Opinions and Legal Insights

CNN Criticized For “Fiery But Most Peaceful” Reporting On Violent Protests

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Yesterday, we discussed the personal attacks against speakers at the Republican National Convention by CNN analysts, including a false attack on former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. The concern is the increasingly personal attacks against anyone who seems to counter a narrative in the media. That adherence of a story line was evident in a much ridiculed graphic from last night where CNN national correspondent’s Omar Jimenez was reporting live from Kenosha, Wis. with a raging fire in the background over a chyron reading, “FIERY BUT MOSTLY PEACEFUL PROTESTS AFTER POLICE SHOOTING.”  Not to get “all mavericky,” but claiming these protests are  “fiery [but] peaceful” seems a tad oxymoronic.

Notably, CNN did not add that the protests were all “looty” or “assaulty” or “shooty” as well as “fiery.”

CNN was also criticized this week when a graphic initially and accurately said, “8PM CURFEW ORDERED AFTER VIOLENT PROTESTS OVER POLICE SHOOTING OF UNARMED BLACK MAN IN WISCONSIN.” A few seconds later,  the message was removed and replaced without the word “violent.”

It is not just CNN. We discussed earlier how an NBC reporter noted that they were not supposed to say “rioters” as opposed to “protesters

I have worked for the media as a columnist or a commentator for thirty years. I have never seen more consistently slanted coverage than in the last four years, particularly in framing stories against the Administration.  Recognizing violence or rioting is seen by some as undermining the basis for the protests or supporting the criticism of Trump of the handling of violence by major cities.

Most of us agree that the vast majority of protesters are peaceful (including in Kenosha) and that there are legitimate and important issues of social justice that must be addressed. However, in the last three years, we have seen open advocacy or bias in coverage. The objection is to those anchors and reporters who routinely frame news to further narratives. For those of us who cherish our journalistic traditions of neutrality and independence, it is hard to watch as major news organizations succumb to these pressures to block dissenting views or countervailing reports.

That problem was most evident this week when CNN’s Don Lemon (who has been repeatedly criticized for vehemently anti-Trump rhetoric) declared that the rioting had to stop because it was starting to work for Trump and “showing up in polls.”

This follows a long effort to downplay the violence and looting around the country. Indeed, Democratic senators at a hearing on violent protests (where I appeared as a witness) insisted that the violence in Portland was due to federal officials being present and that the violence immediately subsided after they were pulled back. The witnesses pointed out that the night before a riot was declared by Portland police and the violence had continued unabated. It still continues.

The fact is that there is considerable violence including arson and looting at protests. It should not take away from the underlying causes or paint all protesters as violent. That is the point of neutral reporting. You can acknowledge and cover the violence while also covering the peaceful protests.  Then you do not have to adopt such absurd descriptions as “fiery [but] peaceful” to frame the news instead of reporting on it.

On Tuesday, CNN similarly raised eyebrows with another graphic that graphic initially said, “8PM CURFEW ORDERED AFTER VIOLENT PROTESTS OVER POLICE SHOOTING OF UNARMED BLACK MAN IN WISCONSIN,” but the message was removed and replaced roughly 5 seconds later without the word “violent.”

There are clearly those who also frame such stories to fit narratives on the right.

Over at Fox, Tucker Carlson is under attack for his statement that the shooter of two people in Kenosha can be explained by the failure of local authorities: “We do know why it all happened, though. Kenosha is devolved into anarchy because the authorities in charge of the city abandoned it.” The shooter has been charged and he appears to have shown up with a long rifle at the protests.

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.

Then again, I do not want to get all “polly” in speaking of the press.