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Paris Mayor's Plan To Sue Fox News Is Satisfying but Stupid

On Tuesday morning, Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo announced that she's planning to sue Fox News over the way it covered both the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the aftermath, including her city's relationship with its thriving Muslim population. Man, would this be fun to watch. But, man, would it be really, really dumb.
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If you've been following the news at all lately you know that the city of Paris has absolutely no problems whatsoever and is in a perfect position to entertain audacious but ultimately pointless flights of fancy. Sure, the French capital is still reeling from a devastating terrorist attack on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which killed 12 people, and an armed rampage in the wake of it that left several more dead. But that's what makes this the right time for the mayor of Paris to set her sites on the real problem for her city: Fox News Channel.

On Tuesday morning, Parisian mayor Anne Hidalgo announced during an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour that she's planning to sue Fox News over the way it covered both the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the aftermath, including her city's relationship with its thriving Muslim population. Last week Fox News reported a giant bunch of alarmist horseshit about something it called "no-go zones" in the U.K. and France, where non-Muslims supposedly aren't allowed to go and where Sharia law supersedes state law. One Fox News guest was forced to apologize after saying on-air that literally the entire city of Birmingham, England was one of these "no-go zone" and anonymous Fox news-model Julie Banderas likewise had to issue a rare official retraction from the network for claiming they existed at all.

Like so much of the crap Fox News injects into the cultural bloodstream, it took no time for the frenzied claim of Muslims-only areas in otherwise free countries to go viral in every sense of the word. Despite the retraction, Bobby Jindal -- Louisiana governor and guy who's tired of mistakenly being handed Dinesh D'Souza's name tag at every single Republican event -- is still claiming that some Muslim immigrants aim to "colonize Western countries, because setting up your own enclave and demanding recognition of a no-go zone are exactly that." As usual, a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes -- particularly when there's value in the lie, when it's something you really want your dumb, terrified followers to swallow whole. That rare retraction from Fox News was absolutely worthless. Now that it's out there, the belief in the existence of Muslim no-go zones is itself not going anywhere.

This has always been the problem with Fox News Channel: It's a 24/7 geyser of disinformation cast as legitimate news, and that makes it incredibly dangerous. Given that there's no way for the United States to take action since we have Freedom of the Press in this country and Fox is always smart enough to leave itself just enough plausible deniability wiggle room, the thought of a lawsuit filed against it by a wronged party as powerful as an entire foreign city is incredibly satisfying. It would be great to see an entity that couldn't easily be cowed by its pitbull P.R. team come along and knock Fox News into the dirt. But let's be serious for a moment: this is a really stupid idea. Oh, it's an endlessly entertaining idea, but it's still stupid.

Mayor Hidalgo said to Amanpour about the series of bogus Fox News reports, "The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced." If you can't understand exactly what she's trying to communicate, imagine a French person walking up to someone and smacking him or her across the face with a white glove and challenging that person to a duel. That's about what Hidalgo's up to here. The problem is that nothing Fox News has said will actually damage Paris and that's something that has to be proven in a defamation case: injury. No one among Fox News's audience of elderly slack-jaws was likely to travel to Paris anytime soon and up until a few weeks ago Fox News and the rest of the conservative infotainment machine had assured them the French were lily-livered freedom-haters anyway.

There's also the surreal silliness of an entire city, one with a hell of a lot bigger fish to fry right now, choosing to make a spectacle out of targeting a foreign news operation. And make no mistake, that's exactly what this would be: a spectacle. It's easy to get 100% behind Hidalgo and the government of her city in this pursuit, but that doesn't make it anything less than folly. What the French have done so far to return fire against Fox -- namely, mocking mercilessly the operation's incompetence and bent toward reactionary misinformation -- will in the age of social media have a far more impressive impact than filing a suit they'll almost certainly lose. It should be left at that.

Fox News has already responded to Hidalgo. On Tuesday evening, Fox News Executive Vice President Michael Clemente issued an uncharacteristically understated response to the threat, saying, "We empathize with the citizens of France as they go through a healing process and return to everyday life. However, we find the Mayor’s comments regarding a lawsuit misplaced." It's really something when Fox News actually comes out looking like the adult the room, the one taking the high road in what would be a petty back-and-forth. That alone should tell you how ridiculous and ill-advised Hidalgo's proposal is. Giving Fox News ammo and allowing it to claim victim status is always the last thing you want to do.

Although on the plus side, the threat of this lawsuit has almost certainly returned things to their natural, pre-Charlie Hebdo state: with Fox News's viewers hating the French, who as you know would still be under Nazi occupation to this day had we not saved their surrendering asses back in WWII.