CNN’s Existential War With Trump

It may be unwise or monotonous for President Trump to harp on CNN as a purveyor of “fake news.” And the constant refrain “enemy of the people” should not be used of a media outlet, even one as prejudicial as CNN.

Yet Trump’s obsessions with CNN are largely reactive, not preemptive.

After just 100 days in office, before his own agendas could even be enacted, the liberal Shorenstein Center at Harvard reported that 93 percent of CNN’s coverage of the Trump Administration was already negative. Just one in every 13 CNN stories proved positive. That radically asymmetrical pattern (shared by NBC/MSNBC) had never been seen before in the history of comparable media analytics. No one at CNN sought to explain the imbalance, leaving the impression that the news organization had more or less joined the progressive opposition.

In his serial pushbacks against CNN, if Trump has perhaps surpassed the invective of Barack Obama’s own periodic dismissals of Fox News, he has clearly not ordered his Justice Department to monitor the communications of any CNN reporter, in the manner of Eric Holder’s surveillance of Fox News journalist James Rosen. Associated Press journalists are not being monitored by the administration as they were during the Obama years. That difference is oddly never cited by CNN reporters who are wont to decry their own treatment by the administration, but who were not particularly vocal when their professional colleagues were once placed under electronic surveillance.

Naming Names
But most importantly, both Chris Cillizza and White House correspondent Jim Acosta are quite mistaken in their most recent denials of CNN reporters as purveyors of fake news, and, even more so, in dismissing such accusations as “just empty rhetoric.”

Cillizza complains without irony that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “can’t name specific outlets or specific people who are enemies of the people or purveyors of fake news because the whole thing is just empty rhetoric solely designed to motivate base voters.” Acosta went further, challenging Sanders to “have the guts” to “state which outlets, which journalists are the enemy of the people.”

Didn’t CNN reporter Manu Raju in December 2017 falsely assert that Donald Trump, Jr. had advanced access to the hacked WikiLeaks documents? Such a false charge smeared Trump, Jr. and it may have spawned all sort of subsidiary rumors that he was on the verge of a Mueller indictment. What were Raju’s sources for such an inaccurate charge?

Why did CNN anchor Chris Cuomo falsely assert that only the media (i.e., outlets like CNN) could download the hacked email trove of John Podesta—as if it was illegal for anyone else to do the same (e.g., “Remember, it is illegal to possess these stolen documents. It is different from the media. So everything you learn about this, you are learning from us.”)? What CNN legal counsel gave him such absurd advice?

Why did CNN’s own “unnamed source”—namely Lanny Davis—later deny he had ever given CNN any information that Donald Trump had advance warning of a meeting between Russian interests and Donald Trump, Jr.? Why did not the authors of the false story, Jim Sciutto, Carl Bernstein, and Marshall Cohen, retract in full the allegation, or at least explain exactly why their not-so-anonymous source Lanny Davis was claiming that he never told the three that his client Michael Cohen had professed foreknowledge of the meeting on the part of Trump.

Why were Thomas Frank, Eric Lichtblau, and Lex Harris, the supposed dream team of CNN investigative reporters, all forced to resign from CNN? Was it their collective but false report that Anthony Scaramucci was connected to a $10-billion Russian investment fund? What were the sources for that fake account? Did that news account hurt the Trump transition? Would they have been so fast and loose with the truth in the case of president-elect Hillary Clinton? Might they instead have reported at about the same time on the Clinton’s campaign funding of the Fusion/GPS/Christopher Steele project?

CNN’s Gloria Borger, Eric Lichtblau, Jake Tapper and Brian Rokus, remember, also had erroneously reported that former FBI Director James Comey would in congressional testimony soon contradict President Trump’s prior assertion that he was told by Comey that he was not under investigation. That report proved false—and yet it too had helped to whip up anti-Trump hysteria on the eve of the Comey appearance. Why is it that one can easily predict the particular political slant of these fake news stories?

This Is CNN’s Shoddiness
Even in trivial matters, CNN has fudged the truth and always in a predictably biased direction—as, for example, in its selective viewing of a video that suggested Trump buffoonishly had preempted the Japanese Prime Minister and overfed fish during a joint photo-op (“Trump feeds fish, winds up pouring entire box of food into koi pond.”). In truth, Trump simply followed the feeding model of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Earlier, CNN had reported that singer Nancy Sinatra was “not happy” that the president and first lady’s inaugural dance would be to the music of her father Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”—a story of her purported anger that Sinatra denied. During the lead-up to the Neil Gorsuch nomination announcement, CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny inaccurately announced that the Trump White House was purportedly “setting up [the] Supreme Court announcement as a prime-time contest” by creating two “identical Twitter pages” for both possible nominees Justices Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman. Later Zeleny sheepishly retracted that falsehood.

