This has been a pretty bad week for the world -- and, much less importantly, CNN. From doing everything it can to whip Americans into a frenzy about any terror threat that it can find -- no matter how vague -- to asking the mayor of a U.S. town with a large Muslim population if she's "afraid," to stenographically reporting the outrageously provocative and utter false utterings of one Donald J. Trump, "the most trusted name in news" has done everything possible to abuse any trust it actually had.
Of its many recent crimes and misdemeanors, two things jump out. Today. after Trump launched a blizzard of offensive and blatantly dishonest statements or Twitter posts -- including a bizarre claim that he saw "thousands and thousands" of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks and (I swear I'm not making this up) retweeting bogus crime statistics intended to make blacks look bad that may even trace back to an admirer of Adolf Hitler -- CNN knew it had to do something. But terrified of using the "L" word about the man who has been pure ratings gold for CNN, the piece asked merely, "Does Donald Trump transcend the truth?"
First of all, that's not even the proper use of the word..it's like they're wondering if Trump is so amazing that he goes beyond the truth. Second of all, the short-fingered vulgarian does not "transcend" the truth. He is out and out LYING! It's really not that hard to say.
But objectivity and truth baffles CNN. This week, the network also suspended one of its international correspondents, Elise Labott, for two weeks because, after the House started sliding into neo-fascist xenophobia with its vote to ban Syrian refugees this week, she tweeted: "Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish." What horrible bias -- to be slanted in favor of humanity.
After CNN's latest low, Gleen Greenwald ripped them the proverbial "new one":
But there's a more important point here than CNN's transparently farcical notion of "objectivity." In the wake of Paris, an already ugly and quite dangerous anti-Muslim climate has exploded. The leading GOP presidential candidate is speaking openly of forcing Muslims to register in databases, closing mosques, and requiring Muslims to carry special ID cards. Another candidate, Rand Paul, just introduced a bill to ban refugees almost exclusively from predominantly Muslim and/or Arab countries. Others areadvocating exclusion of Muslim refugees (Cruz) and religious tests to allow in only "proven Christians" (Bush).
That, by any measure, is a crisis of authoritarianism. And journalists have historically not only been permitted, but required, to raise their voice against such dangers. Indeed, that is one of the primary roles of journalism: to serve as a check on extremism when stoked by political demagogues.
The two most respected American television journalists in the history of the medium are almost certainly Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. The legacies of both were shaped by their raising their voices in times of creeping radicalism and government overreach. Murrow repeatedly inveighed against the extremism of Congressional McCarthyism, while Cronkite disputed Pentagon claims that victory in the Vietnam War was near and instead called for its end: "The only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could." Neither could survive at the climate created at CNN.
Look, let's be honest: In these ideologically charged times, a lot of people are having a problem with the concept of a free press. I wrote here less than two weeks ago about the alarming trends on some college campuses. Some -- not all, but some -- of the many folks I saw blasting CNN for suspending Labott are the kind of people who'd be calling for the head of any journalist who'd tweeted against, say, abortion or gay marriage, which would be hypocritical. It's hard to be respect people with an opposing viewpoint, but it's important that we all try.
It also seems hard for news outlets these days -- not just CNN, although they're the worst -- to sort out issues like objectivity and opinion, transparency and the truth. I prefer it when journalists show their humanity like Elise Labott did, rather than pretend that they are lobotomized robots with no opinions...as some "high priests" of journalism ethics would have everyone pretend.
But like the saying goes, people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. The latest polls show that Donald Trump is running away with the nomination of one of America's two major parties, which means that CNN's obligation to tell America that Trump is full of baloney is every bit as important as it was for Edward R.Murrow to expose Joe McCarthy and for Walter Cronkite to level with viewers about Vietnam. If CNN can't do that, it wouldn't be "transcending the truth" to say that they're not real journalists.