There's an odd piece of news making the rounds right now. It seems that people were upset at CNN over the wording of a chyron, a type of banner or caption that appears at the bottom of a video segment. The chyron said, "Alt-Right Founder Questions If Jews Are People."
The alt-right founder was, so a CNN host claimed, Richard Spencer, a Trump supporter and white supremacist who actually coined the term "alt-right."
The twitterverse busted a gut over this chyron. So much so that CNN apologized. “It was poor judgment and we very much regret it and apologize.”
Pro tip @CNN - if they ask "are Jews people" then you can stop calling them "alt-right" and start calling them Nazis.— John Paul Davis (@youngkingrabbit) November 21, 2016
There isn't a context that makes "Are Jews people?" an okay thing to say, kiddos.— Ian Karmel (@IanKarmel) November 21, 2016
How did we go from almost electing our first female president to "ARE JEWS PEOPLE?" in two weeks? https://t.co/wfUvHG7dC2— Drew Schnoebelen (@Dschnoeb) November 21, 2016
Jake Tapper, who would have hosted the segment, but was away, also felt the need to apologize. “I’m off this week and I’m furious about that chyron and my staff has heard from me. Unacceptable,” wrote Tapper on Twitter. “The chyron was abhorrent and I am trying to deal with it. Obviously I take responsibility but my being off is not irrelevant.”
@jryanlaw @katzish @mateagold @mviser the chyron was unacceptable and though I'm off today we are handling this.— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 21, 2016
And finally, the guy who filled in for Tapper, Jim Sciutto, tweeted, "I agree with @jaketapper fully however that the banner - which we don't write from the chair - was out of line."
I agree with @jaketapper fully however that the banner - which we don't write from the chair - was out of line https://t.co/M4aV4W330S— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) November 22, 2016
So I'm reading all this stuff, the tweets, the umbrage, the apologies, and there's something I'm not quite getting. CNN wasn't questioning whether Jews are people, but reporting that some jerk white supremacist had done so. Why wouldn't it be acceptable for CNN to report this fact—and to share the substance of this jerk white-supremacist's thoughts?
That's what I couldn't figure out. For some reason, people think that CNN should have phrased the chyron differently, disavowed the sentiments expressed thereon, or not given them a platform, and I have no idea why. I can quote someone without agreeing with that person. Why does anyone think this chyron represents tacit approval to questioning whether Jews are human?? Why does anyone think the chyron says something about CNN at all?
The fact that the chyron clearly states that this is the founder of the alt-right movement who said this thing, proves the opposite is true. In putting the affiliations of the guy who said this out there for the viewers in black and white, CNN is saying, "Hey. This guy's loony tunes."
And anyway, we should know what crazy people, those with power, even limited power, are saying. That CNN reported on this story at all, is to me, a good thing.
Except, things got weirder still when I began looking for a copy of Spencer's speech. That's when I discovered that he never said this thing in the first place. And it's when I realized I'd stumbled over a case of really bad journalism. (starts at 2:32)
Sciutto completely misrepresented what Spencer said. Spencer, though a Jew-hater through and through, and a vile person, never said that he questions whether Jews are people. Or at least not in his address to the 200 attendees of the National Policy Institute conference on Saturday.
Did Sciutto even listen to Spencer's speech? Sciutto wouldn't have had to listen to the entire half hour speech to hear the relevant two paragraphs, though that would have been appropriate, if he were really meant to cover the story. Spencer said what he said, which wasn't what Sciutto said he said, only two and a half minutes into his speech.
Here is what Spencer actually said, referring to media coverage of the recent election (profanity warning):
“This was the year when random shitlords on Twitter, anonymous podcast hosts, and dissidents working deep within the beltway right proved that they objectively understood politics better than the Republican strategists and the political consultants snarking at us every night on NBC.
“It’s not just that they are leftists and cucks. It’s not just that many are genuinely stupid. Indeed one wonders if these people are people at all, or instead soulless golem animated by some dark power to repeat whatever talking point John Oliver stated the night before.”
See? He was talking about the media. He wasn't talking about Jews. At least not this time.
Spencer was saying that the media are robots that regurgitate a television comedian's political monologue from the previous evening. And you know what? He's right about that. At least if we're talking about the level of what we're seeing, the quality of the news.
Because a lot of the news we're getting is substandard, as is this CNN report that gets the facts way wrong, and skewed, as in the election coverage.
The fact that people are going nuts to screen out what they don't want to hear and see, such as, for instance, this chyron, may in fact be the reason the media is so screwed up. So filled with bias. The media is trying to give people the news they want, rather than the news that is.
Which is really messed up.
But it's even worse than that here, because Sciutto didn't actually listen to or read the transcript of Spencer's speech and then went on to completely misrepresent what Spencer said.
So what CNN is really guilty of here, is poor journalism and the spreading of false information. As opposed to being guilty of tacit approval for an idea that was never voiced.
If, however, Spencer had said that, had said that he questions whether Jews are people, I personally would have wanted to know that. I would have wanted that splashed across my television screen. I would have wanted to work up a proper fury toward the person who voiced such sentiments (and not toward CNN, who would only be the messenger, had Spencer actually said that).
So, here's what I want to say to the twitterverse, to all those people who got really, really angry when CNN tried to report the news (if badly): if you can't handle the news, don't listen to the news and don't be surprised when you're completely caught off guard by events because you haven't been following things. But don't yell at the media when they, in fact, report the news! Don't you dare do that. Instead, support them. Thank them for providing you with facts.
The news, you see, isn't all about fluffy white bunnies, rainbows, and firemen rescuing kittens from high-up tree branches. It's a harsh and nasty world out there. Spencer probably DOES question whether Jews are people, even if he didn't do so in this particular speech. )And that would be something we should know about, should want to know about.)
Just as we should have been fully informed of Hitler's Final Solution.
The not knowing, you see, was what prevented us from fighting the evil coming at us. Instead of blaring the minutiae of the genocide of the Jews across the front page of the paper, the New York Times buried the details of the Holocaust somewhere so deep into the paper we never found it. If you stumbled on it while wrapping fish, you might have thought, "Oh, this can't be a big deal, or the editor would have put it on the front page."
We need to learn a lesson from that. It's something all of us need to come to terms with and absorb: you can't do battle with what you do not know.
Stop a moment and think what this whole business with the chyron will mean going forward. The next time CNN is sitting on a story about Richard Spencer, the antisemitism of the alt-right, or a National Policy Institute conference, how will this purveyor of the news deal with the story? Will the editors give the story a smaller platform so as not to disturb the viewers, the twitterverse? Or perhaps the news conglomerate might simply fail to report the story at all?
Here is another possibility: that CNN will worry so much about the framing of the story that the real story will be buried under a thick layer of hearts and flowers hail.
Is that what you want? You want your news hid from you?
I do not. I want my news served straight. I don't want it all gussied up and prettified. I want to know what is going on in the world.
And you should, too.
If, however, you find you can't handle it, there's always this: