Rather Contradictory

bsAfter making his “essay” on respecting democracy the centerpiece of last week’s Reliable Sources, CNN’s Brian Stelter offered more variations on the theme with today’s installment, bringing in journalism luminaries to second his emotion. And what luminary radiates more lumens than Mr. Reliable Source himself, Dan Rather:

DAN RATHER: These charges that Donald Trump is throwing out about a “rigged election”, quote/unquote, ridiculous, untrue, and dangerous. It’s very important that people have confidence in the electoral system. It’s ridiculous to say all of these good people who work at polling places, who work in gathering the votes are somehow part of a rigged system….

Dan Rather’s pearl-clutching over “confidence in the electoral system” was just what Stelter wanted to hear, so much so that those dogged journalistic instincts that led Brian to cross-examine Sean Spicer in an earlier segment were out to lunch when it came to Mr. Rather. The Cable Gamer wonders why Rather was never questioned about his own charges of a “rigged election” and his frequently expressed lack of confidence in the electoral system.

Here is Dan Rather on voting in Florida:

There were over 10,000 undervotes in Palm Beach County. Evans wonders–did some ten thousand voters really go to the polls there and decide to skip the race for president in 2000?…You hope for the best in people and you hope it was just some bad circumstances that came together all in one place. But it should matter to people and they should check it out, and investigate it more thoroughly, because if something else was going on, and these people profited form intentionally screwing up an election, they ought to pay. They ought to pay hard.

All those “good people” who work on gathering the votes…were up to no good? More recently, just a few years ago in fact, Dan Rather was telling people that the vote count in Ohio was not to be trusted, because, you know, those Republicans are in charge there:

Ohio seems still close enough that Romney could upset and win there (keep in mind: the whole upper tier of Ohio state government is in the hands of the GOP now; in very close voting they have the power to influence what votes are counted and how…remember Ohio, Bush v. Kerry in 2004 and Florida, Bush v. Gore in 2000).

Perhaps this was just Dan Rather’s way of instilling “confidence in the electoral system”—by warning that the count will be cooked. The Cable Gamer wonders why Brian Stelter didn’t raise any of these contradictory statements with Mr. Rather. It’s not like any of this is unknown. Dapper Dan has even sung this song on CNN’s own airwaves:

RATHER: Look, it’s not a partisan issue. It’s not Democrat, Republican, or independent or Mugwump, it’s about the integrity of the very heart and soul of the democratic system, and that is a free person voting with a secret ballot and the ballot gets counted. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact, not everywhere, but many votes don’t get counted and some votes are counted wrong.

All of these inconvenient comments just vanished down the memory hole in Stelter’s credulous presentation. The CNN anchor then showed his versatility by switching to another favorite notion of his: that Trump is just running to build up interest in a Trump TV network. By sheer coincidence this is also a favorite notion of the Clinton campaign. Never mind that this ultra-speculative story is the journalistic equivalent of vaporware; it apparently serves some purpose of Stelter’s to beat the drum about it with tiresome regularity.

The Cable Gamer wonders if Brian Stelter has simply abandoned any pretense of impartial reporting. Is he now an opinionator, on the network that claims “we don’t do opinion?” Spend a few weeks following his twitter feed and you may come to your own conclusion. But that’s a story for another time.

CNN Covers Wikileaks Revelations: Donna? Donna Who? – Updated!

The Cable Gamer has her criticisms of CNN but she greatly appreciates their transcript services. They are unusually thorough, and usually updated the same day the programs air. It’s where we turned when we heard Tucker Carlson and The Hill’s Joe Concha discussing CNN’s coverage of Donna Brazile and the Mystery of the Town Hall Questions Leaks:

TUCKER CARLSON: It’s funny. They have a media reporter over there who I know likes to be on television. He hasn’t mentioned it.

JOE CONCHA: The bias of omission is the worst kind of omission you can possibly have.

CARLSON: It is. It’s suppression.

Can this possibly be true? A major scandal impacting the credibility of CNN’s Presidential town halls goes unmentioned by Brian Stelter, that network’s star media journalist? The CNN transcript archives to the rescue:


With the dozens of hits Mr. Stelter made over the past seven days (has there ever been a “media reporter” who wangles his way into more segments over a week’s time?) how is it Donna Brazile has never come up? Perhaps a little less restrictive search will show CNN giving this story the attention it deserves:


Even leaving Mr. Stelter out of the equation, there was only one mention on CNN of the Donna Brazile imbroglio over the past week. And when you check out that reference it proves to be just that: a single passing reference by New Day guest Errol Louis, immediately pooh-poohed by company man Chris Cuomo as having “zero chance” to be true. And now CNN can say “we covered it!”

