We are now well into full-blown anti-Muslim hysteria with every right-wing politician trying to outdo each other as to who can come up with the most outrageous suggestion. No suggestion is too bonkers if it has as its basis the idea that all Muslims and immigrants of color, however benign they may seem on the surface, are people who might well have a desire to slit your throat in the night.
Allow only Christian refugees into the country (Jeb! Bush and Ted Cruz)? Create a database of all Muslims (Donald Trump)? Create a database of all immigrants (Ben Carson)? Keep out even orphans under the age of five (Chris Christie)? Keep out all refugees and asylum seekers from predominantly Muslim countries (Rand Paul)? Sure, why not? Because as politicians have discovered, you can’t go far wrong by telling Americans that they have the right to live in a zero-risk world and that anything at all is preferable to risking the life of a single American at the hands of a foreigner, though we can be totally cavalier about the massive death rate at the hands of native-born killers. So powerful is this sense that 47 Democrats defied president Obama and joined with the Republicans in passing a bill that required essentially that unattainable guarantee of zero-risk.
The media have been of little help in fighting this. Glenn Greenwald says that the post-Paris coverage shows the hollowness of the mainstream media’s claim that it prizes objectivity by the way it treated Elise Labott, CNN’s global affairs correspondent, who was suspended for supposedly editorializing in a tweet.
But as he points out her real problem was that she expressed sympathy for refugees at a time when the national mood is to attack them. He says that the message this sends to other journalists is clear.
But there’s a more important point here than CNN’s transparently farcical notion of “objectivity.” In the wake of Paris, an already-ugly and quite dangerous anti-Muslim climate has exploded. The leading GOP presidential candidate is speaking openly of forcing Muslims to register in databases, closing mosques, and requiring Muslims to carry special ID cards. Another, Rand Paul, just introduced a bill to ban refugees almost exclusively from predominantly Muslim and/or Arab countries. Others are advocating exclusion of Muslim refugees (Cruz) and religious tests to allow in only “proven Christians” (Bush).
That, by any measure, is a crisis of authoritarianism. And journalists have historically not only been permitted, but required, to raise their voice against such dangers. Indeed, that is one of the primary roles of journalism: to serve as a check on extremism when stoked by political demagogues.
It’s not hard to envision the impact that this CNN action will have on the next journalist who considers speaking up the way Labott (very mildly) just did: they know doing so could imperil their career. In the face of the kind of emerging extremism now manifest in the U.S. (and Europe), that journalistic climate neuters journalists, renders them impotent and their function largely irrelevant, and — by design or otherwise — obliterates a vital check on tyrannical impulses. But that’s what happens when media outlets are viewed principally as corporate assets rather than journalistic ones: their overriding goal is to avoid saying or doing anything that will create conflict between them and those who wield the greatest power.
Stephen Colbert gave his own take on the anti-refugee hysteria