President Trump has fired many insults at CNN and even tweeted an edited video in which he appeared to beat up the network's logo, but his tweet Thursday night might be the most inflammatory one yet about the network.
Trump seems to be trying to bait CNN into a fight with a teenager who survived last week's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — an effort that, if successful, could make the network look insensitive and hypocritical all at once.
The president tweeted after apparently watching Fox News host Tucker Carlson interview the student, Colton Haab, who said he backed out of a town-hall-style event that CNN broadcast on Wednesday. Haab said that he and a CNN producer, in phone and email interactions in the days leading up to the event, had discussed questions he wanted to ask.
“In my interview with CNN, I had talked about arming the teachers, if they were willing to arm themselves in the school, to carry on campus,” Haab told Carlson. “And they had — she had taken that, of what I had briefed on, and actually wrote that question out for me.”
“They put their own words in the question?” Carlson followed up. “And they weren't the same words you had said, and they were the producer's words?”
“Absolutely,” Haab replied. “They had taken what I had wrote, and what I had briefed on and talked about, and they actually wrote the question for me.”
“That seems dishonest,” Carlson remarked.
“It definitely did, and that's kind of why I didn't go,” Haab said.
Eighteen minutes after the interview ended, Trump tweeted. And about an hour after that, CNN responded.
This is a delicate situation, to say the least. Haab shared his version of events with a local TV station in Miami earlier Thursday, and his claim that CNN tried to script his question quickly swept through the conservative press, prompting this initial response from the network:
Carlson summarized CNN's position thusly: “In other words, they're claiming Colton Haab is a liar.”
The network has not been so blunt, but it is hard for CNN to defend itself without appearing to attack a teenage boy who just endured an incredibly traumatic experience. And CNN personalities have ripped others' attempts to discredit survivors of last week's shooting; Anderson Cooper denounced “sick conspiracy theories” about the students on Tuesday, for example.
For Trump, who displayed his own empathy deficit on a note card on Wednesday, drawing his least-favorite TV network into conflict with a shooting survivor would muddy the water and amount to a kind of victory. CNN must tread carefully here.