At a campaign rally in Birmingham, Donald Trump’s speech was interrupted by a Black Lives Matter protester. At the urging of Trump himself, his supporters quickly surrounded the African-American man and assaulted him. In disturbing video taken at the scene, a CNN reporter captured the all-white crowd kick, punch, shove, and tackle the man. He was eventually thrown out. In the background Trump could be heard screaming “Get him the hell out of here!” His fans chanted, without irony, “All lives matter!”
This isn’t the first time that Trump’s supporters have greeted a peaceful protester with violence. Several Latino protesters have experienced similar hostility at Trump rallies. The Republican frontrunner seems smitten by the show of violence in his name. After Black Lives Matter protested a Bernie Sanders event, Trump pledged to fight any protester who tried to do the same to him.
“That will never happen with me. I don’t know if I’ll do the fighting myself or other people will, but that was a disgrace. I felt badly for him. But it showed that he’s weak.”
The morning after his rally, Trump argued that his fans assaulting the protester could be seen as a good thing. He concluded, “Maybe he should have been roughed up. It was disgusting what he was doing.” What he was “doing” was disagreeing with Trump.
In a case where a presidential candidate incites his followers to physically attack a protester at one of his events and then stands by the decision, you would think that condemning those actions would be a no-brainer. CNN’s reporter who witnessed the assault was certainly unequivocal about what had happened.
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) November 21, 2015
But his bosses at CNN begged to differ. When it came time to covering the story, here is what CNN’s headline read: “Protester kicked out of Trump rally after altercation.”
They chose to describe the attack with embarrassingly sterile language meant to remove all culpability from the attackers, simply saying “A physical altercation broke out after a “Black Lives Matter” protester interrupted Donald Trump during his speech in Alabama.” Gone are any “doers,” a physical altercation “broke out” – spontaneously and without anyone’s involvement. Who is to blame? CNN can’t say.
The baffling coverage by CNN (as well as a number of other networks) of what amounts to a very serious attack on a man exercising his right to free speech highlights the absurd lengths with which the mainstream media has gone to avoid alienating Trump’s supporters. He’s afforded an almost limitless amount of wiggle room where he might otherwise be painted as a racist or buffoon. His popularity among conservative voters means CNN has to keep up the surreal charade that what he says has merit and is worthy of a national discussion.
All of this in an effort to maintain an absurd definition of “balanced” coverage that means “both sides” of any debate warrant equal time in the news room. Trump’s popularity and his relentless media exposure means CNN covers Trump as just one side of a two-sided coin. Facts, logic, and common sense are pushed out to ensure the balance is maintained. Any amount of calling Trump on his bullshit is seen as “editorializing.”
This bizarre way of approaching journalism plays into Trump’s favor because he isn’t confined reality. He can say he will build a massive wall – estimated to cost trillions of dollars and become the largest man-made structure since the Great Wall of China – and nobody can challenge him on it. He can claim that he watched thousands of Muslim Americans cheer in New Jersey when the Twin Towers fell and nobody can challenge him on that, either. He can even encourage his crowd to assault a protester directly in front of the camera lens of a CNN reporter and CNN absolutely will not challenge him on it. Trump lives in a fantasy world and we are all expected to indulge his delusions.
Is that fair? Is that balanced? CNN seems to think so.
Feature image via screengrab