From calls to ban non-American Muslims to pledges to carpet bomb densely-populated cities, the rise of hateful rhetoric among 2016 presidential candidates—and the real, violent consequences for those communities targeted—has raised widespread concern.
But also on display during the fifth GOP debate on "national security" was the role of corporate media outlets such as CNN in stoking racist and dangerous rhetoric, observers argued Wednesday, in a bid to boost ratings.
"Framing the problem of political violence as a struggle of 'us' against ' them,' of creating a demonized other by stoking fear, is a tried and true strategy for building an audience," Jim Naureckas, the editor of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's watchdog journal Extra!, told Common Dreams.
"The debates are seen not as a public service but as a money-making opportunity for the networks," Naureckas added. "More than anything, they want high ratings."
Such a strategy, Naureckas argued, was egregiously displayed Tuesday night when CNN debate moderator Hugh Hewitt indicated that, to qualify for the presidency, a candidate must be willing to kill "thousands" of children.
"It's horrifying to see our leading cable news network offering, as a litmus test for becoming president of United States, a willingness to kill thousands of innocent children."
—Jim Naureckas, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting
Addressing retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Hewitt posed: "People admire and respect and are inspired by your life story, your kindness, your evangelical core support. We're talking about ruthless things tonight—carpet bombing, toughness, war. And people wonder, could you do that? Could you order air strikes that would kill innocent children by not the scores, but the hundreds and the thousands? Could you wage war as a commander-in-chief?"
"It's horrifying to see our leading cable news network offering, as a litmus test for becoming president of United States, a willingness to kill thousands of innocent children," Naureckas argued. "To equate that with toughness and seriousness about protecting the United States is a violent fantasy of the sort that motivates the people who carry out mass shootings."
Such violence also surfaced in statements by veteran anchor Wolf Blitzer, the main host of the debate, critics note.
In addressing multi-billionaire Donald Trump's call for a ban on non-American Muslims from entering the United States, Blitzer appeared to accept that the proposal, widely acknowledged as racist and discriminatory, is worthy of debate—and that those who oppose the plan should be on the defensive.
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Turning to former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Blitzer stated: "You called Mr. Trump 'unhinged' when he proposed banning non-American Muslims from the United States. Why is that unhinged?"
What's more, the fact that Trump has previously sought to justify his proposed ban on non-American Muslims by drawing comparisons with the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II at no time entered the conversation as a cause for alarm.
"Debate moderators entertained proposals like carpet bombing children and innocent civilians, killing the families of suspected terrorists, deporting all Muslims in the U.S., and allowing corporations and law enforcement agencies to spy on anyone deemed a threat."
—Steven Renderos, Center for Media Justice
And to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Blitzer suggested that the alleged popularity of Trump's Islamophobic policy proposal among the Republican base overrides civil rights concerns. "You have said banning Muslims is unconstitutional. But according to a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, a majority of Republicans support Mr. Trump's idea," said Blitzer. "Why are they wrong?"
Steven Renderos, national organizer for the Center for Media Justice, told Common Dreams that the premise that racist and hateful policies are justified or reasonable "boils over into actualized violence against the communities it's directed towards, and CNN's role in furthering this problematic discourse is shameful."
"The moderators of last night's CNN presidential debate provided a two hour platform for every Republican candidate to further [incite] fear and hatred against Muslims," said Renderos. "Debate moderators entertained proposals like carpet bombing children and innocent civilians, killing the families of suspected terrorists, deporting all Muslims in the U.S., and allowing corporations and law enforcement agencies to spy on anyone deemed a threat."
However, in a debate on "national security," Naureckas noted that the greatest dangers were completely absent from the discussion and questioning: right-wing and white-supremacist violence, which—a recent study shows—poses the biggest domestic threat.
"It's as though we didn't just have an attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado. It's as though there wasn't just a racist murder of nine people in a church in Charleston in an effort to start a race war," said Naureckas. "That kind of violence just disappears from the conversation. It's all about who we should bomb abroad and who we can we keep out."