Richard Spencer was described as a “white nationalist” when he came on Jake Tapper’s The Lead programme on Tuesday to discuss the president’s call for four congresswoman of colour to “go back” to the countries “from which they came”.
Viewers, anti-racism campaigners and media commentators all condemned the decision to give airtime to a man who shouted “Hail Trump!” in front of a crowd seen celebrating the 2016 election win with Nazi salutes.
“Today on its valuable airwaves, CNN gave a platform to white nationalist Richard Spencer. There is literally nothing productive Spencer brings to the conversation. Whoever made this shameful decision should be fired,” said author Steve Krakauer.
“CNN invited an open white supremacist on national television today,” tweeted reporter Carlos Maza. “This isn’t a news network with journalistic ethics. It’s a circus that’s willing to help promote open racists for attention.”
Spencer suggested there wasn’t enough substance or passion behind the president’s racism when he spoke to Mr Tapper on live TV, saying “he gives us nothing outside of racist tweets”.
“Many white nationalists will eat up this red meat that Donald Trump is throwing out there. I am not one of them. I recognise the con game going on.”
The CNN host responded to criticism on Twitter by pointing out that the network’s correspondent Sara Sidner regularly covers racists and white supremacists. “She did a taped package for cnn about the reaction of white supremacists to the president’s tweets,” Mr Tapper tweeted.
Spencer, a key figure at the notorious “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, has reportedly been banned from entering 26 countries in Europe’s visa-free Schengen area.
The far-right activist was punched in the face twice Friday during Mr Trump’s inauguration festivities in Washington DC, prompting online debate about whether violence was the best way to deal with white supremacists.
Although Facebook has shut down pages associated with Spencer, the far-right activist shared his CNN interview on Twitter after it aired on Tuesday.
“Spencer will turn this into a new wave of attention within his own media ecosystem, where CNN has now just legitimated a litany of white supremacists,” Joan Donovan, a director at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Centre, told The Daily Beast.
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