Hypocrisy is rarely so blatant – even on CNN.
In the moments immediately following President Donald Trump’s address from the Oval Office about the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, CNN trotted out its chief White House correspondent to claim Trump’s words were “smacking of xenophobia” when he described the virus as stemming from a foreign source.
But it was only two months ago that Acosta himself used the phrase “Wuhan virus” in a tweet describing the impact of the virus on China’s plans to celebrate the lunar new year – and social media users didn’t let him forget it.
The issue arose late Wednesday after an on-air conversation between Acosta and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.
From a major speech by an American president about a virus the World Health Organization has now classified as a pandemic, Acosta decided one of the major takeaways was a minor word choice.
Check it out here:
Jim @Acosta says it is “going to come across to a lot of Americans as smacking of xenophobia” with regards to Trump pointing out the coronavirus started out in Wuhan, China. pic.twitter.com/CFs1GVm3dt
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) March 12, 2020
“The president referred to the coronavirus as a ‘foreign virus,’” Acosta told Cuomo. “That I think was interesting because, I was talking to sources earlier this evening, one of the points that the president wanted to make tonight, wanted to get across to Americans, is that this virus did not start here, but that they’re dealing it.’
“Now, why the president would go as far to describe it as a foreign virus, that is something we’ll also be asking questions about.”
Let’s save CNN the trouble of asking the question. The president went so far “to describe it as a foreign virus” because Trump is the president of the United States of America who was talking to Americans about a virus that originated in China. And because Americans are Americans, China is by definition “foreign.”
For the record, the paragraph where Trump used the word wasn’t even close to inflammatory.
From CNN’s own annotated transcript, it read:
“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history. I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens, and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus. “
For CNN talking heads, whose jobs might depend on finding any angle of attack on any story, Acosta’s biased brand of hyperventilation might seem normal — puzzling as it might be to sane individuals.
But the particular irony here is an Acosta tweet from Jan. 23, where he used a much more specific branding for the virus — not some general “foreign” adjective, but a word that described the virus by its geographical point of origin: The very Chinese city of Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei Province.
CNN International: Authorities in Beijing have cancelled all large-scale Chinese New Year celebrations in an effort to contain the growing spread of Wuhan Coronavirus.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 23, 2020
And social media users who caught Acosta’s act on Wednesday were quick to bring that tweet to the surface again to remind Acosta of it.
The WHAT coronavirus?!?! I have it on good information that this is racist.
— Drew Holden (@DrewHolden360) March 12, 2020
Didn’t know it was a foreign Virus, Jim?
— Mcenroe ?? (@mcenroejack) March 12, 2020
Pretty xenophobic of you Jim. “Wuhan” virus? Shame on you!
— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) March 12, 2020
— Michael Steighner (@MDSimages) March 12, 2020
Now, no one who watches CNN with a functioning brain expects anything but bias from Jeff Zucker’s network, and coronavirus coverage is no exception. (CNN host Don Lemon’s meltdown over Trump’s speech Wednesday night was proof enough that nothing like fairness is ever going to be employed when a story involves Donald Trump.)
But not even on CNN are an on-air personality’s statements generally so blatantly at odds with the not-so-distant past.
For Acosta in January, describing the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” wasn’t racist, or xenophobic, or anything other than an available shorthand for describing the outbreak.
For Trump on Wednesday, describing the coronavirus as “foreign” was nothing more than a statement of fact — albeit one with the possible purpose of reassuring Americans that their country wasn’t the source of an illness that’s causing panic around the globe.
But for Acosta, Trump’s words are “going to come across to a lot of Americans as smacking of xenophobia.”
That might even be true — Trump Derangement Syndrome has shown crazier symptoms since the president took the oath of office — but that doesn’t excuse Acosta’s willingness to treat that suspicion like it has any basis in reality.
Then again, as the saying goes, “this is CNN.” And rarely has hypocrisy ever been so blatant.
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