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Opinion Fox News smears Jake Tapper. Because ratings.

The tweet from the main Fox News account seized upon the feverish overlaps among the mainstream media, religion and terrorism:

Too bad it was a crock. The network that delights in calling out others for out-of-context reporting had committed the gravest of contextual tergiversations. Yes, Tapper had indeed used the word “beautiful” in proximity to the Arabic saying “allahu akbar,” or “God is great.” The moment came as the host of CNN’s afternoon news program “The Lead” was discussing the Halloween terrorist attack in New York, in which the suspect, Islamic State devotee Sayfullo Saipov, shouted “allahu akbar” after allegedly driving his rental truck along a bike path. Eight were killed in the attack.

“The Arabic chant ‘allahu akbar’ — ‘God is great’ — sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances,” said Tapper, “and too often we hear of it being said in moments like this.” Pretty balanced, right? At first blush, you wouldn’t suppose that Fox News — which hypes Islamist extremism whenever the opportunity presents itself — would exploit Tapper’s carefully presented words. After all, he was saying that this invocation of the Arabic chant occurred “too often.”

Trump-era Fox News, however, doesn’t adhere to suppositions, or expectations, or any level of decency. It is a desperate and mendacious attack-and-distract machine. In a roundup of the “liberal media” coverage of the attack, network contributor and former congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said this in introducing the Tapper clip: “Jake Tapper, also from CNN, felt the need to remind viewers how beautiful the phrase ‘allahu akbar’ can be.”

Post media critic Erik Wemple frequently skewerws Fox News, and, well, some of the network's loyal viewers have something to say about it. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Fox News didn’t even break this bombshell. The Daily Caller on Tuesday had responded to Tapper’s formulation with this headline: “CNN’s Jake Tapper Calls Allahu Akbar ‘Beautiful’ After Terrorist Attack [VIDEO].” That headline has since changed to “ ‘Beautiful’: CNN’s Jake Tapper Compliments Allahu Akbar After Terrorist Attack [VIDEO].”

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After Fox News began attacking him for balance in reporting, Tapper issued a number of tweets:

A modicum of sanity prevailed at Fox News. The offending tweet was deleted. Chaffetz walked back his framing of Tapper:

The whole controversy thereupon slipped away from the realm of the real world and into the sneering hive of hatred and fantasy known as “Hannity.” “Shortly after the horrific incident, you have liberal fake news CNN’s fake Jake Tapper — well, he described the phrase shouted by the terrorist ‘allahu akbar,'” said host Sean Hannity on Wednesday night. “Well, he said that sometimes could be something said in ‘beautiful circumstances.’ ”

After cycling through Tapper’s tweeted counterattack, Hannity said, “Hey, Jake, maybe that’s why you have low ratings. Tell your audience the truth.”

And there it is — the Fox News outrage sanitizer. Ratings. After Bill O’Reilly was caught fibbing about his glorious overseas reporting feats, the comeback was this: His ratings have improved! After the sexual harassment crises, the defense is the same: Still the No. 1 network in cable news. And now, after getting exposed by Tapper, again — it’s the ratings. Note how the Daily Caller — No. 1 in Fox News apologism — uses the same talking point, via reporter Nicholas Givas:

It’s impossible to argue with the numbers. Fox News does rule the ratings, precisely because its audience doesn’t punish it for malicious distortions like the deleted tweet.