These are trying times, and political discourse isn’t making the world any better. Rather than nuanced and complex discussions about policy and leadership, we find a lot of debate over painfully partisan talking points and 140 character tweets. The end of last week proved no different.
CNN announced on Friday that it would not be moving forward with another season of the docu-series Believer, hosted by Reza Aslan. Despite the fact that production had already begun on the second season, CNN parted ways with Aslan after controversy erupted over his tweet calling President Trump a “piece of shit”.
It all started over Donald Trump’s reaction to the recent terror attack in London that left 8 people dead and dozens of others wounded. In a series of tweets that came under heavy criticism, the president saw the tragic event as an opportunity to promote his travel ban and to criticize London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan. In the since deleted tweet, Aslan responded by writing, “This piece of sh*t is not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He’s an embarrassment to humankind”.
Aslan is a religious scholar and well known presence on cable news, often celebrated for appearances in which he seamlessly deconstructs ignorant questions and overly simplistic views of Islam. Given his intellect, it’s safe to say that Aslan could have done better than resort to the language he used in that tweet. He may have been vocalizing what many others felt in that moment, but public personas have to juggle a conflicting set of expectations in which they are both praised for being outspoken and constrained by unspoken rules of propriety.
The apology that followed, mirrored what we often see in these instances. Aslan explained in a public statement, “When in the first few minutes of the terror attack in London, the President of the United states tweeted about his travel ban, I lost my cool and responded to him in a derogatory fashion. That’s not like me. I should have used better language to express my shock and frustration at the president’s lack of decorum and sympathy for the victims of London. I apologize for my choice of words”.
Sometimes, that kind of apology is enough. Bill Maher is still on air after using the n-word on his HBO program Real Time. Kathy Griffin on the other hand was fired from her job as co-host for CNN’s New Year’s Eve Live despite an attempt at atonement for the ill conceived photoshoot in which she posed with a severed head resembling Donald Trump. It’s hard to gather an overarching societal message from these recent media scandals, but CNN seems to be consistent so far in cowing to outrage.
What’s amazing is that the network has been defiant in any calls to axe commentators like Jeffrey Lord, who consistently twists facts about Trump’s own words. Lord is a paid contributor who appears on CNN’s news programming, whereas as Aslan was not a CNN employee and hosted a series tailored to his personality. The only meaning that we can glean from the different treatment of the two men is that CNN values faux “balance” by employing people like Lord despite his disregard for truth yet punishes someone like Aslan because using expletives goes too far. Does that seem fair to you?