Opinion: Author interview represents new low

August 4, 2013


No it was not the most excruciating thing ever seen on television. We’ve seen worse.

We’ve seen Roseanne singing the national anthem, Magic Johnson hosting a talk show and Paris Hilton, existing. But if it’s not number one on that list of god-awful TV, author Reza Aslan’s recent interview with Lauren Green of Fox “News” is surely in the top 10.

Google it if you haven’t seen it. Or just ask some woman to rake her fingernails down a chalkboard for 10 minutes. Same difference.

Over and over again, speaking in the honeyed, patient tone you’d use to instruct a slow child, Aslan answers the question that has been put to him by reciting his bona fides. He is a historian. He is an expert on the New Testament. He is fluent in Biblical Greek. He holds four degrees. He has spent 20 years researching the origins of Christianity. The study of religion is his job.

And over and over again, doing her best imitation of Mike Wallace pinning miscreants to the wall (if Mike Wallace had shilled for a company of right-wing propagandists playacting at journalism) Green keeps bringing him back to what she regards as the central issue: “You’re a Muslim,” she informs him, “so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?”

The book in question is “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,” a search for the historicity of the itinerant rabbi who founded the biggest religion on Earth. On that basis, you’d expect it to be controversial. Green, however, seems less vexed by the book’s content than by its author’s faith.

“Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?” she asks.

And, “You’re not just writing about a religion from a point of view of an observer.”

And, “You’ve been on several programs and never disclosed that you’re a Muslim.” To which Aslan replies that his religion is disclosed on the second page of the book and in every media interview he’s ever done.

It goes on like that for 10 cringe-inducing minutes. At some point, you find yourself drifting in a stupor of disbelief, amusing yourself by imagining how Green might have interviewed other authors in history:

“John Steinbeck, you’re from California. Why did you write about people from Oklahoma?”

“Tom Wolfe, you’re no astronaut. Why did you write about astronauts?”

“Alexis de Tocqueville, you’re a Frenchman. Why did you write about the United States?”

That’s the subtext of Green’s interview, after all, the idea that one must belong to a given tribe before one may write about that tribe. But of course, that’s not quite what she’s saying, is it? No, that stricture only applies if one is a Muslim.

For all their professed abhorrence of so-called “identity politics,” it is for many conservatives an article of faith that if one’s identity includes Islam, that fact trumps everything else: character, upbringing, beliefs, politics or fluency in Biblical Greek. Think Glenn Beck asking a Muslim congressman to prove he is not in league with America’s enemies. Think Michele Bachmann accusing an aide to the secretary of state of terrorist ties.

You are your tribe. More to the point, you are the worst iteration of your tribe, the scapegoat for all our fears of your tribe.

So Fox’s mugging of Aslan was an embarrassment, but hardly a surprise. The nation seems to have grown uncomfortably comfortable with the sort of “thinking” from which it proceeded.

The encounter drove Aslan’s book to the top of the Amazon best-sellers list, which is good news for him. But the better news is that he lives in a country where the right to follow any line of scholarship he wants is carved in stone, regardless of how he conceives God. There is a word for that:


Lauren Green should look it up.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


Pheps 4 years, 10 months ago

In light of Pitts and Aslan's opinions cannot be questioned? Because they are experts? Especially, when a an expert reporter, a girl, is asking for the credibility, or the validity of their accusations?

I suspect Green intuitively realizes Aslan and likewise Pitts, are birds of a feather and need to be questioned for credibility's sake.

Kathy Theis-Getto 4 years, 10 months ago

Expert reporter? Credentials, please, or does she just get her opinions and academics from hubby Weiner?

gatekeeper 4 years, 10 months ago

Oh good grief!!! Watch the interview. Read this book and others he's written. If you'd actually watch the terrible interview, you'd see that he tells her his credentials and why he's an expert.

She is no professional reporter. She's a pretty girl with a degree that's good at reading from cards and spitting out the typical nonsense found on Faux news.

I am a huge history buff and believe me, Aslan is one of the leaders in Biblical history. Guess what? I'm not a Christian, but really enjoy middle eastern history. I guess I should be questioned why I would want to read anything about Biblical history since I don't believe Jesus is the lord and savior.

Seriously, watch it and then remove your post when you see how dumb your comment is.

Abdu Omar 4 years, 10 months ago

Because of this article, I watched the interview in question and I was appalled at the lack of understanding this woman had of what Aslan wrote about. Obviously she didn't read the book and if she wanted to interview him, she should have.

