CNN Tonight urged viewers last night to follow along with its #CopsUnderFire special by sending questions on Twitter using #AskACop, so viewers could ask a police officer direct questions about issues raised by the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases and subsequent protests. It went off the rails:

https://twitter.com/ozchrisrock/status/545278735004737537
https://twitter.com/ozchrisrock/status/545276480159481856

CNN did not seem to mind:

“#AskACop becomes trending for vents about police,” CNN boasted in its online coverage of the program. “People have strong views about the way police officers treat minorities – and they’re eager to share those opinions. That became clear after CNN asked people on Twitter to use #AskACop to pose questions to police officers.”

“The idea was that the network would use that hashtag to mine social media for questions to ask current and former police officers for a show that aired Tuesday night,” CNN reported. “People on Twitter responded in force, making #AskACop a trending hashtag well into Wednesday. People posted message after message – but many of them were eager to make a point rather than ask a question. This reaction was not necessarily what was intended when the network asked: ‘Are you curious about the police point of view re: recent US protests?'” CNN acknowledged.

CNN reported that the special featured a calm, civil, evocative conversation with police officers. And yet, it was hosted by Don Lemon.

Reporters Who Cover Television did not share in CNN’s enthusiasm for the trending:

“CNN’s #AskACop backfires horribly,” wrote Mediaite

“CNN’s Ask A Cop hashtag is just as bad as you think it is,” chimed in Vibe.

“CNN’s #ASKACOP Twitter campaign incites online fury,” added RT.com (Russia Today).

“CNN elevates trolling to an art form with grotesque #AskACop hashtag,” weighed in Salon.com.

Meanwhile, the ratings: CNN Tonight ranked third in overall audience in the 10 PM ET time slot Tuesday, while clocking 150,000 news demo viewers. Compared with the prior four weeks, the telecast was down 51% in total viewers and 62% in the news demo. It got trounced by FNC’s Hannity.