Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How Did Fox News Surprise Reza Aslan?

In many interviews Reza Aslan has repeated the refrain that Fox News has "spun" Islamophobia "into ratings gold." In the interview below, Aslan explained in more detail what he experienced during the famous interview that catapulted him into media stardom.    
When you first went through that now-viral Fox News interview, did you think the internet would notice?

Reza looking shocked.
Not at all. I understood what was happening about halfway through the interview, I’ll be honest. I went through the interview thinking that of course they’re going to come out swinging. That’s what Fox News does; that’s why they’re so successful. I expected one, maybe two, questions about my perceived Muslim bias in writing this book. I knew it was going to be an attempt to discredit the book and the academic work behind the book by trying to smear the author. I expected that. What I didn’t expect was ten solid minutes of it. *
This is very interesting. 
  1. First of all, why would Aslan give a Fox News online program the time of day if he never thought "the internet" would notice? 
  2. He says here that he expected Fox News to "come out swinging" with "questions about my perceived Muslim bias," and yet as several sympathetic articles have noted (in the NY Times,  the American Conservative, Big Think, etc.), Aslan lifts his eyebrows high in apparent bewilderment when Green does exactly what he was expecting.  It seems to be this gesture that many people took as barely contained umbrage, and indirectly as evidence of a mistreated scholar unfairly insulted (after all, he looked offended).  And this perceived sleight frames Aslan's explanation about how he is a "prominent Muslim thinker" and how his academic credentials both entitle and require him to write this book about Jesus. (It is his job to do so, he explained.) 
  3. Presumably, the only surprise occurred halfway through the interview (about 5 minutes in).  And presumably, this surprise was that this interview would be "ten solid minutes" of  discrediting his book and its underlying scholarship.  Yet Green let him explain how his academic views  contradict orthodox Islam.  Green asked him to talk about the claims of his book, and then let him present an overview of the argument in his book.  Green then brought up another criticism of his book.  While the interview was a flawed (even botched) attempt to corner a particularly slippery interviewee (and most of the attempts to discredit Green have been extremely flawed as well), to describe it as "ten solid minutes" of ad hominem is not just flawed, it's patently false.   
French journalist Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry observed:
. . . The interviewer quotes Aslan a bit of criticism of his book. Instead of responding, Aslan talks about how his book has a hundred pages of endnotes and is therefore a serious book. First of all, that’s silly. I mean, really. But second of all, answer the damn question. Aslan speaks as if the fact that he has a PhD somehow means that he is beyond criticism, at least from non-PhDs, and certainly from journalists.
Then why go on the interview?
I mean, think about it for a second. There’s about as much chance of Fox News’ audience buying Aslan’s book as there is of it buying Yeezus. So why do the interview?
Well, for this, of course. The interview didn’t ever degenerate—it never “generated” to begin with. Oh sure, Fox News had its own agenda. But Aslan could have played it cool, or presumed good faith at least on the first question. That’s if he hadn’t been coming on the interview just for this. To assume bigotry on the part of Fox News, to talk about his academic bona fides, and therefore to generate a viral moment and juice his book sales.
Well said.  

No comments:

Post a Comment