Her problem was that she couldn't believe a Muslim would be interested in Jesus, peace be with him, even on a scholarly level. He didn't write the book about the religious aspect of Jesus but the historical man. And, what is most interesting, he doesn't agree with the Islamic perspective, but has his own view of the events of those times. If he had simply restated Islamic points of view, her attacks would be less offensive, but he looks at the life of Jesus, peace be with him, from the scholarly point of view. She should have taken him at his word and interviewed him from that standpoint.

weeslicket 4 years, 10 months ago

"...which in his opinion, is intended to paint Jesus as just some ordinary guy and a "zealot", thereby marginalizing Christianity..."

not correct. actually, completely false.

and such is the basic problem with fox propaganda.

weeslicket 4 years, 10 months ago

i have also seen this interview. and wounded soldier's statements are wholly supported, as are mr. pitts's.

i have long understood that even though the channel is called fox news, a more honest name would be fox entertainment (which is what supporters of fox often remind us: the show is about entertainment). even more appropriate would be fox propaganda: let us not forget that they have "the legal right to lie".

one might think that the producers and viewers of the channel would be embarrassed by this interview, but maybe not. perhaps the author, who was exceedingly patient and informative, will be invited to PBS News Hour for a real interview.

in the meantime, fox entertainment continues to imitate The Onion.

Armstrong 4 years, 10 months ago

MSNBC is basically the "news" version of Jerry Springer. The only reason to watch is the WTF factor.

skull 4 years, 10 months ago

The same thing can be said of FOX, and anybody that gets their news solely from said sources is clueless. It's funny to me that the FOX crowd feels so threatened by MSNBC even though nobody watches it.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 10 months ago

As long as there are ads on a news show,we are watching an entertainment show.

Liberty275 4 years, 10 months ago

It sounds like the reporter was out of her league. She should have just gone for the throat and asked what was the difference between Jesus Christ and David Koresh.

rtwngr 4 years, 10 months ago

Asian did misrepresent his educational background claiming to have a degree he didn't have. Ms. Green simply wanted to know what his motivation was for writing a book about the central figure of Christianity with him being muslim. Kind of like you, Mr. Pitts, asking me why anyone should listen to me telling the black community what it could do to help itself. You're reply would be, "You're white, why should we listen to you."

Kathy Theis-Getto 4 years, 10 months ago

The only similarities in your analogy are the obvious prejudices held by you and Ms. Green.

frank mcguinness 4 years, 10 months ago

Obviously RTWNGR and Pheps have no clue about the authors credentials and his ability to write on the subject of religion. According to an article in the Atlantic "What First Things fails to note is that the sociology degree is in the sociology of religion. Aslan may not have a graduate degree in history, but he does have a Ph.D. and an M.T.S. that bear on the topic at hand. He has also published extensively on religion. Arguing he's somehow not a scholar, as John S. Dickerson did, isn't really credible."


bad_dog 4 years, 10 months ago

All "facts" are inherently true. If otherwise, you must describe the information in some other manner, e.g. supposition or opinion.

tomatogrower 4 years, 10 months ago

You only have to look pretty to work for FOX, you don't have to know anything, or read books. If it's not on audio books, then it just doesn't happen.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

While I did not see the interview on FOX, I did listen to an interview with this author on NPR. It was an interesting enough interview that I went out and purchased the book, which I'm now reading. It's an interesting read and would recommend it to others.

Trumbull 4 years, 10 months ago

It is too bad that Pitts did a real bad job writing this piece. I am going to have to watch the interview to see what he is talking about.

Leonard, you don't need to write like George Will. There is no need to make reference to ten people and other unrelated events. It took you four or five paragraphs before you even got to the point.

I thought that in Journalism, the most important sentence is the 1st.

Come on Leonard. Don't let bad writing prevent your important points from getting read.

Trumbull 4 years, 10 months ago

Just saw the interview. Pretty bad. Fox news had an agenda and were outmatched and out-classed by Reza Aslan. My only complaint against Pitts is that he needs to get to the point quicker and quit using so many references to set a context.

John McCoy 4 years, 10 months ago

The poor interviewer is just ignorant. I watched it on Youtube; Pitts is right. The whole segment is borderline disgusting. This is not the first time that FNC reporters have bungled an interview. I don't watch the channel often for the simple reason that one gets better reporting on CNN. The fact that more people watch FNC than those of MSNBC and CNN combined is a bit discouraging. As news goes, FNC does not have any foreign bureaus anywhere in the world; hence, they seem to do a lot of guessing. Still, there is no excuse for the sloppy kind of reporting done in the interview.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 10 months ago

The interview is hilarious. I guess this is what passes for journalism in the Bubble.

Having said that, I have very little respect for Reza Aslan. Who in their right mind would convert to Islam as an adult (or to any religion for that matter)?

