
After getting thrashed all over the internet for that line of questioning, and the tacit assumption that a Muslim would have to have some sort of ulterior motives to right a book about Christ, the Fox News Empire struck back. The “fair and balanced” network brought on Brent Bozell, President of the Media Research Center, to attack Aslan and defend Green.
BOZELL: It was the exact correct question that needed to be asked. She had every right to ask him, 'Do you have a bias? Are you being influenced by your faith to write what you're writing?' He should have said, first and foremost, said, 'Yes I am.' To deny it shows the aloof arrogance of 'How dare she even ask that question?’
Three things. First: Bozell, like Green, assumes that Aslan’s Muslim faith would bias him against Christianity. Does Islam help shape how Aslan thinks and interprets the world? Undoubtedly. Does that affect his scholarship? Well, that’s a question that would require one to read Zealot, something neither I or Bozell has done. But the idea that Muslims necessarily carry an “us vs. them” attitude toward other religions is both prejudicial and exactly what both Green and Bozell are doing.
Second thing: Let’s say you still think Green’s question was a worthy one. Perhaps we could phrase the same query in a less adversarial way. Aslan answered the question: he said he’s not writing this book as a Muslim, he’s writing it as a scholar. That answer is apparently not acceptable or not credible to Green and (especially) Bozell.
Third thing: In defending Green and attacking Aslan and his “liberal media” defenders, Bozell goes for character attacks. Bozell calls Aslan “aloof” and “arrogant,” and Green “a good person.” Character attacks and defenses are what people go to when they can’t account for that person’s actions in a satisfying way. The character, they hope, nullifies the action.
On that third point, let me join in on the fun. Fox News has a character too: it’s right-wing, anti-tax, ignores inconvenient information, self-promoting, snooty, snobbish, full of contempt and formulaic. The Aslan interview and the follow-up to it have only reinforced that image.