Chris Cillizza, arguably one of the most frequently ridiculed CNN pundits on Twitter, posted an animated image yesterday in which a software glitch briefly depicted President Trump in the middle of a set of green crosshairs. Right-wing media used what was an obvious software error to engage in dishonest smears against Cillizza and his employer, further exemplifying the lengths to which even mainstay conservative outlets will go with their efforts to delegitimize mainstream press.
Cillizza, in the since-deleted tweet, included an animated image of President Trump, but due to a software glitch, the crosshairs used to mark an image capture scene in the gif-creation software GifGrabber were included. He quickly issued a clarification:
I’ve deleted a GIF about President Trump. We use @GifGrabber to make our GIFs and it defaults to the image below as a first frame. To clear up any unintended confusion, I’ve removed the tweet. pic.twitter.com/x6PCKoiW16
— Chris Cillizza (@CillizzaCNN) May 15, 2018
But it was too late. Reflexively, right-wing media activists and outlets that have been hungry to discredit legitimate press outlets by any means necessary latched on to the glitch to dishonestly smear Cillizza.
The first round of dishonest smears came from Mike Cernovich, a self-described “New Right” pundit with an established affinity for trying to jeopardize media figures’ jobs over intentionally skewed interpretations of content online. Although The Daily Dot noted that Cernovich deleted the tweet that started the faux outrage, another tweet from Cernovich still publicly questions the validity of Cillizza’s explanation:
CNN is blaming a “gif error” for the image it published depicting President Trump in the cross hairs.
Do you believe them? pic.twitter.com/sdF4uMbbRG
— Mike Cernovich ?? (@Cernovich) May 15, 2018
The smear was quickly picked up by right-wing hacks across conservative media.
— Stefan Molyneux (@StefanMolyneux) May 15, 2018
I just used GIF grabber to make a GIF of Chris Cillizza’s twitter timeline.
Strangely, there were no crosshairs inserted. pic.twitter.com/N1CvwgGq7d
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) May 15, 2018
Today, @CNN‘s Chris Cillizza puts crosshairs over an image of Trump.
Same people who complain about Trump’s rhetoric daily. https://t.co/pMF7Jh0kwv
— Amber Athey (@amber_athey) May 15, 2018
CNN’s Chris Cillizza claims that his tweet that showed crosshairs on President Donald Trump was “unintended,” as he blamed the GIF maker that he uses.
Cillizza has tweeted five GIFs of Trump over the last 24 hours that don’t have crosshairs on them. pic.twitter.com/nSXwTaYQcD
— Ryan Saavedra ?? (@RealSaavedra) May 15, 2018
oh, really? pic.twitter.com/XsTXK2ZoUS
— Caleb Hull (@CalebJHull) May 15, 2018
Hey @CillizzaCNN —
People who make death threats against the President of the United States are thrown in jail in this country.
RETWEET if you’ve had enough of CNN’s terrorism & think Chris should be charged — WHAT AN IDIOT!https://t.co/ajOB32sdGb
— LIZ ThesePeopleRSick (@LizCrokin) May 15, 2018
— Chadwick Moore (@Chadwick_Moore) May 15, 2018
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) May 15, 2018
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) May 15, 2018
Crazy CNN analyst Chris Cillizza deletes tweet showing Trump in crosshairs. These nuts have spent 18 months trying to set the all time record for sore losers. I think they’ve got it, they can stop the insane tirade now: https://t.co/Uy70Xa8EJK #FakeNewsCNN
— MARK SIMONE (@MarkSimoneNY) May 16, 2018
The Washington Times compared Cillizza’s tweet to the time Sarah Palin tweeted a map with crosshairs on 20 Congressional districts:
Conservatives with long memories weren’t impressed, calling to mind a map Mrs. [Sarah] Palin had put out in 2010 in which crosshairs were placed over 20 Congressional districts she and John McCain had won in 2008 but had Democratic incumbents in the upcoming 2010 elections.
One of the districts was that of Mrs. Giffords. Led by Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, Mrs. Palin was blamed for the attack on her that killed six other people, even before the name of gunman Jared Lee Loughner had been released, much less any ties proven between him and Mrs. Palin or tea-party politics (there were none).
Breitbart likened the glitch to a comment MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace made about strangling White House press secretary Sarah Sanders:
Cillizza’s GIF comes just days after MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace made a reference to strangling White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. Wallace asked NBC White House reporter Kristen Welker on-air how she manages not to “run up and wring her neck” during daily press briefings.
Matt Vespa at Townhall opined that “CNN stepped in it again”:
Well, CNN stepped in it again. Editor Chris Cillizza tweeted and then deleted a photo of Trump in a sniper’s crosshair. It’s certainly something that would catch the attention of the Secret Service. It’s certainly not appropriate for a member of the news media to do it.
The Daily Caller wrote:
Cillizza’s tweet follows a trend of violent rhetoric from members of the media, including CNN analyst April Ryan recently joking about getting into a fist fight with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace suggesting she wants to choke Sanders.
After the author of the Daily Caller article received blowback on Twitter for claiming that the gif-making software Cillizza used did not contain the image in question, she admitted that she had downloaded the wrong software before absolving herself of any responsibility for the Twitter attacks against Cillizza she helped incite:
Several people have since pointed out to me that there is a version of the app that has the “crosshairs” seen in Cillizza’s GIF on their screen capture.
— Amber Athey (@amber_athey) May 16, 2018
As Splinter pointed out, this “incredibly dumb episode” shows that right-wing personalities seemed to believe, or at least tell others, that Cillizza was secretly an anti-fascism protester hellbent on killing the president, a notion that anyone with even a vague familiarity with Cillizza’s work would quickly dismiss.