In its reporting on the fatal shooting of two journalists in Virginia, CNN repeatedly and needlessly mentioned the shooter's history of registering gay porn websites as evidence that he was unstable and disturbed.
On August 27, CNN reported that Vester Flanagan II, the man who shot and killed two journalists on live television in Virginia, had set up domain names for several gay porn websites between 2007 and 2008.
CNN made no attempt to explain how the domain names could even be related to the shooting. The domain names were purchased years before Flanagan began working at WDBJ, the station that also employed the journalists he killed. And Flanagan openly identified as gay, so his sexual orientation was already public knowledge.
But throughout the day on August 27, CNN repeated its report about the websites Flanagan registered. During The Lead with Jake Tapper, CNN correspondent Drew Griffin called the report "just another disturbing twist" in the story of the shooting:
At the start of The Situation Room, host Wolf Blitzer teased the report while on-screen text blared the headline, "HISTORY OF INSTABILITY."
It was CNN's Don Lemon who finally challenged his network's report during an interview with Blitzer, saying, "I don't really see the relevance of it." He added, "I don't want to gay shame him. There's nothing wrong with being gay":
Injecting details about Flanagan's unrelated sexual history in reports about the shooting has the effect of associating homosexuality with deviancy, mental instability, and violence in the minds of viewers.
The practice of linking gay sexuality with violent or murderous acts isn't new or accidental. American media have a long, dark history of depicting gay sexuality as intrinsically violent and dangerous, especially when it comes to stories about brutal killings. And associating homosexuality with mental instability is a favorite right-wing tactic.
It's not surprising that fringe conservatives are suggesting that Flanagan's homosexuality is somehow linked to his decision to murder two people.
Without an explanation of how Flanagan's sexual interests are relevant to this week's brutal shooting, CNN reinforced a right-wing trope about homosexuality and violence without adding to its substantive reporting on the shooting.
A Black Lives Matter activist is now being forced to justify his race after national media fell for a false story fueled by Breitbart News, a conservative website with a history of reporting falsities.
An August 19 article on Breitbart News hyped "explosive new racial allegations" against Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, citing a June 29 post on Re-NewsIt!, a blog that appears to primarily conduct opposition research on black victims of crime, to assert that King misrepresented himself as black when he is actually white. Right-wing media seized on the story, and Breitbart News repeatedly claimed that King "has been lying to the public about his race" and "has two white parents" listed on his birth certificate.
In an article titled "Why White People Seek Black Privilege," Breitbart's Ben Shapiro asserted that King "demonstrates one undeniable fact: being black in American in 2015 is perceived as a status symbol and an advantage."
The August 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends hyped the Re-NewsIt! "report" to claim that King "is not biracial, he is white," and guest host Anna Kooiman lamented that "it doesn't seem fair" that King was "deceiving people in order to raise [him]self to a higher level." Hosts on The Five used the report to declare it "sacrifices [the] credibility" of the Black Lives Matter movement.
On CNN, host Don Lemon reported that King is "facing some very tough questions today and tonight about his own race," adding that a source told CNN "that both King's parents are white." Lemon cited Breitbart News, asking, "Is this Rachel Dolezal 2.0?"
By August 20, the story started to unravel. As Gawker noted, MSNBC's Joy Reid provided a crucial piece of context reporting that the father listed on King's birth certificate is not his biological father. King later published an essay on DailyKos explaining his father was a black man with whom his mother had an affair.
The next day, CNN reversed course, backing off hyping "questions" surrounding King's race and instead reporting that "the source that bullied him into this story" intended "to discredit the [Black Lives Matter] movement."
Yet Breitbart News is still attacking King, arguing "if there was confusion about Shaun King's race, it's because he allowed it."
From the June 24 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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From the June 22 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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"The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Liberia is over," announced the World Health Organization on May 9, declaring a cautious end to the deadly wave that claimed 4,700 Liberian lives since last summer. That outbreak, of course, eventually sparked panic in the United States last September and October when a handful of Ebola cases were confirmed domestically. Ebola mania raged in the media for weeks and became one of the biggest news stories of 2014.
So how did the American media cover the latest, good-news Ebola story in the days following the WHO announcement? Very, very quietly.
By my count, ABC News devoted just brief mentions of the story on Good Morning America and its Sunday talk show, This Week. On NBC, only the Today show noted the development, while CBS This Morning and the CBS Evening News set aside brief mentions. None of the network newscasts have given this Ebola story full segments, according to a transcript search via Nexis.
