No, Fox News Does Not Inspire Terrorism

POLITICS & POLICY
Cesar Sayoc appears in a federal court in Miami, Fla., October 29, 2018. (Daniel Pontet/Reuters)

Cesar Sayoc is the maniac who pleaded guilty in March to mailing improvised explosive devices to 13 people.

According to the Washington Post, Sayoc’s lawyers have filed a sentencing memo citing one of the sources of his radicalization: Fox News. “Mr. Sayoc was an ardent Trump fan and, when Trump announced he was running for President, Mr. Sayoc enthusiastically supported him,” write assistant federal defenders Sarah Baumgartel, Amy Gallicchio and Ian Marcus Amelkin in a submission requesting a lenient sentence of no more than 121 months in prison. “He began watching Fox News religiously at the gym, planning his morning workout to coincide with Fox and Friends and his evenings to dovetail with Hannity.”

I was reminded of the late-90s schlocky horror film Scream 2, where the murderer explains that he’s already planning his defense for trial:

I’m gonna blame the movies. Pretty coo, huh? It hasn’t been done before. You see, this is just the beginning, a prelude to the trial. Cause, see that’s where the real fun is ’cause these days it’s all about the trial. Can you see it? The effects of cinema violence on society. I’ll get Dershowitz or Cochran to represent me. Bob Dole on the witness stand in my defense. Hell, the Christian Coalition’ll pay my legal fees. It’s air tight Sid. I’m an innocent victim.

Millions upon millions of people watch Fox News and are not inspired to send letter bombs. When someone does something violent, the usual suspects are always eager to blame the culture they consumed: violent video games or movies, heavy-metal music, Dungeons and Dragons . . .

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Erik Wemple doesn’t blame Fox News for Sayoc, but he offers the network a pointed question:

Fox News is the country’s No. 1 cable news network, with millions of regular viewers and an indeterminate number of superfans. Sayoc doesn’t represent this group; he is an outlier, a perpetrator of domestic terrorism . . . Such caveats notwithstanding, the sentencing memo sends a pointed message to Fox News: A confessed domestic terrorist found comfort in your programming. His targets overlapped with the people vilified on your air. What do you have to say about this?

Back during the baseball field shooting in 2o17, I argued that Bernie Sanders was not responsible for the shooter’s actions, and that as much as conservatives might relish that opportunity to blame Sanders, it would eventually backfire. “The more likely outcome is that the Left takes this argument on the Right as concurrence, and moves to restrict political rhetoric, particularly that of conservatives, because of the now bipartisan agreement that rhetoric incites violence.”

So how long until someone starts demanding censorship of Fox News on the grounds that it “inspires terrorists”?

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