Riotous or Racist? CNN’s Chris Cillizza Blasts President Trump For Using The Word “Riots”


We have previously discussed how some media organizations told their journalists not to call violence after the death of George Floyd “riots,” including the recently much mocked headline of CNN calling the looting and violence in Kenosha “fiery but mostly peaceful.”  Now, Chris Cillizza, an editor-at-large for CNN, is under fire for criticizing President Donald Trump for labeling the violence in places like Kenoska as “riots.” Critics have noted that the picture posted by Cillizza with his tweet shows a building engulfed in flames.  Lawyers notoriously parse terms in ways that often deny their obvious meaning but this effort by some in the media would make a Philadelphia lawyer blush.

Cillizza tweeted “Trump’s efforts to label what is happening in major cities as ‘riots’ speaks at least somewhat to his desperation, politically speaking, at the moment.”


I do not deny that both sides are using these riots for political purposes.  Trump is using the violence to reinforce a law-and-order theme while Democratic politicians are blaming him for the violence and calling for the 2020 election to be a referendum on racial justice.

It is the parsing of the term that intrigues me. In Portland, the Portland police have reportedly declared 13 riots in 80 days. Newspapers in these cities have referred to rioting from Portland to Minneapolis to Kenosa. David Brown, the Chicago Police superintendent, said, “This was not an organized protest,  rather, this was an incident of pure criminality.”

The coverage of recent looting and rioting has been uneven with networks like CNN spending comparatively limited time reporting on the violence while Fox is covering it exhaustively. Other outlets like NPR have run segments on how the word “rioting” has racist roots. Whether there are riots depends on what news outlet you use. It is the new reality of echo-journalism.

Of course, this dispute turns on a noun that is clearly defined as “public violence, tumult, or disorder.”

The law often turns on subtle distinctions as discussed by Blackstone in his famous account of a case where English court interpreted a 1547 statute criminalizing the stealing of “horses” to be inapplicable when a defendant stole just one horse. William M. Blackstone, 1 Commentaries * 88. The Parliament had to enact a new statute to cover one-horse thieves.

Such arguments often lead to frustrating moments in courts or depositions like this exchange:

D: When you say “photocopying machine,” what do you mean?

PL: Let me be clear. The term “photocopying machine” is so ambiguous that you can’t picture in your mind what a photocopying machine is in an office setting?

It would seem that rioting is equally difficult to picture in one’s mind even with a picture of a burning building in the background.

Courts often apply a plain meaning rule to such terms. Justice Antonin Scalia once opined in a dissenting opinion that “the acid test of whether a word can reasonably bear a particular meaning is whether you could use the word in that sense at a cocktail party without having people look at you funny.” He noted that in that case, “[t]he Court‘s assigned meaning would surely fail that test, even late in the evening.” Johnson v. United States, 529 U.S. 694, 718 (2000) (Scalia, J., dissenting).  Since “no dictionary we have examined defines ‘device’ to encompass an animal,” the court concluded ruled out a DUI involving a “vehicle” that turned out to be a horse.

Nevertheless, courts continue to grapple over issues like whether a horse is a “device.” In one case, the court explored a DUI case on the basis of the definition of a vehicles as defined in Utah as “every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway.” State v. Blowers, 717 P.2d 1321 (Utah 1986).

Just as “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” in Shakespeare, a riot by any other name would seem just as violent.

We have been discussing the concern by many that networks like CNN shape the news to fit a narrative. Fox and MSNBC have been accused of the same practice. Many in the public do not know where to turn for unbiased reporting on the left or the right, according to various polls. Even in acknowledging the importance of the media to our system, the majority of citizens believe that the media actively misrepresents facts.  Roughly half view the media as biased.

This is why.

Of course, this is looting and rioting. Ironically, the effort to call its “fiery protesting” only undermines the majority of peaceful protesters.  It is not that difficult. You acknowledge the looting and rioting while saying that the majority of protesters remain peaceful. While it does not fit any particular narrative, it has the added benefit of being true.

278 thoughts on “Riotous or Racist? CNN’s Chris Cillizza Blasts President Trump For Using The Word “Riots””

  1. Radley Balko

    “This is from 2017. Worth stating this again: When a city erupts after a police shooting, it’s almost always about more than that particular shooting. People tend to rise up when a shooting taps into long-simmering anger and despair.”

    ‘”Corruption, lies, multiple evidence plantings and deceit existed throughout the entire Kenosha criminal justice system.”