A scattering of mentions on cable news and a handful of stories including in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, rounded out the remaining coverage in the past week.*
Pretty amazing, considering that late last year the U.S. news media were in the grips of self-induced Ebola hysteria. During one peak week, cable news channels mentioned "Ebola" over 4,000 times, while the Washington Post homepage one night featured at least 15 Ebola-related articles and columns, many of which focused on both the international crisis and the political dynamic, and the problems Ebola was supposedly causing President Obama.
That's not to say the tragic outbreak was not a big story worthy of any news coverage. It was, but American media went into overdrive hyping concerns that a deadly domestic outbreak was imminent -- only to rapidly forget.
The recent look-away coverage from Ebola shouldn't come as a surprise. The American media lost complete interest in the story right after Republicans lost interest in the story, which is to say right after last November's midterm elections, when they brandished Ebola as a partisan weapon.
That's no exaggeration. From Media Matters' research:
Prominent media figures including News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch criticized Muslims following the Paris terror attacks, claiming that Muslims have not been outspoken against extremist violence, despite prominent Muslim organizations immediately denouncing the attack.
On January 11, millions of people rallied in Paris against violence after extremist attacks in France left 17 people dead earlier in the week. World leaders including leaders from predominantly Muslim countries Mali and Jordan, and Palestinian territory President Mahmoud Abbas marched with French President François Hollande to denounce the violence.
Prominent Muslims and Muslim organizations also denounced the attacks. As religious studies scholar Reza Aslan pointed out on the January 11 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, anyone who wonders whether Muslim organizations and individuals are denouncing extremist attacks "doesn't own Google," because "every single organization, major organization, Muslim organization throughout the world ... has condemned, not just this attack, but every attack that occurs in the name of Islam."
The French and British Muslim Councils and the Arab League denounced the attacks Charlie Hebdo. The Council on American-Islamic Relations called the attack "brutal and cowardly."
In 2014, many Muslim organizations condemned the terror group the Islamic State as "nothing to do with Islam" and "morally repugnant," with the Muslim Public Affairs Council calling on "all people of conscience" to "stand against extremism."
But prominent media figures ignored the condemnations, instead criticizing Muslims for supposedly not being outspoken enough.
On January 9, Murdoch, who chairs Fox News' parent company, tweeted that Muslims should be "held responsible" for radical Islam "until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer":
Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.-- Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) January 10, 2015
Fox News hosts and guests also accused Muslims of not condemning extremist violence. Fox guest Monica Crowley said that Muslims "should be condemning" the violence. Bill O'Reilly went further, repeatedly shouting over his Muslim guests who tried to explain that Muslims are not only denouncing terrorism, but actually dying in the fight against it.
In another offensive display of the media's willingness to conflate Muslims with violent extremists, CNN's Don Lemon asked an American civil rights attorney who is Muslim, "Do you support ISIS?"
From the January 7 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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This year, media coverage of issues affecting women often failed badly, from trivializing sexual assault to pushing inaccurate reports on pending state abortion restrictions. Below are nine major ways the media failed women in 2014.
From the November 19 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin:
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From the November 18 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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A new poll last week revealed disturbing trends about the increasingly dire media coverage of the Ebola story in the United States. Measuring the rising anxiety among news consumers, a Rutgers-Eagleton poll of New Jersey residents found that 69 percent are at least somewhat concerned about the deadly disease spreading in the U.S.
The truly strange finding was that people who said they were following the story most closely were the ones with the most inaccurate information about Ebola. The more information they consumed about the dangerous disease, the less they knew about it. How is that even possible?
Poll director David Redlawsk cast an eye of blame on the news media. "The tone of the coverage seems to be increasing fear while not improving understanding," Redlawsk told a reporter. "You just have to turn on the TV to see the hysteria of the "talking heads" media. It's really wall to wall. The crawls at the bottom of the screen are really about fear. And in all the fear and all the talking, there's not a lot of information."
While the Rutgers-Eagleton poll was a statewide survey, not a national one, it's reasonable to assume that the Ebola information phenomena documented in New Jersey is happening elsewhere, as a series of nationwide polls have highlighted just how little Americans understand about the rare virus.
"Reporters can be part of the problem or part of the solution," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings announced at press conference on October 2, as the city began to deal with its local health crisis following the disclosure that an Ebola victim was being treated in a city hospital.
Two weeks later, what's the verdict?
CNN Tonight turned to ophthalmologist and fiction writer Dr. Robin Cook to hype unsubstantiated fears about the transmission of the Ebola Virus and the CDC's grasp on the situation.
