CNN announced today that it will not be picking up a second season of “Believer,” hosted by author and religious studies scholar Reza Aslan. In the first season of “Believer,” Aslan — who was a consulting producer for “The Leftovers,” contributing insight into the show’s religious themes — explored belief systems ranging from Vodou to ultra-Orthodox Judaism to Scientology (which he told Vulture has gotten a bad rap).
But that wasn’t the controversy which caused trouble for Aslan. “Believer” being dropped by CNN comes just days after Aslan, in an emotional moment, called Donald Trump “a piece of shit” on Twitter. He later followed up with an apology:
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) June 4, 2017
But the damage was done. CNN’s official statement did not make any mention of Aslan’s Twitter behavior as a reason for the show’s cancellation, but Aslan seemed to indicate that this was the case in his own statement (not surprisingly, posted on Twitter).
— Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) June 9, 2017
“In these politically charged times, the tenor of our nation’s discourse has become complicated, and I recognize that CNN needs to protect its brand as an unbiased news outlet,” Aslan says.
This isn’t the first recent example of CNN protecting said brand — the cable news network did just fire Kathy Griffin following a controversial photo shoot. But it serves as a sobering message for other CNN on-air talent to be careful what they might say on social media.
Since the 2016 election, hosts like W. Kamau Bell (“United Shades of America”), Anthony Bourdain (“Parts Unknown”) and Lisa Ling (“This Is Life”) haven’t been quiet about their political views, as seen below:
For a dude who inherited his money, invested it poorly, has filed bankruptcy after bankruptcy & failed his way upward, I guess a 48 is good? https://t.co/MJz9CaX7Yb
— W. Kamau Bell (@wkamaubell) May 26, 2017
Let's be clear: the Orange Prince just "blew" an ongoing op? Because they wil of course, have to assume they are blown . #MAGA
— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) May 16, 2017
We DID, 3 million more people voted against you.
— lisaling (@lisaling) January 22, 2017
Of course, there’s a notable lack of profanity in those tweets, and they don’t take as extreme a position against the current administration that showrunners like Mike Schur or David Simon have demonstrated of late.
This is the stupidest fucking thing I have ever seen. https://t.co/PaEUgxtxpX
— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) June 6, 2017
Still, it speaks to edgy times, where one rough joke by an “SNL” writer can get her fired and one off-color joke on “The Late Show” can lead to an FCC investigation. It’s always good advice to be careful on social media, but the line between good taste and censorship isn’t easily defined — and grows even more complicated when major corporations choose to prioritize their brands over free speech.