    Those are the words from a Wisconsin Supreme Court investigator looking into claims of misconduct.’ -tmj4

    1. Whistleblower Testifies Deputy Who Shot Gardena Teen Was “Chasing Ink”

      By Kate Cagle Los Angeles
      PUBLISHED 12:03 PM ET Aug. 30, 2020–chasing-ink–


      Gonzalez, testifying for nearly six hours under oath, said the existence of the clique was “common knowledge” at the station and that the gang’s so-called shot caller controlled the work schedule and their actions boosted arrest numbers.

      Earlier this month, Mayor Aja Brown called for state and federal investigations into the station.

      “They terrorize the community and then they cover their tracks,” Brown said.

      This week, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he has not spoken to Brown about her concerns.

      “We’re trying to build bridges, not tear them down, and I don’t think we’re going to achieve that with press conferences,” Villanueva said.

      The sheriff said his department is investigating the claims and has already relieved two deputies of duty and transferred six others.

      “When you say whistleblowers, know these are people that are suing and when they’re suing…you have to make the allegations as big as possible. That’s just part of the lawsuit process,” Villanueva said. “When you go to the actual hard facts and try to prove them, it’s a whole different animal.”

      The attorney who compelled Gonzalez to testify, John Sweeney, has represented several families suing the county over wrongful death and excessive force cases stemming from the Compton Sheriff’s station.

      “I am quite tired of going to funerals, sitting in living rooms..telling young kids their father is not coming back,” Sweeney said. “Families feel horrible. It’s something that has to stop. Society has reached an inflection point.”

      Gonzalez’s testimony casts a cloud over other cases, including the shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, who was shot five times in the back by a sheriff’s deputy earlier this year. Gonzalez claims Vega was a prospective member of the Executioners.

      Spectrum News 1 requested a comment from Vega’s attorney but did not hear back.

      As for Gonzalez, he’s now on leave from the department and in fear for his life, he said. His testimony has inspired two more deputies to come forward with similar stories of the Compton station.


  2. “Cop Explains How It Feels To Live Every Day In Fear Someone Might Record You Brutalizing A Civilian”

    1. Funny, but it is not an easy job and while I am guessing a high number of cops were drawn to the work by a true desire to help others and with the best intentions, some – hopefully a small number – are a flip side to thugs and bullies who like to fight and dominate others. Controlling the latter while allowing for mistakes by the former is a needle hard to thread and will probably always be part of this necessary work.

      1. Radley Balko

        It gets better! Just learned that this officer was promoted in 2016. See here:

        Radley Balko

        In 2015, Kenosha cop Pablo Torres shot and killed a man armed with a bucket. It was his first day back after another shooting 10 days earlier. He had a 200-page disciplinary file, with 9 excessive force complaints. The Kenosha police union paid tribute to him with this billboard.

      2. “How to sort the good cops from the rotten: Ask them about Trump’s golf-putt metaphor”

        “Police are sometimes put into terrible situations, forced to trust their instincts when a life, perhaps their own, is in danger. Which is why police power should be entrusted not just to people who are highly trained, but also to those who are deeply compassionate and self-aware. It may be difficult to sort the cops whom Trump calls “the bad apples” from the ones who have the skills, judgment and decency to do the job. But one test is this: If they think there’s any analogy between wielding a gun in defense of civil society and making a three-foot putt, they’re not up to the job.”

  3. ” Tommy! Quit pulling the cat’s tail !! ”

    ” I’m NOT pulling the cat’s tail . . I’m just holding it! The cat’s doing all the pulling ! ”


  4. Finally the obvious is stated

    The goal of the Black Lives Matter campaign and organization is to “destroy the black family,” said State Rep. Vernon Jones (D-GA) on Tuesday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Daily in an interview with host Alex Marlow.

    “[Democrats] are supporting Black Lives Matter, and Black Lives Matter is founded to really — its goal is to destroy the black family, because this was founded by lesbians who push a transgender agenda,” Jones stated. “If that’s what they want to do, fine. I’m not beating up on them. I wouldn’t attack them. I don’t hate them. I welcome them to my dinner table, but they’re destroying the black family, the male, the heterosexual male.”

    Jones noted Democrats’ political alignment with Black Lives Matter.

    “All fathers should be there for their children, but the black male heterosexual is under attack, now. That destroys the black family, and the Democratic Party, I cannot go with that.”

    Antifa is a “domestic terrorist organization,” Jones added.

  5. Kenosha Sheriff David Beth Speaks With President Trump during round table discussing safety.
    wonderful words and wonderful action on behalf of both parties, the way it should be


    “On behalf of law enforcement I am telling you, the group that is here, I hope you can feel the love for you and everybody that came….the amount of resources that the Federal Government is providing us right now is unbelievable”

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