CNN’s on-staff Trump apologists have reacted to allegations about Trump’s history of sexual harassment and assault by smearing the accusers, downplaying the severity of Trump’s comments and alleged behavior, and trivializing the impact of sexual assault. And CNN is paying them to do it.
For months, CNN has been criticized for its decision to hire and pay a number of professional Trump surrogates -- people the network puts on air to downplay and dismiss Trump’s frequent campaign controversies.
Since The Washington Post published 2005 audio of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, CNN’s Trump surrogates -- Corey Lewandowski, Jeffrey Lord, Kayleigh McEnany, and Scottie Nell Hughes -- have been playing defense for their candidate by dismissing the comments as “locker room” talk, denying that Trump was talking about sexual assault, calling the controversy a “distraction,” blaming his comments on 50 Shades of Grey, accusing critics of being “politically motivated,” and generally downplaying the significance of a major party’s presidential candidate talking so flippantly about groping women without their consent. “Nobody cares,” announced Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
Those CNN surrogates were forced to change their message after multiple news outlets reported victims’ allegations of being sexually assaulted by Trump. Following their candidate’s lead, the network’s professional Trump apologists have repeatedly attacked the credibility of the accusers, claimed the media is ginning up the story to distract from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and attempted to derail segments about the accusations by bringing up bogus attacks on Clinton’s work as a court-appointed defense attorney in the 1970s.
It goes without saying that the reaction of CNN’s Trump surrogates has been deplorable -- a train wreck of normalizing and making excuses for sexual assault. In their rush to protect Trump, CNN’s Trump surrogates have described talk of sexual assault as something mundane, ordinary, and even expected. “No woman woke up affected by these words,” declared CNN’s Scottie Nell Hughes, ignoring the tremendous harm inherent when men talk about women as sexual objects to be dominated or acted upon. The message to viewers is clear: talking about sexually assaulting women is fine, so long as you’re behind closed doors and don’t actually go through with it.
Moreover, CNN’s surrogates are putting on a master class on why women who experience sexual assault frequently don’t come forward with their stories -- using their national platform to paint Trump’s accusers as liars, political operatives, and villains in the name of defending Trump. Admitting that you’ve been victimized by a major party’s presidential nominee is hard enough. Having to see your credibility repeatedly questioned on national TV is unimaginable.
But what makes CNN’s situation so uniquely grotesque is that the network is paying these surrogates to be professional Trump attack dogs. And in this case, it’s the surrogates’ jobs to find any way to defend their candidate on national television, even if it means downplaying the problem of sexual violence or attacking Trump’s accusers. In other words, CNN is giving these surrogates a financial incentive -- and national platform -- to peddle some of the most damaging and harmful tropes about survivors of sexual assault.
It’s one thing for Trump’s campaign to engage in the most toxic kind of sexual assault apologism. It’s quite another for a national news network to sponsor it.