Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
You have to remember that the cable news network maintains a highly peripheral position in Europe.
Is Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s threat to sue Fox News “insane”? It’s been less than 24 hours since a freezing-looking Hidalgo caused a media storm by promising to take the American news channel to court over its false assertions about the existence of Muslim-only “no-go zones” where Sharia law reigns supreme in the French capital.
Fox has already been both heavily ridiculed by France’s version of The Daily Show and pressed into releasing an apology. For Hidalgo, this doesn’t go far enough. “I think we’ll have to go to court, I think we’ll have to sue,” she told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “The image of Paris has been prejudiced, and the honor of Paris has been prejudiced.”
For Americans well used to the cable news network's famously tenuous grasp of reality, the idea of a lawsuit might seem a little bizarre. Given that the land of cheese-eating surrender monkeys has been so wholeheartedly defamed by Fox News in the past, isn’t it strange to take umbrage now?
Not necessarily. To ask why Paris is fighting back now when it’s rolled with punches in the past doesn’t take into account Fox News’s highly peripheral position in Europe. Over here, if Fox News is discussed at all, it’s generally within the rather smug, “Aren’t Americans crazy?” school of European journalism, whose subjects can range from bans on teaching evolution to the shudder-inducing idea of people spraying cheese out of a can. Rather than provoking, Fox News is one of those comforting touchstones that can be brought out to reassure Europeans that, although their societies may appear to have gone mad, they still have a way to go before they reach that. When Fox News’s negative reports actually register, they’ve mainly been treated more like being bitten by a flea than mauled by a dog.
Right now, things are different. As we all know, gunmen have been at large in Paris and across the Ile de France in recent weeks, leaving behind a horrific death toll. Parisians are genuinely, understandably shaken up by the arrival of daylight murder in humdrum everyday corners of the city. Fox News’s coverage may be laughable, but this was not the month to falsely state that everyday Parisians’ shops, homes and corner cafés are booby-trapped outposts for the Islamic State.
It’s worth going over the utter ridiculousness of the no-go zones that Fox News outlined. Included within their limits are streets like Rue Oberkampf, a packed restaurant and bar strip so overwhelmingly hipsterfied that it’s pronounced "over" on a weekly basis. The zones are also terrible news for British and Belgian visitors, given that they cover Paris’s extremely busy main arrival point from those countries, the Gare Du Nord.
This wasn’t even the first ridiculous Fox News no-go zone story this year, of course. Earlier this month, the cable news network summoned up the specter of equally imaginary British zones in Birmingham and London. So far, neither city has suggested suing, but then neither of them is reeling from a recent terrorist attack.
Beyond these zones’ essential flaw—they’re fictional—their invention shows an ignorance of how European urban geography works in the first place. While Western Europe is now making up for lost time, geographical social division in its cities has rarely been as intense as in the United States. Widespread social housing has ensured that inner cities have to an extent remained a checkerboard of wealth and poverty (something Paris is actively trying to maintain) even if these areas’ different classes are often foreigners to each other.
Thus the Charlie Hebdo assassins hail not from some far-flung project whose name might make the elite shudder. They come from Paris’s 19th arrondissement, home to large Muslim communities but also to the city’s new concert hall, the fast gentrifying fringes of the Canal St Martin and one of the city’s most popular, beautiful parks. It’s not that Fox News is drawing its boundaries wrong. The idea that threats are contained within a few easily marked streets is in itself ignorant.
Rising to this sort of provocation might seem to be overdoing things, not least because it’s not even clear that the city of Paris has a viable case to plead. Hidalgo’s promise still plays well with a local crowd that could do with some righteous distraction right now. It also gives her a chance to cut a statesman-like figure. Striking a careful balance, on Tuesday Hidalgo made it clear this was no anti-American crusade by posting a photo on Facebook of her hugging New York’s Mayor De Blasio, stating that “we’ll never forget that New York has a great mayor with a great heart.” Hidalgo’s case may end up frittering into nothing, but in Paris at least, taking on Fox News is a battle where the stakes are low.