THE BLOG

This Fox News Muslim Birmingham Blunder Isn't All Laughs

12/01/2015 14:40 GMT | Updated 14/03/2015 09:59 GMT

The latest Fox News blunder has been all over UK news. As soon as I saw that a Fox "terror expert" had claimed Birmingham was exclusively Muslim, so much so that non-Muslims won't even enter, I buried my face in my hands. Not just because it's hate-mongering nonsense but because I'm an American living in the UK. While it's generally accepted that Fox News is a "festival of ignorance" as Lee Camp put so well, and therefore doesn't represent any American with a brain or a passport, incidents like these will shape some people's views of Americans because generalisations are easy and people are lazy. I'm not complaining- I'm lucky that I'm a young, white, American woman so the worst generalisations about me are that own 7 guns or love pumpkin spiced lattes rather than people, you know, accusing me of religious extremism or assuming I'm violent and that it's okay for police officers to shoot me without consequences. As far as generalizations go, I drew the long straw. But it makes me hyper-sensitive to how US news is reported in the UK compared to back home and I rarely like what I find.

As soon as the Fox News story broke the (UK-based) internet launched into action with tweets, Facebook rants, and articles- everything from bad puns and funny #foxnewsfacts tweets to serious coverage in major UK papers. It's a circus and, in a way, rightfully so. It's was so ludicrously and laughably wrong that it deserves to be satirized. But there's another side to this. I was speaking to my mother, who lives in the States, this morning and asked her if she had heard about the Fox News mess up. She hadn't because (thankfully) she never watches Fox News. But she does watch the news, every morning as she's bustling getting ready for work, different channels depending on her mood. But she hadn't heard it. This isn't the first time I've heard of a big-US screw up not making it to the US mainstream coverage. I did a bit of looking around and despite being all over our feeds in the UK, at the time of writing I found no mention of it on the landing pages of New York Times, CNN, the US Huffington Post and even though it was listed as one of the most read stories on the US version of the Guardian, it was not mentioned anywhere on the US landing page. Perhaps this is unsurprising- discussing a US-based gaffe has a fun smug factor in the UK and Brits like nothing better than feeling superior (I include ex-Pats in this, of course, why else did we move here?). Plus, it deals with UK cities so obviously the story will be bigger in the UK. So what's the big deal? The big deal is while we all can throw up our hands at Fox News being so far out there it's a joke, more people in the US will hear this comment than will hear its retraction and the apology attached- the full impact of these comments isn't limited to the laugh we get at Steve Emerson's expense.

Yes, a lot of people in the US will hear and have already heard about this and how ridiculous it - younger, more political and tech-savvy people than some of my family. And this blunder will get even more coverage- it will surely get called out by Stewart or Colbert. That's not what I'm worried about. I'm worried about those on the more apolitical side of things who won't hear the scandal and the apology but who will hear a garbled version of the story secondhand. People who get their information from friends with the "did you see on the news...?" prefix, but no explanation as to what news it was. It's not that I think anyone with a brain will believe there is an exclusively Muslim UK city that non-Muslims are scared to enter. But what about the less quoted bit of the comment? About areas of London that are run by Muslim police who physically assault people that don't follow certain dress codes? Maybe there are some people that would believe that, probably not- but the idea that some people in London have been assaulted by Muslims for not dressing a certain way? That's a version of this story that will be passed on, a warped snippet that will survive the circus. And people will believe that. It's wrong. It's a lie. But's a lie people will believe- it's a lie some people are waiting to believe.

I 100% agree with the lambasting and jokes surrounding these comments - the comments embody a reality so screwed up we have to throw our hands up and laugh to keep from crying. But we can't forget comments like this also fuels that reality, that today's violent race and religious fault-lines are created by comments like these and the damage they do. Let's make jokes to keep ourselves sane, we need to, but let's not forget that we also need to try and fix the damage done.