Ten excruciating minutes. This is all it took for Fox News to turn Reza Aslan into a New York Times bestselling author.
If you’ve been stranded on an island without internet access you may not have seen the interview where Lauren Green, chief religion correspondent for Fox News, repeatedly asked Aslan on her “Spirited Debate” segment whether he, a Muslim, was qualified to write an unbiased book on the founder of Christianity. It’s an admittedly bad question, but Aslan’s responses weren’t much better. Rather than offer substantive information about his book, the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth chose instead to recite his curriculum vitae. At times, it felt like he was applying for an academic fellowship rather than doing a cable news interview.
Aslan’s publicist couldn’t have planned it better. The video went viral— viewed more than six million times across platforms—while Aslan amassed thousands of new twitter followers and his book shot to number one on Amazon. A nasty interview on Fox News is the stuff every liberal author’s dreams are made of.
The results were less favorable for Green, who has been chided by commentators and Fox News haters throughout the media and across the web.
But Green’s trainwreck and Aslan’s triumph also represents a terribly missed opportunity for viewers. Had Green chosen a better set of questions or had Aslan opted for more informative answers, the public might have actually learned what Zealot asserts. In so doing, they would have seen more clearly that the book’s arguments aren’t all that shocking, novel, or new. They’ve been hashed and rehashed in the so-called “Jesus Wars,” efforts made by scholars over the last several centuries to understand the demystified, historical Jesus.