The shoddiness in reporting about Trump and the occasional flat-out inaccurate new stories reflect a toxic network culture in which partisanship is now standard and apparently to be expected. A certain furor over Trump often erupts in repeated, obscene anti-Trump and unprofessional outbursts of CNN journalists, contributors, and anchors—whether Anderson Cooper trashing a pro-Trump panelist by profanely retorting, “If he took a dump on his desk, you would defend it!” or CNN religious scholar Reza Aslan referring to Trump as “this piece of sh-t,” or perhaps the late CNN host Anthony Bourdain joking in an interview about poisoning Trump or CNN New Year’s Eve host Kathy Griffin’s infamous photo-pose holding a facsimile of Trump’s severed head.

After a while, the pattern becomes undeniable. We saw such biased activism during the Ferguson drama when the entire newsroom of CNN panelists (on the supposedly straight news “CNN Newsroom”) in December 2014 adopted an on-air “hands up, don’t shoot” photo-op pose—an emulation of the false narrative surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown that was proven fantastical by grand jury testimonies and an investigation by Eric Holder’s Justice Department.

Apparently, CNN has created a landscape in which not only are journalists likely to relax professional standards when it comes to reporting on Trump, but there is a sloppy environment of crude disparagement of the candidate and later president, and a general indifference to journalistic ethics.

The permeating ethos is perhaps best illustrated by the CNN staffers working with CNN correspondent Suzanne Malveaux during the campaign who were caught on a hot mic joking about the crash of Trump’s jet. CNN commentator Donna Brazile leaked a primary debate question to candidate Hillary Clinton, and then shamelessly lied that she had not done so. CNN panelist Julia Ioffe (previously fired from Politico for tweeting that the president and his daughter Ivanka might have had an incestuous relationship) claimed that Trump had radicalized more people than had ISIS. CNN contributor and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has suggested that President Trump is being duped as if he was a de facto Russian asset, while another CNN contributor, former CIA Director Michael Hayden, on more than one occasion has compared Trump and his policies in various ways to Hitler, U.S. immigration enforcement to the Holocaust, and America under Trump to Nazi Germany.

CNN anchor Don Lemon recently asserted that “the biggest terror threat in this country is white men”—another false assertion, given that radical Islamist terrorists have killed far more Americans in terrorist acts than have white men, whether left-wing or right-wing, and despite the fact that while “white men” constitute about a third of the U.S. population, Islamists constitute a mere fraction.

At least Christiane Amanpour (“I believe in being truthful not neutral”) was intellectually honest when she asserted—in some sense echoing the confessions of New York Times media columnist Jim Rutenberg—that journalists could not and should not be neutral reporters any longer, given their low opinion of Trump and their own belief that he is untrustworthy and a threat to the republic.

Welcome to the Echo Chamber
Given the fabrications and outright falsehoods that were critical to the selling of Obamacare, from those of Barack Obama to Jonathan Gruber’s, I doubt any credible journalist would have dared state that they could no longer stay neutral in reporting Obama Administration policies. What followed the fabrications of Obamacare were Ben Rhodes’ later admissions of creating an echo chamber by which he orchestrated all sorts of narratives among incompetent and compliant young reporters, or Susan Rice’s serial lies about the Benghazi deaths, the Bowe Bergdahl swap, the complete removal of WMD from Syria, and denials that she had requested unmaskings of Trump associates swept up in the Obama Administration’s FISA warrant surveillance.

In fact, the duty of a journalist is to stay neutral and to report the truth, at least as it can be determined by testimonies, evidence, motive, and common sense—without worry whether such reporting injures or aids a particular politician or agenda.

In answer to both Cillizza and Acosta, unfortunately CNN has serially issued false reports, has had to fire hosts, contributors, and reporters, and has had its anchors and panelists engage in wild ahistorical attacks on Trump and traffic in racialist stereotypes and obscenity.

The names of those who have abused the journalistic ethos and the regrettable failure of CNN to uphold media standards are a matter of record.

The best way to stop the chronic Trump attacks on the veracity of CNN is not to unleash a rude and boisterous Acosta to argue endlessly with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but simply to ensure that CNN news reports are fact-checked and not in need of retractions or firings, that CNN hosts, contributors, and anchors do not stoop to profanity, scatology, racism, and ahistorical comparisons to Stalin and Hitler, and that CNN’s staff and hosts do not joke about the president being killed through plane crashes and decapitation.

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Photo Credit: Thomas O’Neill/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.