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.
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 for this shooting. 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.