Although not all opposition to the building of an Islamic community center near the former site of the World Trade Center grows out of anti-Muslim extremism, some of the most fanatical opinions of the project have received sympathetic coverage from Fox News.
As a result, commentators and humorists like Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart have been able to have fun with the fact that the second-largest shareholder in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — the parent company of Fox News — is a Saudi prince who is known for donating to Islamic causes and has given over $300,000 to a project sponsored by the imam behind the community center.
“Is Fox News a terrorist command center?'” Stewart asked mockingly after outlining the connections.
From Fox’s point of view, however, the association may be no laughing matter. Dave Neiwert recently reported at Crooks and Liars that when a Fox affiliate sent a reporter out to “ambush” various minor figures connected with the funding of the community center, the name of Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal was conspicuously absent from the story.
Fox might have reason to be sensitive about its Al-Waleed connection. It has already been getting hammered for it over the past five years by some of the same fervent anti-Muslims who are most deeply involved in the uproar over the “Ground Zero Mosque.”
Al-Waleed’s investment in News Corp. dates to back to at least 1997, when Time magazine did a lengthy profile on him and noted, “Alwaleed told TIME that he now owns about 5% of News Corp., the global media conglomerate run by Rupert Murdoch, making him the second largest individual holder, behind Murdoch.”
It was not until 2005, however, that he appears to have begun using his influence with Murdoch in an attempt to counter the increasingly anti-Muslim tone of much American news coverage.
On December 5, 2005, Middle East Online published an article citing remarks made by Al-Waleed during a panel discussion at a conference in Dubai. In the course of discussing prospects for a peace deal between Israel and the Arabs, he had complained that the US media were “in general … pro-Israel” and suggested that Arabs needed to be more proactive in countering that slant.
He said that during last month’s street protests in France, the US television network Fox — owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in which Al-Walid himself has shares — ran a banner saying: “Muslim riots.”
“I picked up the phone and called Murdoch… (and told him) these are not Muslim riots, these are riots out of poverty,” he said.
“Within 30 minutes, the title was changed from Muslim riots to civil riots.”
The next day, Robert Spencer — the conservative blogger who, in partnership with Pamela Geller, launched the “Stop the 911 Mosque!” offensive last spring — quoted Al-Waleed’s remarks at his Jihad Watch website under the heading, “Saudi Prince to Murdoch: jump. Murdoch to Prince: How high?”
Al-Waleed’s boast was not the only example of a possible pro-Arab bias by Fox News around that time. In February 2006, the News Hounds website noted that Fox News hosts and analysts had been devoting a great deal of air time to promoting the controversial United Arab Emirates port deal and suggested that it could be because Al-Waleed appeared to have a financial interest in seeing the deal go through.
It was Al-Waleed’s own remarks, however, that rankled the most and have been remembered the longest. In December 2008, Spencer accused Fox of being “in the tank” after it ran a series of articles about Israel “deadly Gaza airstrikes” without mentioning Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel — and he reprinted the December 2005 item on Al-Waleed to prove his point.
Spencer is not the only one. Last February, Think Progress ran an item titled “Conservative Activists Rebel Against Fox News: Saudi Ownership Is ‘Really Dangerous For America,'” which noted that Joseph Farah, the publisher of WorldNetDaily, had cited the same 2005 incident when he blasted Fox in a speech delivered at a conservative conference.
Think Progress spoke on the same occasion with Brigitte Gabriel, who has also been deeply involved in agitating against the “Ground Zero Mosque” She took the opportunity to describe a recent interview of Al-Waleed by Fox’s Neil Cavuto as a “darling high school reunion” and to suggest that “Cavuto is interviewing him like a buddy-buddy because he is the boss.”
None of that, of course, prevents Gabriel using Fox News to promote her cause. Her appearance last May with Fox’s Sean Hannity to call the planned community center “a slap in the face to the victims of 9/11 who lost their lives” played an important role in getting the controversy underway.
