The question over whether or not words and images can provoke violence is a stupid one. Of course they can. Why do thousands of companies spend hundreds of billions of dollars on advertising? Why do politicians spend billions of their own? Because words and images have the power to alter human behavior, and not only in small ways, like which toothpaste they will purchase.
The image of Clark Gable not wearing one in Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934) almost put the t-shirt industry out of business. Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) inspired a presidential assassin. Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008) inspired a Joker-like movie theater massacre. David Fincher's Fight Club (1999) inspired its own Project Mayhem. Need I go on?
The question is not whether or not words and images inspire violence. We know they do. The question is whether or not living in a free society is worth that cost. Of course it is.
The other question — and this is the only important one — is one of intent.
Did Capra intend to put the t-shirt industry out of business? Did Scorsese intend to inspire an assassination attempt, and so forth? No, of course not. These men did absolutely nothing wrong.
The same, however, cannot be said for CNN.
In the wake of Wednesday's attempted shooting massacre of dozens of Republican lawmakers, we know for a fact that CNN intends to provoke and inspire this kind violence, and intends to do so specifically against Donald Trump and his supporters (including Rep. Steve Scalise, who was gravely wounded yesterday).
We know this for a fact because throughout the years, CNN has admitted that the very behavior the network now aggressively engages in, provokes and inspires political violence.
Some examples …
We know for a fact that CNN believes that symbols as innocuous as crosshairs on a political map can result in a political assassination. We know this because for weeks after 2011's horrific Gabby Giffords shooting, CNN blamed Sarah Palin. Palin put usual-usual crosshairs on a political map (a normal practice at the time) and CNN revealed to us again and again that they believed those symbols provoked this assassination attempt.
And so, because we know what CNN believes, without any uncertainty we know that what CNN's intent is when CNN blasts Trump as "unmoored," "unhinged" and "un-American." We know what CNN's intent is when CNN compares Trump and his supporters to the Ku Klux Klan. We know what CNN's intent is when CNN ties Rep. Scalise to the KKK.
Another example … We know for a fact that CNN believes images inspire political violence. We know this because CNN told us so in the wake of that godawful 2015 church shooting in South Carolina. For weeks CNN told us the image of the Rebel Flag provoked this violence.
And so, because we know what CNN believes, without any uncertainty we know what CNN's intent is when they defend, praise, recommend, and stand by their parent company's decision to sponsor an assassination porn play that depicts the bloody murder of President Trump.
Another example … We know for a fact that CNN believes rhetoric inspires violence. We know this because in the wake of the terrible 2015 Planned Parenthood shooting, CNN told us that abortion rhetoric inspired this violence.
And so, because we know what CNN believes, without any uncertainty we know what CNN's intent is when CNN compares Trump and his supporters to the Ku Klux Klan. We know what CNN's intent is when CNN ties Rep. Scalise to the KKK.
Another example … We know for a fact that CNN believes unsubstantiated and reckless conspiracy theories provoke violence. We know this because in their coverage of the 2016 "Pizzagate" shooting, CNN told us they believe this.
And so, because we know CNN believes this, without any uncertainty we also know what CNN's intent is when CNN continues to push the false Russian conspiracy, the thoroughly-debunked lie that Trump mocked a reporter's disability, and the even more absurd lie that Trump has admitted to serial-sexual assault.
Let's boil this down …
CNN firmly believes that certain behavior inspires, provokes, and causes political violence — including assassination attempts.
Therefore, when CNN itself consciously engages in this exact same behavior, we know for a fact that their intent is to inspire, provoke, and cause political violence — including assassination attempts.
You may choose not to blame CNN for Wednesday's near massacre. You may choose not to believe that words and images and rhetoric and conspiracy theories can be blamed for violence. Whatever. That is not my point.
The point is that if CNN believes those things result in violence and then does those things, the network's intent is not in dispute.
Now will you cut the cord?