Brian Stelter, it turns out, took issue with Tucker Carlson’s remarks:

Since you read The Cable Game you know what Brian Stelter carefully omitted: Tucker Carlson wasn’t talking about a post on a website. He specifically referenced Brian Stelter’s many on-air CNN hits. And there CNN’s own transcript archives have the last word: Stelter is wrong and Tucker Carlson is right.

UPDATE: After your Cable Gamer exposed CNN’s embarrassing refusal to report on The Brazile Leaks, Sunday’s Reliable Sources did give this ongoing controversy a cursory mention.  It was a “throw up your hands, it’s all beyond me” sort of framing:

STELTER: And the point is, it’s still a mystery. You know, no — we haven’t gotten an exact answer to how the heck this happened.

That might be because “we” (i.e. CNN’s on-air journalists and hosts) haven’t reported on the story, let alone addressed any questions about it, since the story broke. Ask no questions and what do you know? You get no answers.

STELTER: Trump has taken this to say, oh, Clinton is being given debate questions, using the plural, using questions, right? So I feel like he’s taken a grain of truth and turn it into a lie.

It’s “a lie” to say Donna Brazile talked about questions “using the plural?” Perhaps Mr. Stelter thinks so because this is the first time he has spoken a word about this subject on CNN’s air. But in any case he’s wrong. Quoting Brazile:

BRAZILE: From time to time I get the questions in advance…

Note: Questions, using the plural, is exactly the wording Brazile used. (And she was talking about not just once, but “from time to time.”) So has Brian Stelter has taken a grain of truth and turned it into a lie? The Cable Gamer reports, you decide.


Trickery in the Twitterverse: Gabriel Sherman

Recently The Cable Gamer took some time off to explore the world of twitter. She found it to be a fascinating universe, but with its share of frauds, fibbers, and fabricators. Agendas are everywhere and when that happens, facts can be the first casualty. The other day she noticed this from Gabriel Sherman:

When The Cable Gamer saw this her Spidey senses started tingling. Sherman delights in this sort of thing (in this case making people think Fox was avoiding the Trump controversy). And some of his followers aren’t exactly critical thinkers who will know what he’s up to and see through his verbal sleight-of-hand. But some people did:

Indeed it does. When The Cable Gamer checked the record it turned out that discussions of Trump and his “hot mic video” were the hour’s #1 topic at the time Sherman tweeted (7:33):

  • 7:00 hurricane
  • 7:02 Trump
  • 7:10 WikiLeaks
  • 7:13 break
  • 7:17 debate/Trump
  • 7:21 break
  • 7:24 hurricane
  • 7:27 immigration
  • 7:30 break
  • 7:34WikiLeaks
  • 7:39 break

Fox covered both theWikiLeaks revelations and the Trump news in “fair and balanced” fashion, with the latter getting a tad more airtime than the former (thanks to additional coverage in the 7:17 segment, which incidentally fell within Sherman’s carefully curated 15 minutes). But why should Sherman be honest when he can wait for the right moment, then cherry-pick a snippet and suggest it represents the whole? At least it gave The Cable Gamer her first entry dedicated to Trickery in the Twitterverse. Watch for the next episode.

News Judgment in Zuckertown: Empty Calories

bsCNN’s Brian Stelter always welcomes an anti-Fox spin, and in writing about last night’s Trump coverage he quoted a writer who worked for Breitbart (previously not a respected outlet in Zuckertown):

Emailing with former Breitbart News spokesman Kurt Bardella early this morning, I asked for his thoughts about the coverage: 

Bardella gave him just what he was looking for:

Fox’s treatment of the story tonight was media malpractice. We’re talking about the top story in the country involving the highest office in the land and they became The Weather Channel

The Cable Gamer has a feeling Brian didn’t have to ask Bardella for his thoughts. He knew what he would be getting beforehand, because the guy had earlier RT’d Stelter’s own tweet (which itself RT’d this anti-Fox tweet):

Now CNN has been aping The Weather Channel for much of the week and that was just fine, but they promptly abandoned what may be the most devastating hurricane of the decade when word of an upcoming Trump apology broke. Instead of covering the ongoing devastation inflicted by the hurricane, CNN, like many other outlets, spent segment after segment analyzing a Trump apology that didn’t exist:

Note the “awaiting.” CNN and others, who just hours earlier were covering the storm wall-to-wall, now tossed it in the trash so they could sit, argue, and speculate for hours at a time about an apology video nobody had seen. Because they’re “awaiting.” And “awaiting” is labeled “breaking news.”

From what The Cable Gamer remembers of her journalism classes, the fact that Don Lemon and a screaming panel are “awaiting” something—anything—is not news. Neither is it “breaking.” It’s empty calories: the cable equivalent of click-bait, something to keep the rubes tuned in. Never mind stranded people, flooded cities—that all becomes instantly irrelevant when one can sit and spent hours on political speculation about an apology that no one has seen or heard.