However, the most complex case may be that of Dr. Paul L. Williams.
In April 2006, a newly-founded anti-Muslim group called America’s Truth Forum presented a symposium titled, “The Underlying Roots Of Terrorism: Terrorism’s Threat to World Peace & National Security.” Robert Spencer and Brigitte Gabriel were among the participants and so was Williams, introduced as the author of Al Queda Connection: International Terrorism, Organized Crime, and the Coming Apocalypse.
Detailed notes on the symposium were published at two websites, Christian Action Network and Foster Friess (which is no longer available online.) According to those accounts, Williams claimed that British agents had found al Qaeda assembling nuclear weapons in Afghanistan in 2000, that a Pakistani al Qaeda agent had attempted to smuggle a 10-kiloton tactical nuke into Israel in 2001, and that al Qaeda had nuclear devices deployed in the United States which might be detonated at any time.
He then went on to tell the audience “that he was a regular guest on Fox News a couple of years ago, but then a Saudi invested heavily in the network, and Fox quit inviting him and ‘sold out.'”
Williams was mistaken in believing that Al-Waleed had become a News Corp. investor only in 2005 — an error that is repeated on many conservative blogs. And it should be noted that he has recently changed his story and is now claiming that he was blackballed by Fox and other networks only after he was sued by McMaster University in Ontario in 2007 for accusing them of harboring “leading al Qaeda operatives” — a claim which the university describes as an “urban myth.”
Williams has, however, continued to attack Fox News. Last March, he wrote an article for his blog, The Last Crusade, titled, “Fox Sellout Update: The Fox Becomes a Hen?” In it, he accused News Corp. of having “surrendered its ‘fair and balanced’ coverage of Islam and events in the Middle East for a fistful of Saudi cash.”
In that piece, Williams appeared particularly incensed that Glenn Beck had recently described the radical Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders as a “fascist.” He complained that “only last year, Mr. Wilders was a popular guest on Fox News,” and pointed out that “Bill OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Reilly formally welcomed him to America and criticized Britain for banning him entry to the ‘hallowed isle.'”
Oddly enough, this article has been deleted from Williams’ website within the last few days, although it remains available elsewhere online. A copy was cached by Google as recently as August 22. Other articles at Williams’ site, written by Joe Kaufman of Americans Against Hate and condemning Fox for “legitimizing” the Council on Islamic-American Relations, appear to have been taken down at the same time.
But even if the anti-Muslim forces are prepared at times to set aside their concerns about Al-Waleed’s influence and make common cause with Fox News, not all conservatives are prepared to be so charitable towards Murdoch’s media empire.
One of those is Chuck Baldwin, the founder of Pensacola Baptist Church in Florida, who broke with the Republican Party during the 2000 presidential campaign and became a regular critic of George W. Bush. In 2008, he was the presidential nominee of the Constitution Party, endorsed by Ron Paul, and he is now criticizing the Tea Party movement for allowing the principles of the “Ron Paul Revolution” to become “diluted and compromised.”
“Palin and Beck may see themselves as part of a conservative ‘movement,'” Baldwin writes, “but they want nothing to do with an old-fashioned, honest-to-God, Patrick Henry-style revolution. In fact, they are doing everything in their power to keep such a revolution from taking place.”
“Get real, folks, and start thinking for yourselves,” he urges. “Ask yourself why Fox News never (or hardly ever) invites non-establishment patriots to appear on their network. Why do you not see former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Paul Craig Roberts on Fox News? Why do you not see former Georgia congressman and Presidential candidate Bob Barr on Fox News? Why do you not see former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura on Fox News?”
He then answers his own questions, asserting, “Fox News is not ‘fair and balanced.’ It is as controlled and manipulated as any other media news network. … The only thing it balances is the other networksÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ infatuation with the Democrat Party, by promoting Republican candidates and ideas. What it does not do is educate and inform the American people with the truth as to what both major parties are doing to destroy our country.”