CNN's Chris Cillizza: Here's why Trump is calling the protests 'riots' (hint: because they're riots)

CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote a pretty amazing piece yesterday in which he accused President Trump of using the work “riot” to mislabel ongoing black lives matter protests as a way of creating a political comeback. It’s hard to overstate the stupidity of this argument since the evidence clearly shows that what has been happening in many cities around the country, but especially Portland, are in fact riots. And yet, when I look, it appears that CNN has forbidden the use of this word (riot) in it’s news coverage. More on that in a moment. First, let’s look at what Cillizza wrote:


To hear Trump and his allies tell it, the situations unfolding in Portland, Oregon, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, in response to several high-profile shootings by the police of Black men is rioting, plain and simple.

“In the strongest possible terms the Republican Party condemns the rioting, looting, arson and violence we have seen in Democrat-run cities all, like Kenosha, Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago and New York, many others, Democrat-run,” Trump said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week. “There’s violence and danger in the streets of many Democrat-run cities throughout America.”

At a rally in New Hampshire Friday night, Trump went even further. “You know what I say about protesters? Protesters, your ass,” he said. “I don’t talk about my ass. They’re not protesters, those are anarchists, they’re agitators, they’re rioters, they’re looters.”

Trump’s efforts to label what is happening in major cities as “riots” speaks at least somewhat to his desperation, politically speaking, at the moment.

Okay, let’s look at why Chris Cillizza is utterly clueless. First, let’s just look at Portland. You may recall this graphic which shows every declared riot in the past 3 months:

I know that’s hard to read so feel free to click here for full size. What it shows is that from the end of May there have been 21 riots declared by the police. But that graphic only goes through August 23. Since then a riot was declared on the 24th, the 25th, and the 28th. That makes 24 riots in all and 14 declared this month. Basically, that’s every other day in August. And that still leaves out a number of unlawful assembly declarations (2 in the past week) that didn’t quite become riots but could have.


So my question for Chris Cillizza is simple: Why shouldn’t we call the riots in Portland riots?

It turns out some of CNN’s own coverage seems to be intentiionally downplaying the rioting. For instance, here’s how the Portland Police described the riot that was declared in the city Friday night [emphasis added]:

Marchers arrived at about 12:10a.m. to the PPA building…

About 10 minutes later, individuals wheeled multiple dumpsters into the road and lit at least one on fire. The fire was in the road and not threatening any structures. In the interest of deescalating the situation, Portland Police Bureau (PPB) officers remained out of sight. However, arsonists put some debris, including a large mattress, against the front door of the building, appeared to spray accelerant on it, and lit it on fire. The flames appeared to engulf the front door area of the building and nearly reach the roofline. Due to the extreme life safety concerns, the Incident Commander declared the incident a riot. A warning was broadcast by loudspeaker that the incident was declared a riot and all persons were to disperse immediately to the north.

Officers responded and moved the rioters away from the building so the fire could be extinguished. As officers approached, rioters threw objects at them, including rocks. Multiple officers suffered minor injuries after being struck by rocks. During the response, officers used crowd control munitions. However, no CS (tear) gas was deployed.

CNN has a story about the same events which says (repeatedly) that information was taken from the Portland Police press release about the incident. It’s headlined “Fires set at Portland police union building as protests continue.” Notice that’s “protests continue” not riots continue. Here’s CNN’s description of what happened [emphasis added]:


Multiple dumpsters were wheeled into the road and at least one was lit on fire, the statement said. Demonstrators then put debris “against the front door of the building, appeared to spray accelerant on it, and lit it on fire.”

Protesters were ordered to disperse so that police could extinguish the fire, PPB said. As they approached, protesters threw objects, including rocks, at officers, police said. Some officers suffered “minor injuries.” Police used “crowd control munitions” but did not use tear gas, according to the PPB statement.

The word riot never appears in the story. Anyone reading it would not know that a riot was declared that night. In one case, CNN has literally replaced the phrase “rioters threw objects” with “protesters threw objects.”

To be fair, not all of CNN’s coverage has been this bad. Earlier this month they published a story headlined, “Portland Police declare a riot after people tried to start a fire at police office.” They also published this overview of the situation in Portland ten days ago which notes “During the period between May 29 and August 19, at least 17 riots have been declared, according to information released by Portland police.”

That’s Portland but you could say nearly the same about other cities. In fact, here’s how CNN reported on the situation in Minneapolis four days ago:

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced a citywide curfew will go into effect on Thursday following a night of unrest and looting in the city…

“We recognize that none of this happens in a vacuum,” Frey said during a news conference on Thursday. “And it is righteous to vent that pain and anguish in the form of peaceful protest. But what happened last night was neither peaceful nor was it a form of protest that moves us forward.”

Approximately 50 people were arrested for rioting and burglary…


So the mayor is literally saying it was not a peaceful protest and 50 people were arrested including many for rioting. What should we call this, Chris Cillizza?

Finally, as for what is happening in Kenosha, here’s how the Washington Post described it: “The streets of Kenosha have been filled with peaceful mass demonstrations in recent days, but also damaging riots by night in which businesses have been looted and burned.” And here’s Politico’s take:

The unrest in Kenosha — a city roughly equidistant between Chicago and Milwaukee — erupted this week into a violent standoff between anti-racism protesters, rioters, armed militias and police. Rioters in Kenosha set multiple fires overnight earlier this week and three people were shot — two fatally — in confrontations Tuesday night.

Even the Kenosha News is calling these riots. So where is Chris Cillizza getting the idea that President Trump is displaying “desperation” by labeling what is happening in these cities riots?

There’s no denying Trump is running on a law & order message right now but that doesn’t mean he invented the riots out of whole cloth. The riots are happening and even (some of) CNN’s reporting reflects that. The only “desperation” I see here is Cillizza’s apparent desperation to avoid the obvious.

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