Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, takes a brief tour of Texas A&M campus before a speaking event at the school on Dec. 6, 2016. The University of Florida’s president on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, said Spencer would not be allowed to speak at a scheduled event in September at UF. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)
Photo: Ralph Barrera/News Service of Florida
Photo: Ralph Barrera/News Service of Florida

CNN criticized for labeling white supremacist Richard Spencer a ‘white rights activist’ in headline

A headline on the website this morning called white nationalist Richard Spencer a ‘white rights activist’, wording that led to criticism across social media.

Spencer, who has referred to himself as a “white supremacist,” was scheduled to speak at the University of Florida. The university cited safety concerns and canceled his speech. 

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An article on the Florida speech from Tuesday originally labeled Spencer a white nationalist, but was changed to “white rights activist” after his speech was canceled by the university.

Twelve hours later, CNN wrote another update and changed the headline again, describing Spencer as a white supremacist. Dusty Geibel, a freelance journalist and former writer for the political site Heat Street, posted photos of the two different headlines after a tweet from Andrew Lawrence of the progressive media website Media Matters mentioned the articles. It immediately sparked complaints toward CNN.

“I thought there was no way this is real,” Geibel said. “Calling him a white rights activist, first of all, fighting for rights is noble, that’s how that term would be used most of the time. You can soften some people on the right, like Ann Coulter and others, but Spencer is different from them. You can’t soften Richard Spencer.”

Geibel said he reached out to CNN and Brian Stelter, the host of the network’s media news show “Reliable Sources,” but had yet to receive a response. CNN also hadn’t posted a response on its website or Twitter account as of 11 a.m. on Thursday. 

Spencer is considered a prominent member of the alternative right, a once loose association of groups that dismissed mainstream conservativism and the Republican party, and united behind the ideas of ‘white identity,’ according to the Southern Party Law Center. A quote in USA Today described most members of the alt right as atheist and millennial, male and college educated. Recordings of Spencer giving a Nazi salute and leading a crowd in, “Hail Trump,” were released by The Atlantic magazine in December. 

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