As legal defenses go, this one leaves a bit to be desired.
California defense attorney Michael Malowney asked a San Diego judge to be lenient in sentencing his client, John David Weissinger, for a series of violent threats against the Council on American-Islamic Relations, because Weissinger was under the influence of alcohol — and Fox News.
Weissinger, to his credit, appeared to stare with open skepticism as his attorney argued that the San Diego man had made the threats following the terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris "after a week of watching Fox News, over and over." The outrage on the news channel, combined with alcohol and anxiety, Malowney insisted, provoked Weissinger's threats: "He barks when he's drunk."
Weissinger pleaded guilty last year to making the threats against the CAIR office; he also pleaded guilty to a gun charge. The local CBS News affiliate, KFMB, reports that a female victim testified at trial that Weissinger called the local CAIR office and left a voicemail threatening to shoot her and her colleagues. When police later searched his home, they found an illegal assault rifle.
Unsurprisingly, the judge rejected Malowney's argument that Weissinger was a good man who had been temporarily led astray by the evils of cable news. He denied the defense's request for leniency and sentenced Weissinger to a year in prison and five years' probation.
"I was under the influence of Fox News" isn't a defense. But Islamophobia on cable news is indeed out of control.
Let's be absolutely clear: Weissinger is responsible for his own actions. It would be absurd to suggest that Fox News was somehow the primary cause of his criminal actions, or that his threats were an inevitable result of Fox's coverage.
But the fact that Malowney even thought this argument had a shot suggests the degree to which Fox News, and cable TV more broadly, is seen as stirring up Islamophobia. As Max Fisher has covered extensively for Vox, Islamophobia is rampant on American cable news in general. But the Fox News coverage in the week following the Charlie Hebdo attacks featured truly breathtaking levels of anti-Muslim hatred.
The channel devoted multiple segments to the totally false claim that there were Muslim-run "no-go zones" in Europe where immigrants had imposed hard-line Sharia law. Fox host Jeanine Pirro delivered an unhinged seven-minute monologue in which she called for the mass murder of Islamists.
"We need to kill them. We need to kill them," she said. "Our job is to arm those [non-Islamist] Muslims to the teeth, give them everything they need to take out these Islamic fanatics, let them do the job, and when they do, we need to simply look the other way."
The message was delivered clearly and relentlessly: Muslims are dangerous. They threaten this country and liberal democracies around the world. Something must be done.
That is a problem regardless of whether it actually provokes unhinged criminals like Weissinger to threaten terrorist violence.