CNN dropping Reza Aslan over anti-Trump tweet reveals a lot about so-called ‘objective’ journalism

Banning criticism is not objectivity.

CREDIT: Screenshot/ThinkProgress
CREDIT: Screenshot/ThinkProgress

CNN canceled Reza Aslan’s show Believer, days after he posted a tweet criticizing Trump. In firing Aslan, the media network revealed everything wrong with how it approaches so-called “objective” journalism.

CNN said on Friday that it “decided to not move forward with production” on Aslan’s Believer series, a show about religions around the world which premiered in March and which was already cleared for a second season.

In the tweet in question, which has since been deleted, Aslan called Trump “a piece of shit” and an “embarrassment to humankind” after the president once again pushed for his Muslim ban, following the attacks in London last week.

CREDIT: Screenshot/Twitter
CREDIT: Screenshot/Twitter

Aslan later deleted the tweet and apologized for his choice of words and said he “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.”

Still, that wasn’t enough for CNN, who chose to cancel Aslan’s show less than a week later.

While one may disagree with the words Aslan chose to use in his tweet, those words are not as important as what Aslan was criticizing: namely, Trump’s call to ban an entire group of people from the country. In a series of tweets following a deadly attack in London, Trump chose not to express sympathy for the victims in London, but to once again push for his executive order suspending all refugee resettlement and banning people from six-Muslim majority countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) from entering the United States.

Tellingly, Trump called his executive order a travel ban in the tweets, despite earlier White House messaging that the order was “not a travel ban.” The wording led to outrage from many, including the American Civil Liberties Union.

The reason this wording is so important is because of Trump’s noted Islamophobia. During the campaign trail, Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country — something his campaign once defined as including Muslim Americans living abroad. After the first version of Trump’s ban — which was later watered down and excluded Iraq from the list of targeted countries — his advisor Rudy Giulani admitted he told Trump this was simply the best way to do a Muslim ban “legally.” Trump’s admission on Twitter that the order is in fact a travel ban speaks to its true intent: his desire to prevent Muslims from entering the country. That’s why so many were outraged, like Aslan.

None of the London attackers would have been prevented from entering the United States under Trump’s order, but astonishingly, this isn’t the first time the White House has ignored the facts.

Despite firing Reza Aslan over a tweet, CNN chose to employ former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after he was charged with simple battery. There was video and eyewitness corroboration that Lewandowski forcibly grabbed Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, but Lewandowski denied having even met her.

Moreover, Lewandowski was a commentator on CNN and at the same time receiving payments from the Trump campaign — making the whole ethics of his hiring seriously questionable.

CNN also previously suspended a reporter who expressed sympathy for refugees on Twitter, after the House of Representatives passed a bill that would halt the entry of refugees from Iraq and Syria.

There is another point that shouldn’t go unnoticed: Aslan’s show has been criticized for its content before. After an episode about an obscure Hindu sect that practices cannibalism, many Hindus criticized Aslan for portraying their faith in a sensationalist manner. University of San Francisco media studies professor Vamsee Juluri described the episode as “racist and dangerously anti-immigrant,” especially “at a time when the United States is living through a period of unprecedented concern and fear.”

But that’s not what was Aslan’s undoing; it was criticism of a president who wants to ban people of an entire religion from the country.

The cancellation of Aslan’s show also leads to larger questions about what we as a society consider acceptable. There was enough outrage over Aslan calling Trump a “piece of shit” for his desire to ban Muslims and refugees to lead to his firing. Meanwhile, Bill Maher, a public racist who joked about being a “house n****” on air last week, was simply told to apologize and still has a platform to share his sexist, racist, and bigoted views. Maher is hosted on HBO, while Aslan was on CNN, but the different standards here — and which voices are being amplified in our media — are still astounding.

Aslan, for his part, said that he hopes to find another platform for Believer’s “message of religious tolerance and exploration.”