Look at the investment that CNN has sunk into providing what it sees as fair coverage of Donald Trump. When the real-estate mogul first started roaring on the campaign trail, the network hired supporter Jeffrey Lord, a former White House political director, and continued adding like-minded folks to its payroll. No outlet had such a population of Trump-line-toeing talking heads.
Given that investment — and the imperative of producing what it describes as nonpartisan, nonideological news programming — it made no sense that the network would continue doing business with comedian Kathy Griffin, the decade-long regular on CNN New Year’s Eve broadcasts who was recently photographed holding the likeness of a severed Trump head. Why sacrifice the network’s hard-news branding for the sake of some yuks on Amateur Night?
And why continue doing business with “an internationally renowned writer, commentator, professor, producer, and scholar of religions” who recently tweeted that President Trump was a “piece of s–––”? Indeed, on June 3, Reza Aslan, host of CNN’s religion-touring series “Believer,” became frustrated with Trump’s response to the London terrorist attacks and tweeted, “This piece of s––– is not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He’s an embarrassment to humankind.” He later apologized:
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) June 4, 2017
CNN has apparently determined that its patching materials won’t cover this outrage. “CNN has decided to not move forward with production on the acquired series Believer with Reza Aslan (season two). We wish Reza and his production team all the best,” the network announced in a statement. The move comes after a week during which conservative outlets have been dredging up other profane moments from Aslan’s Twitter history.
The announcement, coming within the confines of Friday-news-dump territory, caps off a troublesome week for CNN, which caught an embarrassing correction on a report predicting that Comey would contradict Trump’s contention that the former FBI director had previously assured him that he wasn’t a target of an investigation. That was wrong.
For a window on what animates decisions like these, have a look at how CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker answered some probing questions from BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith during the presidential campaign — a time when there was a consensus that Trump was running a divisive campaign. “I’m not taking a point of view,” Zucker said. “I don’t think it’s our role to take a point of view. It’s our role to report what he says, what he does, to fact check what he says, what he does. Really it’s not our role to build up a campaign. Or take down a campaign.” The studied unwillingness to venture even into conventional political analysis speaks to the running imperative of CNN: To make and break news, it needs to get luminaries from both parties on its sets.
Tweets calling the president of the United States a piece of excrement don’t help.
Even in the Trump era, there’s not quite enough news to fill 24 hours, seven days a week. To complement the main course, Zucker has championed original series such as “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” “Death Row Stories,” “This Is Life with Lisa Ling,” “United Shades of America” with W. Kamau Bell and others. To fill the time slot abandoned by “Believer,” the network is believed to be at work on “This Is Embarrassing With Jeff Zucker.”
UDPATE: Aslan has issued this statement:
Obviously I am very disappointed in this decision. Believer means a great deal to me and to the countless viewers it’s reached. Its message of religious tolerance and exploration is extremely important right now. I am deeply grateful to CNN for giving me the opportunity to launch the show and to amplify my voice on their network. I am especially grateful to the legion of people within the Turner organization who worked so hard to make the show a hit series. However, in these politically charged times, the tenor of our nation’s discourse has become complicated, and I recognize that CNN needs to protect its brand as an unbiased news outlet. Similarly, I need to honor my voice. I am not a journalist. I am a social commentator and scholar. And so I agree with CNN that it is best that we part ways. I look forward to partnering with another platform in the future to continue to spread my message. I wish CNN all the best.