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Fox News host: at least Steve Bannon isn’t ISIS

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

This is an actual chart that Fox News host Tucker Carlson put up on air, repeatedly, on the Wednesday night episode of his highly-rated show:

(Fox News)

Steve Bannon: At least he’s not ISIS!

The context doesn’t make it much better

This chart is part of a Carlson interview with David Mastio, USA Today’s deputy editorial page editor. The newspaper had recently published an editorial alleging that Bannon and Baghdadi shared a belief that there was a civilizational divide between the West and the Islamic world, and that this would inevitably lead to conflict.

This, to be clear, is a defensible and easily supportable claim based on Bannon’s own statements. In a 2014 address reported by BuzzFeed, Bannon said he believed the West was “at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.”

“If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing,” he said. “I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places … It bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.”

The rest of Bannon’s comments in the speech made clear that he believes there is a longstanding, civilizational conflict between the Muslim world and Western civilization. It’s easy to understand how that kind of rhetoric could be used by ISIS to justify a central part of its propaganda: that Western societies are fundamentally hostile to Islam.

The comparisons can only be taken so far. Bannon is obviously not a mass murderer like Baghdadi, nor the head of a movement that has tried to exile or exterminate large parts of Iraq’s Shiite, Christian, and Yazidi communities, often using beheadings and other forms of extreme violence. (USA Today did not allege that he did those things.)

On his show, Carlson pointed to those differences to argue that it was simply wrong to make any comparison whatsoever between what Bannon believes and what ISIS leaders believe.

“I want to put up on the screen the record of Bannon and al-Baghdadi,” Carlson said. “I don’t think Bannon had murdered a single Yazidi … comparing him to the head of ISIS is over the top.”

Of course, as Mastio notes, they weren’t comparing Bannon and Baghdadi as people. It was comparing a single facet of their worldviews, and arguing that adopting the same “clash of civilizations” narrative as ISIS helps Baghdadi spread his message of hate and his calls to violence.

Carlson knows this, and is almost certainly just trolling to generate outrage and attention. And fine, I concede — I wrote this article.

But this ends up revealing more than it intends. We are now in a world where the most mainstream of mainstream publications, USA Today, is comparing the ideas of a chief policymaker in the US government to those of ISIS. And Fox News’ rebuttal to this comparison is that he is not, personally, a murderer. That’s a very, very low bar to clear.

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