CNN Hurt Its Credibility

Stage in Las Vegas prior to CNN’s Democratic candidate debate, October 2015. (Reuters photo: Mike Blake)
Perhaps the gif-maker is a racist moron. So what?

CNN is not wrong that the president of the United States ought to stop behaving like a clown. But they overshot this week.

As someone who has about the lowest possible tolerance for Trumpian vulgarity, I thought the imbroglio over the CNN logo gif was overwrought. This was an invitation to violence? Look, we know that Trump is not above stoking violence. He encouraged it more than once at his rallies. But the gif? The original WWE clip was a joke. Superimposing the CNN logo on the face of Vince McMahon was a joke on top of a joke. It was bad taste, but not incitement.

CNN, not unlike Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, laughs all the way to the bank when Trump tangles with them. Like him, they’re in the eyeballs business. They might even subscribe to his philosophy that “all press is good press.” When he takes aim at them, it provides fodder for hour after hour of self-promotion disguised as news analysis. During the campaign, they earned eyeballs by lavishing (generally positive) coverage on him. Now that he’s president, they keep ratings up by denouncing him. Either way, it’s good for CNN.

The deep investigative report into the origins of the gif, however, makes CNN look vindictive and petty. Just as Trump ought not to “punch down,” neither should CNN. The network claims that the gif’s originator had also posted racist and anti-Semitic material in the past, and then they issued a statement saying that out of concern for the man’s safety, they were withholding his identity. They added that the decision was subject to change if he didn’t behave himself.

Perhaps the gif-maker is a racist moron. So what? Are they going to police Reddit now? Maybe that would be good public hygiene, but CNN is chasing down a rabbit hole here. In order for this to reflect on Trump, they would have to somehow demonstrate that the president was familiar with the previous offensive posts and posted the user’s gif anyway, which might be true but seems unlikely and impossible to prove. And now it appears that the gif-maker CNN found may not even be the right one.

The point, surely, is that the president of the United States spent God only knows how much time scrolling through Internet garbage to find this gif.

With Donald Trump as president, we are living a reality-TV show. He is doing what he has always done. He creates cliffhangers: Did he have tapes of his conversations with James Comey? Stay tuned. He picks fights with TV hosts, the mayor of London, and even his own party. He sows chaos. He warns. He taunts. He threatens. A staggering percentage of what he says, and instructs his minions to say, is false.

The CNN logo gif was a joke, but his attacks on anyone who criticizes him are not. His defenders call him a “counterpuncher.” But the president of the United States is not a tabloid celebrity trading jabs with other shallow publicity hounds willing to say anything to keep up their ratings.

While CNN did itself no favors this week, the president who cannot see past his own nose has little standing to protest.

If Donald Trump the TV star lashes out at Rosie O’Donnell, it’s entertainment (if you like that sort of thing). When the president of the United States launches a consistent campaign to delegitimize any news outlet that criticizes him (even harshly) as “fake news,” that’s corrosive. He has power now. It’s the job of the press to criticize him. Respect for the free press is American etiquette, not to mention law. And yes, of course Republicans get more biased coverage from most outlets than Democrats, but Trump should be able to shrug that off with a joke and a smile. His obsession with his enemies is beyond Nixonian (and remember how well that turned out). As only Senator Ben Sasse has had the integrity to say, Trump is “weaponizing distrust” in an era when we are already crippled by mutual suspicion.

There is a seemingly inexhaustible well of antipathy toward the “MSM” in conservative world. I certainly have shared in it over the years and probably contributed to it in some fashion. But I just cannot see that Trump’s hostility toward the “failing New York Times” and the rest has anything to do with conservatism. It’s all personal. He almost never knocks them for biased reporting on health care or regulation or even immigration. He seems hardly to notice anything that isn’t about himself.

And so, while CNN did itself no favors this week, the president who cannot see past his own nose has little standing to protest.


What’s Is (and Isn’t) Wrong with CNN’s Report on the Infamous Trump Wrestling GIF

CNN Threatens a Trump Troll

Are We Connecting Dots Again on Speech and Violence?

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. © 2017

Most Popular

National Security & Defense

Leave McMaster Be

About every two months, there are rumors that Gen. H. R. McMaster might be let go as Trump’s national-security adviser (along with many other stellar appointees). The world, however, is a much more logical and predictable place than it was 14 months ago. We’ve restored ties to the Gulf monarchies; Israel ... Read More

Friday Links

March 17 is Saint Patrick’s Day: origin, history, videos, and how to make your own green beer. Related: From Slave to Saint, The Story of Patrick and why are four-leaf clovers lucky? The first American woman to command a ship was a pregnant 19-year-old. She did it while fighting off a mutiny, nursing an ... Read More
Economy & Business

What Kudlow Got Right in 2007

Lawrence Kudlow’s appointment to be director of the National Economic Council has brought out the critics, who have combed through his copious writings to find every wrong call he has made over the decades. One passage that has come in for some ridicule, though, doesn’t deserve it. Here’s Kudlow, writing ... Read More
Film & TV

Love, Simon Outs Hollywood’s Youth Exploitation

Simon (Nick Robinson), the 17-year-old white gay high-school student in Love, Simon, appears to be a comic version of the protagonist in Moonlight. Rather than blatantly copy that Oscar-winning black-gay-victim film, Love, Simon remakes the pathetic Moonlight in the more marketable guise of a sitcom about a ... Read More

Don’t Bork Gina Haspel

President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director is about to experience a good Borking. No one doubts her professionalism, and she’s been endorsed by Obama intelligence officials. Yet Gina Haspel’s long career at the agency, including extensive work undercover in the field, is getting blotted out by her ... Read More