by Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept:
ON MONDAY NIGHT, CNN host Don Lemon led a panel discussion with three CNN commentators as they gleefully heaped scorn on Kanye West for meeting with President Trump to discuss prison reform and for otherwise expressing support for the President (the video is below). Among other things, West was pilloried for being both ignorant and exploited. “Kanye West is what happens when Negroes don’t read,” CNN’s Bakari Sellers said. CNN’s Tara Setmayer pronounced him “the token Negro of the Trump administration.”
While those comments received some attention (only from conservative outlets, needless to say), the laughter-driven attacks on West for his well-publicized medical treatment for mental health issues were largely ignored. But those comments, broadcast in prime-time by CNN on television and then widely disseminated by the network on social media, were not just reprehensible, but genuinely dangerous.
“No one should be taking Kanye West seriously,” Setmayer decreed. Why not? Because, she said, “he clearly has issues. He’s already been hospitalized.” Let’s repeat that: No one should be taking Kanye West seriously. He clearly has issues. He’s already been hospitalized.
Setmayer was referring to West’s 2016 hospitalization in Los Angeles’s Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. In 2018, West spoke publicly and bravely about that hospitalization and the medical treatment he has received for his mental health struggles, including a bipolar diagnosis. West described how his doctors found the right balance of medication and therapies and he decided to speak publicly about his medical treatment because, in his words, “I want to change the stigma of mental health.”
That was precisely the stigma that CNN and its various personalities exploited, played with and strengthened by weaponizing West’s medical treatment against him, using it to disqualify him as someone who can be regarded as credible or serious.
After mocking West for his hospitalization, Setmayer quickly added: “You know not to trivialize mental health issues” – something she had just blatantly done and then proceeded immediately to do again, adding: “but I mean obviously, Kanye has taken a turn in a very strange way. You read any of his interviews, go back and read his interview with Charlamagne tha God. It’s all over the place.” Not only did Lemon nor any of the other panelists object, but they maintained their laughing, giggling tone as this mockery was spouted.
Amazingly, after the segment was aired, CNN seemed not to be ashamed but quite proud of it, as it promoted it online to its Twitter audience:
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) 10 October 2018
It should go without saying that West, as a public figure expressing controversial political views, is fair game to be criticized, harshly or otherwise, for the substance of what he says and does. But exploiting his medical treatment for mental health issues to declare him unworthy of being heard, or being incapable of cogent thought, is grotesque.
MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS, particularly those who specialize in the effects of social stigma on individuals with mental illness, have told the Intercept that the kinds of comments aired by CNN often prevent patients from seeking the treatment they need due to the shame associated with these conditions – a fear-driven failure that frequently results in allowing these conditions to go untreated, sometimes leading to permanent depression, incapacity and even suicide.
Worse, they said, the CNN discussion exploited, and lent credibility to, bigoted attitudes toward people who have been treated for mental health conditions, attitudes which often prevent them from finding employment or even shelter.
Psychology Professor Patrick Corrigan, one of the nation’s leading scholars on the harms of societal stigmas attached to mental health treatment and the author of a new book entitled “The Stigma Effect,” told the Intercept that Setmayer’s comments “are troubling even if one does not like Donald Trump or his constituency.” The commentary from CNN, he said, “is stigma – in the same category as racism and sexism. It tries to minimize someone’s opinion not because of the spirit of the message, but because mental illness is some kind of slur against one’s character.”
Professor Corrigan emphasized that this “stigma’s effects are not trivial. Research quite clearly shows employers don’t want to hire people with mental illness. Landlords don’t want to rent to them. Health care professionals provide a substandard level of care. And all of this is due to the stigmatizing label.”