Misinformation in Action: Fox News and the TSA “Muslim Exemption”
Following up on my post yesterday about the effectiveness of false rumors about the Park 51 project, today comes news of another example of misinformation tactics in action.
Specifically, in the last week conservative pundits have stoked the false belief that Muslim women will be exempt from the TSA’s controversial new pat-down procedures. Like the Park 51 rumors, this myth has caught on because it preys on people’s fears about terrorism and confirms existing right-wing attacks of the Obama administration as favoring Muslims over “real Americans.”
As TPM notes, the tale stems from a travel advisory put out by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) advising Muslim women on their rights during security checks. The advisory includes a note that women who undergo additional screening because of their hijabs have the right to request that the extra procedure be limited to that specific area.
Whether unintentionally or not, conservatives have chosen to read this as a request for a full exemption from all security measures, and see the administration’s openness toward finding reasonable accommodations where possible as proof of a secret conspiracy.
From there the story circulated around right-wing forums and blogs, ultimately making its inevitable debut on Fox News’s The Sean Hannity Show on November 16th and the following day in a particularly unpleasant segment with Dennis Miller on The O’Reilly Factor.
To their credit, TSA officials are hard at work trying to debunk this myth, posting a fact-check on their blog and mentioning it in public appearances.
Here’s TSA director John Pistole on MSNBC’s Hardball last week setting the record straight.
SMERCONISH: All right. Here’s another one that I hear from radio callers, the Muslim garb exception. You may not even know what I’m talking about. But if someone approaches a TSA checkpoint and they’re wearing, by a way of example, a burqa, what’s the drill?
PISTOLE: Everybody goes through the same process. So whatever their ethnicity or religious beliefs which I’m sensitive to and appreciate, the bottom line is people are treated the same in terms of either going through the advanced image technology if that’s available or the walk-through metal detector. And if they alert, then they have to have that alert resolved, and the best way of doing that is through a thorough pat down.
SMERCONISH: No free rides, right, Mr. Pistole?
PISTOLE: That’s correct.
While it’s impossible to control what false rumors gain popularity on the Internet here’s hoping that respectable media outlets and elected leaders refuse to further legitimize or foster this misinformation.