Presenting Cook as "The Man Who Wrote The Book On Ebola," host Don Lemon called Cook's 1987 fiction thriller Outbreak, which details an Ebola outbreak in the U.S.," prophetic." Lemon allowed Cook to speculate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cannot adequately protect Americans from Ebola, and that despite the CDC's assertions to the contrary, the virus may live in the air or mutate into a form that can spread as an aerosol.
Cook's theories on the transmission of Ebola are out of step with nearly every expert from international health agencies and the CDC. As Vox reported, "basically every health agency in the world agrees" that Ebola cannot be transmitted through the air. The CDC definitively says: "Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food."
Medical experts further agree that it's highly unlikely Ebola could mutate into a form that alters its mode of transmission. That type of mutation would be unprecedented according to Columbia University virologist Vincent Racaniello, who wrote: "We have been studying viruses for over 100 years, and we've never seen a human virus change the way it is transmitted," and that "There is no reason to believe that Ebola virus is any different from any of the viruses that infect humans and have not changed the way that they are spread."
CNN host Chris Cuomo argued that professor of religion and author Reza Aslan's heated arguments against anti-Muslim bigotry on CNN recently demonstrated "what people are fearful of when they think of" Islam.
On September 29, Aslan was a guest on CNN Tonight, where hosts Alisyn Camerota and Don Lemon discussed what they called the "primitive treatment in Muslim countries of women and other minorities" while on-air graphics asked, "Does Islam promote violence?" Aslan responded saying he felt CNN was over-generalizing, arguing "you're talking about a religion about 1.5 billion people and certainly it becomes easy to just simply paint them all with a single brush":
ASLAN: You know, this is the problem, is that these conversations that we're having aren't really being had in any kind of legitimate way. We're not talking about women in the Muslim world, we're using two or three examples to justify a generalization. That's actually the definition of bigotry.
On a follow-up segment on the October 2 edition of CNN Tonight, which noted that the network had taken criticism& for the original interview, Camerota and Lemon acknowledged Aslan's argument but defended the premise of their original segment, saying it was important to "ask the question." CNN host Chris Cuomo agreed. He argued that while the hosts shouldn't generalize, and should distinguish the practice of the religion from the practice of individual nations, Aslan's "tone was angry," so he "wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith, which is the hostility of it":
CUOMO: Also, his tone was angry. He wound up kind of demonstrating what people are fearful about when they think of the faith in the first place, which is the hostility of it. Look, here's what you guys were exposing yourself to. This is the state of play in journalism today. The Muslim world is responsible for a really big part of religious extremism right now. And they are unusually violent. They're unusually barbaric in the places where it is happening. And it's happening there more there than it is in other places. Do you therefore want to generalize? Of course not. But you do want to call a situation what it is. It's not a coincidence that ISIS begins with an I. I mean, that's what's going on in that part of the world. Doesn't mean other faiths can't be violent and other cultures can't be violent, but you shouldn't be afraid of the question.
Watch the original CNN Tonight interview with Aslan here:
From the September 29 edition of CNN's CNN Tonight:
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CNN gave a platform to "toxic and divisive" Marc Morano to dismiss global warming on its new program, The 11th Hour. But the network did not disclose that Morano, who has no scientific expertise, is paid by fossil fuel companies to cast doubt on the scientific consensus on climate change, as he did on CNN.
On December 10, The 11th Hour host Don Lemon tweeted a preview of the show: "Is #climatechange real? We discuss tonight on @The11thHour on #CNN." Such a "debate" over verifiable facts is often counter-productive, but if CNN is going to air it, the network needs to at least disclose if any of its guests have a financial incentive to deny the facts on climate change.
The CNN segment featured Marc Morano, who currently runs a climate skeptic website paid for by a fossil fuel-funded lobbying group, alongside the Sierra Club's Michael Brune and Earth Echo International's Philippe Cousteau. However, Morano commandeered the majority of the segment -- at one point Lemon joked to Cousteau, "Philippe, you've got to be aggressive if you want to get in on these guys because they're really fired up about this." Morano, who previously made a living by feeding misleading talking points on global warming to Rush Limbaugh and Senator James Inhofe, used his CNN airtime to claim that the "most pro-child thing you can do" in poverty-stricken areas is to build coal plants -- despite the fact that many countries are struggling with fatal levels of air pollution from those plants. After Morano rattled off his usual talking points, dismissing any trend of increasing extreme weather events, Lemon said, "We get your point. You don't think [climate change] is real." Morano responded, "Scientific journals don't think it's real."
To which scientific journals might Morano have been referring? Currently, 97 percent of all papers that take a stance on climate change have found that human activities contribute to global warming.