CNN’s Unprofessional Response To Trump’s Wrestling Tweet

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on July 3, 2017 – 10:16 AM

On Sunday morning, President Donald Trump tweeted a video to his 33 million Twitter followers that featured him beating up “CNN.” Like many other people, I was disturbed by the video, which intensifies Trump’s long-running attack against the mainstream media—but this time through the use of violent imagery.

The video goes against what Trump himself said immediately after his GOP congressional colleagues were the targets of violence at a baseball practice last month. “We may have our differences but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country,” he remarked. “We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good.”

In light of that recent violence—and, more generally, inflamed public rhetoric—the men and women of CNN are right to be concerned. Many journalists have already spoken up about concerns for their personal safety, and some newsrooms have beefed up security.

But instead of focusing on those points, CNN released a statement that looked more like it came from a partisan opponent. And, in so doing, they helped Trump harden the battle lines in his war on the press.

Trump CNN Wrestling Tweet

Here’s CNN’s statement:

“It is a sad day when the President of the United States encourages violence against reporters. Clearly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied when she said the President had never done so. Instead of preparing for his overseas trip, his first meeting with Vladimir Putin, dealing with North Korea and working on his health care bill, he is instead involved in juvenile behavior far below the dignity of his office. We will keep doing our jobs. He should start doing his.”

When I criticized CNN’s statement on Twitter yesterday, several tweeters disagreed with me. They had several different arguments—but one of the most common was that CNN’s statement was “factual,” and therefore appropriate. For the purposes of this post, I’ll accept their argument about the factual nature of CNN’s statement, debatable as it may be.

But even when one accepts the “factual” argument, CNN’s statement is still counterproductive and, in my view, unprofessional.

To understand why, consider the White House strategy behind its escalating battle against the press. Their actions have made clear that as a matter of deliberate strategy, they will sideline any institution that challenges their version of events. Whether it’s the judiciary, a nonpartisan budget scorer, scientists, or reporters, the Trump Administration will kneecap any opponent necessary to advance their own narrative.

Even if you agree with CNN’s statement, it fuels the exact dynamic Trump wants: “The Media versus Trump.”

Trump CNN Wrestling

CNN should not be positioning itself as Donald Trump’s enemy. By sniping that Trump should “start doing his [job],” they look more like an agenda-driven member of “The Resistance” than a news organization covering its subjects with a useful professional distance. That’s true even when it’s the network itself being attacked. Or, more to the point, it’s especially true when it’s the network itself being attacked.

CNN should stick to following the facts wherever they lead. The facts emerging from the Trump White House are damaging enough. Gratuitous snark undermines their impact.

Here’s the statement I wish they had released yesterday instead:

“In today’s heightened political climate, we are concerned that President Trump’s tweet puts our journalists—and journalists everywhere—at greater risk. As we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, we hope the President will reassert his commitment to the First Amendment and his recent pledge to ‘work together for the common good.’ In the meantime, we have an important job to do and intend to fulfill our vital role in American democracy by doing it to the best of our abilities.”

Do you agree with my perspective? Think I should get a new job, as two tweeters suggested yesterday? Please leave your comments below. Bonus points for thoughtful arguments.

 

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Comments (8)

  1. By Melanie Lee Lockhart:

    I agree. This approach won’t help CNN build trust with anyone concerned about its bias.

    Regardless how justified management may feel in making the comment, it won’t help achieve the network’s long-term objective of building/maintaining credibility with people on both sides of the issue.

  2. By Brad Phillips:

    Agreed, Melanie. They can’t lose their eternal soul — flawed as it may currently be — in heated reactions to provocations of the moment.

    Thanks for commenting,
    Brad

  3. By Kathleen:

    Completely agree.

  4. By Brad Phillips:

    Thanks for reading the post, Kathleen!

  5. By Deborah Brody:

    Yes, I think your approach is more sensible and less inflammatory. Highlighting the value of the First Amendment would be a great tactic for them. I think the emotions at CNN are running high, and for good reason. Trump’s attitude toward CNN and mainstream media in general is terrible and dangerous. Many commentators are worried that this coarsening of public discourse will hurt our society in the long run–and it’s already happening. Also, I wonder if the media ignored Trump’s tweets altogether whether he would back down. He’s only doing it for attention.

  6. By Brad Phillips:

    Thanks for the feedback, Deborah. You hit the nail on the head — emotions at CNN are surely running high, and that statement suggests that they’re reacting to the provocation of the moment instead of playing the long game. They’d be smart to remember that they’re up against an experienced reality star who knows how to play the game — and that responding by putting the focus on great journalism rather than gutter-sniping will result in bigger dividends (if not to their quarterly bottom line, at least to our democracy).

  7. By Mike Breslin:

    Great piece!

  8. By Brad Phillips:

    Thank you, Mike!

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