I have been writing about how President Donald Trump has brought out the worst in his critics in the media as well as the courts. Ironically, some in these institutions appear to be rushing to confirm the stereotypes that he has painted of them. The latest example is CNN host Reza Aslan. CNN has been criticized by many for its coverage of Trump and alleged bias against his Administration. The loudest critic is of course Trump himself. Recently, CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria declared that Trump attained the White House through “bulls–t.” Now Aslan, who hosts CNN’s program “Believer” has called President Trump “a piece of sh–” and “an embarrassment to humankind” after Trump used the latest massacre to his call for U.S. courts to approve his executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority countries. Aslan seemed intent to establish that he is a “true believer” in the anti-Trump cause but he also represents a media organization. His attack is the latest evidence of media personalities losing any sense of professionalism and dispassion. As I said yesterday, media must decide if they still want to report or merely rave at the new and newsmakers. Aslan may be as “spiritually curious” as advertised but he is now professionally dubious as a journalist. At the same time, as discussed below, President Trump is again causing an international outcry with his tweets after the attack.
Aslan, 45, is already controversial for one of his programs where he ate a human brain with cannibals. It was an apt image for a profession that seems to be now devouring itself.
Many were angry when Trump’s first response to the London attack was not to send condolences or promises of aid (which came shortly after) but to use the attack against the judges who ruled against him and to call for a victory in the appellate courts: “We need to be smart, vigilant and tough,” Trump also tweeted on Saturday evening, leading to Aslan’s initial response. “We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” In honestly, many of us cringed at the first tweet which came off as a bit opportunistic and callous. Trump then enraged British citizens (and others) even more by criticizing London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan as he tried to reassure his city under attack. Khan merely told citizens that they would be seeing a lot more police and heavily armed security officers in their neighborhoods but not to be alarmed by seeing such increased law enforcement presence. Trump struck out immediately and tweeted “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!” It was a very harmful tweet for many in London who saw a president lashing out at a mayor who was trying to restore calm and merely explain why people may see a lot more security out their windows.
The first tweet by Trump also set off a controversy when NBC refused to rely on Trump’s reference to a terrorist attack. When Trump retweeted a headline of the attack, NBC responded that “Pres[ident] Trump has used Twitter to share news report on London incident. We aren’t relaying president’s retweet, as the info is unconfirmed.” I cannot recall any time that a news organization has opted not to run a presidential claim of an attack, which is itself news. This week Trump started his speech on the Paris Accord by claiming that the attack in the Philippines was an act of terrorism (it turned out to be a robbery incident).
I have not seen a statement from CNN or an apology in the first 24 hours, which I would have expected in such a clearly inappropriate posting.
We have been discussing how employees increasingly have found themselves punished for their use of social media and how it can raise a “little brother problem.” This is different. People in the media use social media today as an extension of their journalistic writings and voice. For CNN, the issue is particularly acute given the criticism of its coverage. On the heels of the Kathy Griffin controversy, this type of crude and juvenile language is wholly inappropriate for someone representing a leading media organization.