First of all, please let me explain. To anyone who has spoken to me about politics more than once (or, really, at all), my general loathing of the news media should be quite obvious. I imagine the majority of my posts on this blog would make that fact rather self-evident as well. Nevertheless, I should probably endeavor to offer some sort of justification if I’m going to do something as inflammatory as slapping CNN with the Trumpian epithet of “fake news.” And don’t fret, friends—I think I can do it without actually defending the President.
I’ll start off by making one thing perfectly clear: I unequivocally believe that it is unbecoming of the office of President of the United States to tweet personal attacks, unsubstantiated claims, or late-night rants in the manner preferred by our current commander-in-chief. From the nonsense of covfefe to the boorishness of his middle-school-level attacks on Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, our President has put on a master class in how to debase himself and his office before the eyes of the internet (read: the world). But just because President Trump’s tweets are unprecedented and wholly unprofessional does not mean that they should automatically dominate our 24-hour news cycle. This is where the mainstream media and I apparently disagree.
Cable news in particular has made a veritable sport of breathlessly covering President Trump’s Twitter misadventures, with each major network vying to outdo the others in bumping more important storylines in favor of a roundtable discussion regarding POTUS’s most recent 140-character outburst. Never mind Senate Republicans’ ongoing efforts to complete a Congressional repeal of the Affordable Care Act or North Korea’s recent test of an ICBM theoretically capable of reaching Alaska. What really matters is keeping a daily list of everything he tweeted, retweeted, and didn’t tweet at all.
The circus reached a fever pitch last week when President Trump tweeted a gif of an old Wrestlemania clip that showed him punching an individual whose face had been replaced with the CNN logo. Now, I must admit there are some newsworthy elements here—a President who not only has been on Wrestlemania but also decides to use that footage as ammunition in his ongoing feud with a major news network is certainly worth mentioning (and mind-bogglingly bizarre). The adult thing to do, though, is to point out the obvious fact that such behavior is beneath the POTUS and then move on to the real stories. But CNN, of course, would rather take the bait, stoop to Trump’s level, and keep the feud going strong. What does that entail? It entails things like ambushing a freshman Congressman from Virginia into discussing the merits of the tweet, the newsworthiness of tweets in general, and the adequacy of the condemnations of said tweet by Republican leaders in Congress before he is permitted to discuss anything of substance. Scott Taylor (R-VA), the Congressman in question, sits on the powerful Appropriations Subcommittees on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security, but really what he needs to be talking about is an animated gif. As Congressman Taylor himself points out, “You guys are getting played, man.”
CNN, and the media in general, have gone a lot farther than merely attacking the President for hurting their feelings, though. They feverishly worked to spin the tweet as encouraging violence against the press or, as Robert Reich contended in The Guardian, an attack on democracy itself. This is overblown and patently absurd. Trump’s CNN tweet certainly further diminishes his credibility and demonstrates an astonishing lack of judgment, but that’s about as far as any reasonable person can interpret that gif. While I’m sure there is someone somewhere in this country who could watch Donald Trump punch someone with a CNN logo for a head and become inspired to physically harm a journalist, that person does not represent the average (or even below-average) American. This hypothetical person is a dangerous idiot and would have been a dangerous idiot in the absence of this particular tweet.
But this saga doesn’t stop there. CNN took it upon themselves to track down the Redditor who supposedly created the gif, made him repent for his sins (he apparently posted vile anti-Semitic and racist material in the past), and then showed mercy by deciding not to release his identity to the public. This is what CNN, the Holy Arbiter of Truth, had to say about HanA**holeSolo, the offending troll:
CNN is not publishing ‘HanA**holeSolo’s’ name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.
Holy cow. This is what is looks like when a media giant abuses its power and thought-polices an individual American citizen. Now, don’t get me wrong—I agree with The Federalist’s David Harsanyi in thinking that this troll deserves no sympathy and that CNN would have been wiser to just release the guy’s name instead of going full Spanish Inquisition on him. After all, what CNN has done here is reveal that if you promise not to offend them anymore, they can protect you. That statement is, as Harsanyi says, “a threat” implying that if HanA**holeSolo were to go back on his repentance, “the network reserves the right to put him in ‘danger.’” That kind of behavior is, I daresay, Trump-like. And building your entire news cycle around a juvenile presidential tweet and an anonymous, bigoted Redditor is—wait for it—fake news.
UPDATE 7/11/17: Maybe this scandal involving Donald Trump Jr.’s emails will give CNN something of real substance to talk about. One can only hope.