Was CNN Right To Drop Reza Aslan's Show Over Trump Criticism?

At what point can comedy go too far, and what limits are appropriate on critical political discourse?
06/09/2017 08:45 pm ET Updated Jun 12, 2017

On Friday, CNN announced that it was no longer airing Reza Aslan’s show “Believer” on its network, following some very critical tweets Aslan made about President Donald Trump.

Aslan, an Iranian-born Muslim, has been under fire after calling the president a “piece of sh*” on Twitter, in response to the president’s intent to double down on the Muslim ban after the London attacks.

He had since apologized for making the statements. His apology, however, was not enough to calm the hype over his tweets. His firing comes at the heels of another high-profile severing of ties— CNN cut ties with Kathy Griffin last week over her photo shoot where she was holding what looked like a severed head of Donald Trump.

Both of these recent spats are begging the question— at what point can comedy go too far, and what limits are appropriate on critical political discourse?

If comedians and public figures critique the president, should they be punished?

Aslan’s show “Believer” aired for one season on CNN and was highly publicized leading up to its launch, which shows that CNN must have had some serious concerns with Aslan’s statements before making the call to sever ties with the host and frequent commentator.

Serious concerns or serious pressure. It’s hard to know. After all, CNN hasn’t been the beacon of political correctness lately.

In reply to CNN’s cancellation of his show, Aslan issued a statement on Twitter:

Did Reza Aslan go too far?

It’s no secret— I’m a huge fan of Reza Aslan (not the same for Kathy Griffin, though). I love the fact that Aslan is outspoken and calls people out on air. I crack up every time he slows down his speech and dumbs himself down to debate with the lesser intellectually endowed. I enjoyed his show and how he explored different religions. And I got a huge kick every time CNN had to bleep his swear words on air.

But I wasn’t thrilled to see him tweet that the president was a piece of sh*t. Not because I don’t believe that the president is a piece of sh*t ― after all, that opinion is a valid one for many.

I wasn’t thrilled because, while Aslan has been known to go too far on air (like the time he pow-wowed with Hindu cannibals and ate human brain), this tweet wasn’t well thought out.

In essence, he was just acting like our commander in chief, firing off emotional tweets without considering the greater consequence.

There were likely classier ways to dissent with the president’s Muslim ban. In fact, Aslan had already been addressing Islamophobia in the classiest way possible— through media and open discourse on his show.

But now, thanks to a momentary brain fart and the tweet-storm that ensued, we won’t have his show anymore.

Thanks, Reza!

Can the president limit satire and criticism?

Let’s be fair for a second— the president did not cut ties with Aslan or Griffin. CNN did. But these two recent firings beg the question— when did this country become fearful of making fun of the president? For years, some networks repeatedly aired kooks like lawyer/dentist/realtor Orly Taitz, who directly called into question President Obama’s birth records.

This new administration has made networks fearful. They are fearful to air dissent. They are afraid to speak out.

In North Korea, Kim Jong Un recently banned sarcasm. Yeah, you heard right. According to The Independent, the Korean dictator banned dissent— even indirect dissent.

We’re not at that stage yet. After all, Kim Jong Un is a thin-skinned and insecure baby-man leader who can’t take a joke at his expense. That’s nothing like the current American leadership.

But if American TV and media networks begin living in fear of dissent— if they are truly scared of criticizing the president— then we may be headed in that direction.

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