Accuracy in Media

In the aftermath of Trump’s acquittal from two articles of impeachment in the Senate, CNN’s reaction was to publish an analysis equating the Senate trial to the Jim Crow South. The analysis’s headline was, “There’s a painful Black History Month lesson in Trump’s acquittal” and compared Republicans to white Southern mobs.

CNN quoted Diane Nash, a civil rights leader, who said that she “began experiencing sickening flashbacks” to “white mobs tearing into young civil rights activists with baseball bats” when she was discussing Trump’s impeachment trial one evening. She said that the Senate impeachment trial was similar to the “sham trial” environment in the Jim Crow South. She claimed that the same kind of fear permeated the Senate and “resurrected the same memories that once convinced blacks they’d never find justice in a courtroom.”

Nash told CNN that there was a bitter irony that Trump was acquitted during Black History Month and that the Senate let fear dictate their decisions, similar to jurors in the Jim Crow South era. CNN turned to other analysts who said “they see parallels between the mock justice of that time and Trump’s impeachment trial.”

CNN compared “To Kill a Mockingbird” to the Republican-majority Senate and said that similar to the novel, the verdict for Trump “seemed preordained.” The novel featured lawyer Atticus Finch, who failed to convince the jury to “see wrong in a white person” (as CNN put it) in a time where blacks were barred from becoming jurors in a trial. Nash said that Jim Crow South trials and the Senate impeachment trial both featured a pre-determined outcome before the trial took place. CNN insinuated that the mostly-white Republican senators were following the footsteps of the white jurors of the Jim Crow South, which is an unfair comparison.

But CNN did not stop there; it then compared “jury nullification” from the Jim Crow South to the impeachment trial. CNN said that jury nullification is when juries reject evidence or do not apply the law due to their personal beliefs. CNN compared the impeachment trial to the murder trial of Emmett Till, a black teenager who was killed by a white mob in Mississippi in 1955. The jury acquitted the accused mob participants in that case and no one was prosecuted for Till’s death. CNN then cited the opinion of another activist who said Trump was immune from prosecution by white men, similar to how white men escaped justice in the Jim Crow South.

The analysis called Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts “a judge who is just a prop” and that he “played a mostly ceremonial function” during the impeachment trial. CNN quoted Nash, who said that the chief justice’s reticence to make a scene in the trial “triggered another disturbing case of déjà vu for Nash” as Jim Crow South judges rarely intervened in trials.

Overall, CNN’s analysis unfairly compared Trump’s impeachment trial to the Jim Crow South and also claimed that both Republicans and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts repeated the injustices of Jim Crow South “sham trials.” Trump’s impeachment trial was not a sham trial, nor was it as egregious as the Jim Crow South trials, where black people were unfairly prosecuted and punished. But CNN published the analysis as an impartial analysis, instead of being categorized as an opinion editorial, which was a mistake.

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