I agree with Green in one respect: it is impossible to trust the objectivity of a religious person, because almost by definition they will be biased by their ideology..

tomatogrower 4 years, 10 months ago

I believe he grew up in Islam, converted to Christianity, the converted back to his childhood religion. That happens with a lot of people as they get older, they want the traditions they grew up with.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 10 months ago

This reduces my respect for him. He made this decision with the full knowledge from his childhood of how irrational and destructive islam is.

asixbury 4 years, 10 months ago

You obviously know nothing about Islam to make such a blatantly ignorant comment. Like Christianity's any better? Look at the hatred Christianity spreads...especially when directed at people who believe differently than they do. Your comment astounds me more than the interview.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 10 months ago

I agree. Christianity is worse in many respects. Religion in general is irrational and destructive. I was referring specifically to Aslan's conversion back to islam, an irrational and destructive religion, because it is a religion.

Abdu Omar 4 years, 10 months ago

There are approximately 1.7 Billion Muslims in the world. Can you, nightmare, think that if Islam were destructive what the magnitude of destruction 1.7 billion people can make. No instead, think of the 20,000 or so terrorists who usw Islam for their hatred of the West who really aren't Muslim at all. that is .000001.176 percent of the whole of the Muslims. You are blaming all of the Muslims on that percentage? Who then is destructive? You or the Muslims?

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

I agree with tomatogrower below who states the number of Muslims who are radical, nasty people is very small. However, I wonder if the number is as small as you suggest, wounded. I say this because in the past, you've suggested that the 9/11 events weren't carried out by Muslims. You've suggested that the killings of athletes at the Munich Olympics was actually carried out by Israel. You've suggested that bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut was also done by Israel. The number you've come up with seems to have been the result of eliminating certain acts that are generally recognized as having been done by Muslims.

Abdu Omar 4 years, 10 months ago

Yes, those statements were taken from a book by Stuart Ostrow, a former Mossad agent, "By Way of Deception". He claimed he was part of the group of agents who did those things. 9/11 it stands to reason, was not done by Muslims because who gained the most and who lost the most from that act? Muslims? I think not. I think before you attack what I say, you should read a little bit more about what Israel has done and their campaign to be the victims.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

Lots of people do lots of things that are contrary to their own best interests or the best interests of those they purport to support. Even Muslims.

People make outlandish claims all the time, even when there are mountains of evidence to the contrary. If you're hoping to be taken seriously, you must make a legitimate attempt to filter the plausible from the implausible. Wounded, you have failed to do that when you claim Israel was behind the killings of their own athletes in Munich. The perpetrators were caught at the scene. As for 9/11 and the Beirut bombings, those responsible admitted responsibility. Unfortunately for you, you are unable to believe that a Muslim is capable of such acts, especially against innocent bystanders, especially against American interests. But the truth is that it did happen.

As I said, the numbers of Muslims who are terrorists is extremely small, in my opinion. But not as ridiculously small as you suggest.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 10 months ago

"sorry that is .000001176%."

Let's have a look at the countries controlled by the 1.7 billion muslims. Women are treated as second class citizens at best, slaves and property at worst. Gays? Don't even go there. Apostates? Put to death.

Name one muslim country where women and gays can live as full citizens without having to cover their heads or bodies or fear for their very lives.

Yes, most muslims are not terrorists. But most muslims and the countries they control are misogynist, anti-gay, and anti-"other". I would say that is quite destructive to the lives of the hundreds of millions of women and gays in those countries dominated by islamic hatred.

Christianity also has those tendencies, as witnessed in the dark ages. Luckily for christendom, it had a spasm of reason, democracy, and humanism starting with the renaissance that is holding the hate that is inherent to christianity in check.

asixbury 4 years, 10 months ago

I misunderstood your statement before. I thought you were bashing Islam because of prejudice Western views of the religion, not just because it is a religion. I agree with your statement above. Religion is the root of a lot of suffering in the world, the cause of needless wars and the loss of millions of lives. So pointless.

tomatogrower 4 years, 10 months ago

nightmare, do you judge all Christians by the Westboro Church hatred? There are millions of Muslims out there, and yes, some are radical, nasty people, but the vast majority want to live in peace. The radicals are just using their religion to control uneducated recruits and to gain power. It's a power trip, not religion.

jonas_opines 4 years, 10 months ago

"do you judge all Christians by the Westboro Church hatred?"

Based on their posting history, I'm reasonably certain that they do.

asixbury 4 years, 10 months ago

Reminds me of the way the Republicans, or most politicians, like to use religion as a way to garner votes. They're not following their own religions, they use the statements to fool the Christians in America. So easy to see their ploy.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 10 months ago

"nightmare, do you judge all Christians by the Westboro Church hatred?"

Partly, yes, but there is so much hate in the christian mainstream before even getting to the WBBC.