Back to Edward R. Stelter:

It is true that Fox focused intensely on Hurricane Matthew after Sean Hannity‘s 10pm show. Meantime, CNN and MSNBC stayed on the Trump story throughout the night. Brian Williams even popped up on MSNBC at 1 in the morning. Just wait til you see the ratings…

Yes, wait till you see the ratings. The whole point of click-bait programming, right Mr. Media Critic? Of course Fox focused on the hurricane, just as CNN had been doing, because it was news. Stelter somehow forgot to note that Fox did break from hurricane coverage to cover the apology and followed up with multiple discussions and analyses of its ramifications. But again, that was after it was released and the participants knew what they were talking about.

Bottom line: CNN’s media expert cheap-shotted Fox News as he spun the company line in defense of their empty-calories programming. That’s considered journalism in Zuckertown.

CNN is Basically Declaring War on Fox News

Hang on. It’s not your Cable Gamer saying that. It’s Brian Flood, long-time Cable Gamer at TV Newser, now an ace reporter for The Wrap. You may have seen his incisive piece taking a closer look at Gretchen Carlson’s ratings woes:

“The Real Story” was the network’s lowest-rated program in both June and in the second quarter among the key demo. Carlson’s show has now lost to CNN more than any other FNC program since the network’s new lineup changes took effect back in October 2013.


What spurred Mr. Flood to make the headlined statement was the first half of today’s Reliable Sources, entirely devoted not to coverage of the Dallas ambush or police shootings or Hillary Clinton’s emails. Only one topic was discussed in the first 30 minutes: Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against Roger Ailes. Needless to say there was no one to represent the defense though there were multiple prosecutors, including a women’s activist, a gentleman from NPR, and the man of a thousand “sources,” Gabe Sherman. (The Cable Gamer cringed to hear David Zurawik say of Sherman “he does good work, he’s a good reporter”—readers of this site know better.) So Sherman was free to cite the allegations from his “incredibly credible” anonymous sources without challenge.

We have to wonder how heavily the hand of Jeff Zucker plays into this program. Some industry watchers have suggested host Brian Stelter carries water for his boss, and that might explain why, after a week of tumultuous, worldwide-headline news in America, Reliable Sources put all that on the back burner to spend time taking shots at a competitor.

Things weren’t much better when they did get around to more important stories. In discussing several high-profile police shootings with a black activist from Netroots Nation (no representative of an opposing point of view was present), Brian Stelter tossed in this gratuitous gem:

STELTER: I don’t know if FOX News viewers even knew about these police shootings in detail.

COBB: Right.

What a preposterous, utterly baseless thing for a “media reporter” to say…unless he still hadn’t made his quota of cheap shots against Fox News.

There was also a segment picking apart an interview Don Lemon did with Joe Walsh. Through the entire discussion Brian Stelter managed to make no mention whatsoever that both Lemon and CNN’s Charles Blow erroneously accused Walsh (after he had left) of something he clearly didn’t do.  Reliable Sources would have been a good place to correct the record, but CNN doesn’t like to turn a critical lens on the media when it involves one of their own.

How much better to convert the first half of the show into a jeremiad against FNC so untiringly one-sided that one of the top media reporters in the country calls it “declaring war on Fox News.” If, as the saying goes, “all war is based on deception,” then Jeff Zucker has his general in Brian Stelter.

Fareed Pulls a Shuster

Sometimes The Cable Gamer wonders about how shows are named, and how that can reinforce, or sometimes play against, the actual content. That came to mind today watching Reliable Sources, where viewers were regaled with a one-two punch of dubious punditry.

Apparently host Brian Stelter has some sort of nostalgic soft spot for Dan Rather. Mind you, Rather’s career was all but destroyed by a faked document scandal, but he doesn’t even have the patina of renewed respectability that distance and time can provide. Because Mr. Rather is still insisting that his scoop wasn’t debunked at all! Not our idea of a reliable source. In fact it was Reliable‘s Brian Stelter who helped promote the “terrible, terrible” film dramatization of Rather’s version of events by interviewing the man himself at a screening.

But as bad as it was to parade Dan Rather as authoritative on anything, a worse disaster came with television’s most notorious plagiarist, Fareed Zakaria. The Cable Gamer doesn’t know who wrote the predictable talking points he spewed about Brexit, complete with the obligatory references to Fox News. But either Mr. Zakaria didn’t fact-check the sources he cribbed from, or he was wandering off-script in a burst of anti-Fox zealotry. Because he pulled a Shuster.

