CNN cancels Reza Aslan’s t.v. documentary, “Believer”, but for bad reasons

June 10, 2017 • 10:30 am

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Reza Aslan. I dislike his apologetics for and whitewashing of Islam, his osculation of all faiths and false claim that, at bottom, they’re all the same, and his flaunting of his  bogus credentials that he’s a “religious scholar.” His CNN show about religion, “Believer,” which I’ve written about before (here, here, and here), hasn’t been favorably reviewed (see the recent mixed review in the New Yorker as well as the last link), and the bits I’ve seen have been dire (I haven’t watched the whole series).

“Believer” was going to go into a second season after the first six episodes, but CNN announced a few days ago that the show would be canceled. My Schadenfreude, however, has been considerably tempered by the reasons for the cancellation: not because the show was bad—though I gather it was, and the parts I saw were abysmal—but because Aslan issued a series of nasty tw**ts about Trump. As CNN itself reported:

The network said Friday that it has “decided to not move forward with production” on Aslan’s “Believer” series.

Season one of “Believer” premiered in March. Season two was announced at an event for advertisers in mid-May. Aslan’s production company had already started working on the new episodes.

But the network decided to break off the production relationship after Aslan called President Trump a piece of excrement, using an expletive, last Saturday.

. . . Aslan has been a virulent critic of Trump for some time, but this particular tweet crossed a line in the minds of some media critics. Prominent conservatives weighed in and said they wanted Aslan to be fired.

Aslan posted the tweet in reaction to Trump’s promotion of a “travel ban” in the immediate aftermath of a terror attack in London.

“I lost my cool and responded to him in a derogatory fashion. That’s not like me,” Aslan said in a statement the next day. “I should have used better language to express my shock and frustration at the president’s lack of decorum and sympathy for the victims of London. I apologize for my choice of words.”

CNN responded in a statement: “We are pleased that he has apologized for his tweets. That kind of discourse is never appropriate.”

The network’s statement also pointed out that Aslan is not a CNN employee. Unwinding the contractual relationship with Aslan’s production company apparently took several days.

CNN’s Friday statement about the cancellation of “Believer” said, “We wish Reza and his production team all the best.”

Here are the tweets at issue. I believe at least some of them have been deleted, but I can’t check because Aslan has blocked me from seeing his Twitter feed. These I got from Google image:


Now I wouldn’t have issued those tweets were I doing a show for CNN, even though I agree with Aslan’s sentiments, but he has to maintain a certain level of decorum. Even if he wanted to criticize Trump publicly, I wouldn’t have used “piece of shit,” nor will I use it on my own tweets now. Here’s his apology:

And here’s his statement that appeared his Facebook page:

That’s reasonable, but the part about “I need to honor my voice” rankles a bit since “honoring his voice” means using scatological language. I can’t imagine a public figure such as Neil deGrasse Tyson issuing tweets like that.

However, I’m not sure why someone who’s doing a CNN show has to mute their political opinions. I suppose the threats from conservatives were distressing to the network, and I guess there are journalistic considerations at issue that I don’t fully understand. Still, this amounts to a kind of censorship. Why couldn’t CNN have asked Aslan to apologize, and then let him continue the show? It may be the case that because the show didn’t get good reviews, their reason for canceling it could have been twofold.

But CNN’s statement prevents me from celebrating the cancellation of a dreadful show—not if it was done for political reasons. I thus share the sentiments of Ali Rizvi expressed below:

And I’m sure that Aslan, as greedy for fame as he is, will find plenty of other venues where he can express his misguided views.

h/t: Barry

28 thoughts on “CNN cancels Reza Aslan’s t.v. documentary, “Believer”, but for bad reasons

  1. The schadenfreude is a bit enhanced though by the fact that Aslan would probably cheer the firing or blacklisting of a pundit who said something non-Aslan-approved about Islam.

  2. What is discovered sometimes the hard way, free speech comes with responsibilities and consequences. On the other hand, it looks as if Bill Maher has survived his problem?

    1. Yes, thankfully. He was visibly uncomfortable and frustrated as he basically bent over and bit his tongue on this week’s show. Spoiler alert: Ice Cube is a self-righteous and arrogant prick.

  3. Given the constant hue-and-cry from CNN about Trump, I’m surprised they didn’t given Azlan a raise.

    1. It is precisely why they fired him. It becomes too difficult to maintain the pretense, and it is a pretense, that CNN is impartial about Trump.
      CNN has a business model. That model involves pandering to an audience for ratings. Allan can no longer fit within that model.

      Good riddance. For those looking for positive things about Trump, I think this counts. 😉

  4. Decorum?

    Would that have anything to do with calling political enemies “losers” and “liars”, “clueless”, “dopey”, “dummy”, “liberal clown”, “fraud”, “dishonest”, “low-life”,etc. etc, etc. Has not Trump set the standard himself for acceptable criticisms?

    Os it the decorum problem because Aslan used a four-letter word? On a website which was not CNN? Is this Victorian England?

    1. No kidding. It is the first time I’ve found myself thinking kindly of the man. I share his sentiments about tRump, if not his descriptive language.

  5. Pretty remarkable that he got fired for using a marginally “bad” word he said in his free time instead of for, you know, eating human brains on the air.

    1. My problem with his remarks isn’t that he’s using profanity, but that it’s not creative or intellectually and viscerally interesting profanity. Calling somebody “a piece of shit” is so pedestrian and generic. That’s what I’d have him apologize for.

  6. I’ve watched only a single segment of the first episode of Aslan’s show, when I stumbled upon it while looking for something else. It was bad tv, but riveting in the way truly bad tv can sometimes be, with Aslan completely discomfited by bathing in a badly polluted section of the Ganges and bolting in fear from some corpse-worshiping Sadhu Hindus.

    As I say, riveting, but it gave me no cause to tune in to Episode 2.

  7. “Prominent conservatives weighed in and said they wanted Aslan to be fired.”

    More fair-weather fans of unfettered expression on the right wing. These are probably the same conservatives that bitched & moaned the loudest about free-speech w/r/t the boycott of Sean Hannity’s sponsors after Hannity’s risible promulgation of the vile conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was behind the murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich.

    1. Agreed. Also the same group of two-faced jackwagons that swooned on their fainting couches about Colbert’s “holster” joke. Or about Maher. Or about any liberal who dares use harsh language against dear leader Trump. Meanwhile, they scurry back to their own forums and message boards to continue calling Obama a Kenyan muzzie commie demonrat.

  8. I think that Aslan losing the CNN platform over this comment despite the apology might be because of the Kathy Griffiths episode happening at the same time. I suspect he might have got away with it in normal circumstances.

    I also have to say that you’d think a professor of Creative Writing could come up with something better than “piece of $hit”.

  9. I’ve never seen his show so don’t know what time it was on, but he should have been OK had he expressed the same sentiment on late night TV rather than a tweet.

    We have a double standard on expletives in the US. For some, it’s perfectly OK to swear using references to bodily functions or products. For others, it’s not OK to do that, but is totally OK to use religiously oriented swear words or their milder replacements. never the twain…

  10. I think that, unless the tweets in question were embedded in the show, the CNN had no reason to tear the contract with Aslan because of his opinion about the US president.

  11. More than any other religious liberal I can think of, Aslan revels in Eclecticism, as if this is the solution to (anti-)religious bigotry.

    As such, he is more like some of the more bizarre forms of Unitarianism, than like any Muslim I have ever met.

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