The catholic church for starters, and most protestant churches worldwide. Preaching worldwide hate against women, gays, minorities, and "others".

gatekeeper 4 years, 10 months ago

How dare you be the judge of anyone's religious beliefs? Are you American? Do you believe in the Bill of Rights? Do you believe in freedom of religion? I don't practice any religion, but have no patience for ignorant people that want to put down anyone for their beliefs. None of us know if any gods exists, but those that belittle others for their faith act as if they do know the answer. I fully admit that I have no clue, so I won't judge anyone else for their belief. Pretty sad that you have no respect for almost all in this world. You think pretty highly of yourself.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 10 months ago

Aslan invokes the objectivity and reliance on facts of a scientist. I haven't read the book, but it seems he has made an effort to do so.

However, by definition, religious people try to fit facts to their ideology (or to ignore inconvenient facts), whereas a truly objective person would base their thinking and beliefs on the facts.

In the interview, Green clearly takes the biased position of a christian whereas Aslan argues from a professional objective specialist position. Because he is a religious person, he cannot be fully trusted.

voevoda 4 years, 10 months ago

Why do you assume that non-religious people are objective, yourworstnightmare? Can't they be operating from a bias as blatant and distorting as apologists for a particular religion? Your hostile comments about Islam as a religion, above, clearly mark you as a person who is hardly objective. At least Prof. Aslan is conscious of his preconceptions and works to counter them rather than indulge them. That's the mark of a true scholar.

yourworstnightmare 4 years, 10 months ago

I agree that non-religious people can be biased, but religion is a very powerful motivating factor for bias.

As for my own bias, I am sure some exists. However, observation indicates that I am correct. What is so great about islam as a religion? How does it help the 1.7 billion followers? Women are uniformly treated as second class citizens or slaves. Men are so sexually repressed that they often do horrible things to women and each other. And gays. How does islam help them? What is great about islam for them?

I am not talking about a minority of muslims with these examples, but a vast majority of the followers and the countries they control. If I am missing something about the beauty and benevolence of islam, please enlighten me.

As an aside, I could easily fill the "catholic church" in place of islam in my analysis.

gatekeeper 4 years, 10 months ago

You really think highly of yourself. "However, observation indicates that I am correct". Really, do you think you have some bias? That's all your posts show. You don't believe in any religion and think you're 100% correct. A humble soul will admit that no one knows and won't act so high and mighty like they know all the answers. You're no better than anyone biased because of their religion. You've got your head shoved up just as far as those that are blinded because of their faith. Everyone should just respect everyone else and admit that we don't have a clue, so whatever any of us believes might just be the answer.

Mike Ford 4 years, 10 months ago

I watched the writer on Bill Maher the other night. Very honest takes on what drives blindly driven people to war endlessly over nothing but beliefs. Kind of like sanity challenged people who keep putting forth crazy laws to get their followers back to the ballot box in spite of reality. Kansas one might say.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 10 months ago

I recently ran into a person who, when she walks into a business that runs the FNC in their waiting rooms or lobbies, etc., will turn around and walk out and refuse to do business with said merchant or professional. Her reasoning is that, if they show FNC on their business TVs, they either too stupid or too corrupt to trust with her business.

Liberty275 4 years, 10 months ago

That's sort of funny. I ran into a guy that won't go into bars that play hip hop. You don't want to know what he say's about people that listen to such music.

See how bigotry works?

gatekeeper 4 years, 10 months ago

Not doing business with a company that shows their political views isn't bigotry. I personally believe if any business wants to advertise their political leanings, then they risk losing customers because of that. I refuse to do business with any company, left or right, that puts their politics out in the open. Haven't stopped at the gas station that has the Sandbar shop in it for almost a decade for that reason.

If someone is biased against someone because of their ethnicity, then yes, they're a bigot!!!

Abdu Omar 4 years, 10 months ago

That isn't bigotry, that is good musical sense!

Mike Ford 4 years, 10 months ago

some people are just too caught up in the fervor to understand why they're avoided. they don't realize their misinformation is the problem.

koman 4 years, 10 months ago

fox and msnbc are both entertainment networks. Once you understand that, it makes about as much sense to be offended by either of them as it does to get angry because tmz or mtv airs a show that you don't like. Entertainment, not news, not real journalism, not real journalists - just entertainment.

jafs 4 years, 10 months ago

If everybody understood that, I'd agree.

Unfortunately there are those (many, it seems) who believe that fox news is in fact a reliable news network.

There may be folks who believe that about MSNBC as well - I haven't heard anybody say it though.

Armstrong 4 years, 10 months ago

Finally somebody gets it !!! Extra points for koman. I had a friend in the military who lived overseas and said if they wanted to know what was really going on in America they would listen to European media as it did not have any agenda.

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