Explanatory note: Pulling a Shuster is a term that references David Shuster, one-time intrepid reporter for MSNBC, who famously declared that Fox News had been banned in Canada. What’s more he went on to commend the Canadian government for their “smart” decision, thereby endorsing censorship while throwing press freedom under the bus. Shuster’s story wasn’t true, of course, which just made his promotion of it all the more delicious.

Resuming: Yes, Fareed Zakaria pulled a Shuster:

ZAKARIA: The people who wanted Britain to leave were entirely using emotion. They were conjuring up horror stories of millions of refugees comes into Britain, overwhelming the social services, things like that.

STELTER: This is what we see in the tabloids, right, “The Daily Mail”, “The Sun”, the British tabloids, that were supporting a departure from the E.U.

ZAKARIA: Exactly. The British tabloids are basically their FOX News. They don’t have FOX News, but they have the tabloids.

That will come as a surprise to the people in the UK, where BSkyB has been carrying Fox News for at least a decade. It’s right there on channel 509, just a few slots away from CNN and CNBC:

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 11.17.28 PM

Zakaria went on to defend the media, saying they have “a bias in favor of facts…a bias in favor of authentic, legitimate experts who are providing data.” Facts like there’s no Fox News in England? How did Zakaria come up with that data anyhow? Maybe he read it somewhere.

Gender Bender

gaThere’s a new report out from the folks at Gender Avenger, the site that tracks how many women get invited to panels, cable news shows, and the like. Whatever you think of the validity of this exercise The Cable Gamer thinks it’s a good thing to have straight, impartial statistical data of this sort. But is everything what it seems?

The announcement for the month of May is described as follows:

Who Talks? monitors the highest-rated morning and evening shows on three major television news networks: CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. Any guest who is not the host (or substitute host) and is asked to comment substantively on the 2016 presidential election is counted as an analyst. We count the total number of election analyst of each gender in each show and then compare aggregate numbers and proportional representation. Data is published monthly.

Sounds pretty straightforward. Here are their May stats on the percentages of female pundits:

  • New Day: 31%
  • Fox & Friends: 22%
  • Morning Joe: 24%
  • Anderson Cooper: 48%
  • The Kelly File: 15%
  • Rachel Maddow: 33%

You’ll note CNN shows win in both morning and evening categories. In fact several times Anderson Cooper has been singled out for “hall of fame” status. In one odd case he made the “hall of fame” for a 43% week, even though Rachel Maddow scored 50% (sorry Rachel, no “hall of fame” for you!).

These scorecards get a lot of play from friendly media sites, some of them quite knowledgeable, so The Cable Gamer is mildly surprised that none of them spotted a disconnect in the methodology. The criteria state they monitor the “highest-rated” evening shows on the three cable news nets—so where is Bill O’Reilly? O’Reilly has had the #1 program on cable news for “15 years and counting” (as viewers are reminded every evening). Yet The Factor has never been rated by Gender Avenger.

The Cable Gamer recently asked GA how it is that they skipped over the undisputed “highest-rated” evening cable news program, and got this response:

We too noticed the error in describing all the targeted shows as “highest rated” and have since amended our references to “popular” to encompass all. The reason we picked Megyn Kelley [sic] is that we wanted to follow all the 9 o’clock hour shows in the evening.

Yeah, well, we aren’t sure exactly where “highest-rated” as been amended to “popular.” The Cable Gamer couldn’t find it on the GA website, where “highest-rated” still appears in the criteria. And if the intention is to cover the 9 o’clock shows, why not just say that? Mind you, CNN doesn’t always run Anderson Cooper at 9 o’clock; sometimes they have documentaries and series like The Eighties in that time slot. What effect does that have on the stats?

This seems like a lot of finagling in what would otherwise be a straightforward contest among highest-rated shows. But what if it was as advertised: a contest among the most-watched programs? The results would be mostly as they are, except The O’Reilly Factor would replace The Kelly File. We started too late to capture the first part of May, but other than that we made a count, sticking to the criteria, and got these results for the last three weeks of the month:

  • The O’Reilly Factor: 40%

In fact for the week of May 16th O’Reilly scored an impressive 46%—that’s higher than the measly 43% Anderson Cooper scored in his “hall of fame” week. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Mr. O’Reilly has a repertory company of female guests who appear regularly: Katie Pavlich, Eboni Williams, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Lis Wiehl, Martha MacCallum, Monica Crowley, Mary Anne Marsh, Dana Perino, Kirsten Powers, etc.

One would think Gender Avenger would want to throw a little “hall of fame” action O’Reilly’s way, as an encouragement to people who do provide the diversity GA calls for. But the rules have been quietly bent just enough to exclude Bill O’Reilly from contention. Funny that.