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CNN Drops Reza Aslan Following Anti-Trump Tweets

Variety logo Variety 9/06/2017 Brian Steinberg
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CNN no longer believes in “Believer,” the non-fiction series it launched earlier this year with Reza Aslan, the Iranian-American author and religious scholar.

“CNN has decided to not move forward with production on the acquired series ‘Believer with Reza Aslan,'” the network said in a statement. “We wish Reza and his production team all the best. ”

Aslan came under fire earlier this month after using profanity to describe President Donald Trump in the wake of remarks the President made about the terrorist attacks on London. In the tweet, Aslan called Trump “a piece of s---” and expressed dismay at Trump’s use of the tragedy to promote his desire for a so-called “travel ban” on certain kinds of people hailing from specific countries in the Middle East. The author later apologized, saying, “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.”

“Believer” would have entered a second season if it had been picked up.

CNN has had to grapple with other incidents of hosts and talent expressing political opinions. Late last month, the Time Warner-owned network said it would no longer feature comedienne Kathy Griffin as part of its annual New Year’s Eve broadcast, a day after pictured surfaced on social media of Griffin holding a bloody head resembling President Trump.

CNN has a significant interest in maintaining a middle-of-the-road stance to its viewers. Being non-partisan is at the root of the cable-news network’s brand, while rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC have allowed more partisan opinion in their prime-time programming lineup. That positioning has been sorely tested in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, as CNN’s reporters and producers set about to investigate sundry controversies surrounding the Commander-in-Chief and his administration. It is not unusual during a regular CNN programming day to see “New Day” anchor Chris Cuomo grilling a Trump advisor in the early morning or Jake Tapper offering wry and unvarnished commentary about White House policy on his late-afternoon program, “The Lead.”

In January, CNN conducted an internal brand survey, eager to find out whether remarks made by Trump suggesting CNN offered“fake news” had any sort of lasting impact on prospective viewers. “There has been no diminution whatsoever in the CNN brand,” Zucker said to reporters in February. “It’s as strong as it’s ever been. It’s incredibly trusted and we see no impact whatsoever in all of those attacks on the CNN brand.”

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