CNN and #ASKACOP – A Calculated Fail
CNN and Don Lemon solicited questions through the hashtag #AskACop during a Tuesday evening CNN town hall meeting “Under Fire.” It created a hashtag firestorm, and backfired with scathing, scorching responses against police officers almost immediately.
The idea that this may have been done to promote meaningful dialogue is laughable. It was purposely provocative and follows on the heels of significant unrest regarding police actions in Ferguson and New York City, not to mention NY’s own failed attempt at leveraging Twitter last year with the CNN covered story of #MyNYPD. Lest we forget, last April, the NYPD asked people to post photos of themselves with its officers, using the hashtag #myNYPD. As described by CNN at the time: “The response was swift and overwhelmingly negative as tweeters hijacked the hashtag to post photos they said showed police brutality or misconduct.”
“In one tweet, the “CNN Tonight” episode went from the slightly dull “Don Lemon asks a panel of cops how they’re doing” to the inflammatory “COPS UNDER FIRE!” all but guaranteeing an audience tuning in to see whether or not Lemon would acknowledge the viewer responses. Along the way, the trending hashtag promoted the show gratis for CNN.
That’s the kind of exposure mere money can’t buy on social media—you need the help of the user base to make a media happening feel organic, and the only way Twitter users were going to get excited about a show on how tough it is to be a cop these days is if they already helped take it down.
What’s sad about this scenario is how plausible it is that CNN deliberately provoked and exploited the anger, frustration and pain that have built up over the last several months in people who feel that the police operate above the laws they serve. The same pain and anger fueling on-going protests over the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Gardner and Tamir Rice, protests that could end up affecting policy and public opinion, were channeled into promoting a TV show that isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind about the police, violence, race or grand juries.”
Congratulations CNN Tonight, you achieved a trended hashtag. By the time the show aired Tuesday evening, #AskACop was a top-rated Twitter trend in the US.
The idea of a town-hall style forum on such a sensitive issue is a good one; people on both sides want and need to be heard. There is no one person at CNN however, that will convince me that this was not a calculated ploy to inflame the conversation and create a trend for visibility at the expense of any meaningful conversation.
If this was a #Fail as some suggest, it was a calculated fail and in that it is not a fail, it was simply wrong.