Knee Jerk Reactions

cnn_rs_deray_150524a1-800x430-696x374Why does Brian Stelter, who presents himself as an unbiased reporter, push out Media Matters propaganda to his twitter followers? Why does Jim Acosta, another “unbiased” CNN journalist, do the same? Both were quick to retweet this Media Matters gem to a million followers:

Why shouldn’t CNN journalists promote Media Matters tweets, you might ask. In fact Mr. Stelter himself seemed to suggest that Media Matters was being quite neutral:

There are good reasons why journalists shouldn’t treat Media Matters as a “reliable source:”

Hardly anyone who follows the Cable Game is unaware of the antipathy of Media Matters, a partisan hit-site, toward Fox News. They did, in fact, famously wage “war” on Fox:

The [Obama] White House may be in a cold war with Fox News. But Media Matters is on the front lines. Benjamin Sarlin on the latest ways David Brock’s group has hit the right’s house network—and aided the White House counterattacks.

And yet people at CNN still treat their propaganda like dispatches from the Shorenstein Center. In fact CNN is recycling DNC agit-prop, without identifying it as such.

The combined punch of Media Matters, and CNN’s willing accomplices, inflated this tale of running the wrong B-roll into a huge story that got picked up all over the mainstream media. An apology was issued (despite nobody ever claiming that any of the pics were of anthem protests) and doubtless CNN and Media Matters went out for drinks afterward to celebrate another good day’s work. And yet…

And yet…there was something else, spotted by a sharp-eyed twitter user, that never made it into all those mainstream media outlets:

Just like the Fox clip, this was not a protest, but a prayer.  But no politically motivated player called it propaganda. Your Cable Gamer asked Stelter and Acosta about it.  Neither responded. When CNN’s Oliver Darcy tweeted us we asked him about it too. He also went silent and ignored our question. Despite the undeniable equivalence to the scandalous Fox News pic they had all been outraged about. We scoured the Media Matters site for any criticism of the CNN tweet, without success. But that’s to be expected. They declared war on Fox News, not CNN.

So Fox News had a day of bad publicity over a mistake, a mistake that CNN also made but nobody raised a peep about. We know CNN doesn’t like to report on its own faults, but to team with Media Matters only raises their bias level to 11. MMFA goes after Fox, takes it easy on CNN, and pretty much gives MSNBC a perpetual pass. Such selective outrage is a lousy thing for journalists to take their cues from and it cheapens those who embrace it.

Mr. Henry tried to get others aligned with the Media Matters echo chamber to fess up, but they don’t respond well (or at all) when confronted with inconvenient data:

Your Cable Gamer finishes this story where it began, with CNN’s Brian Stelter. In his Tuesday night newsletter he duly reported the journalistic crime perpetrated by Fox News—while making no mention whatsoever of how CNN had done the exact same thing. That’s pretty much how things work in Zuckertown.

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Mediaite Buries the Lede, For Three Weeks

Each night the website Mediaite summarizes the previous day’s cable news Nielsen ratings. This is basically just data reporting, but the headlines are something else. The Cable Gamer is not alone in spotting some peculiar contortions being used for reasons unknown. Example:

 

Maddow Scores in Key Demo Tuesday, Erin Burnett OutFront Lags Behind in Total Viewers

Twitter was quick to pounce:

Not only did Maddow lose to Hannity, she got fewer demo viewers than Tucker Carlson. So she finished third, behind two other people, yet Mediaite’s headline wants you to know she scored! Scored what? 2nd runner up?

With that as background, today Mediaite produced this headline:

MSNBC’s 11th Hour Tops Demo on Thursday, CNN’s The Lead Second in Time Slot

At least this one is semi-accurate: 11th Hour did top the Thursday demo at 11:00 pm. It was not the top show of the night. That was Hannity, who got no mention at all in the headline. We haven’t seen such hyping of Brian Williams’ show since January 29th:

MSNBC’s The 11th Hour Tops Demo in Time Slot Friday, Cuomo Prime Time Third at 9 PM

1506016897525Why the gap? Because someone else was winning 11:00 pm: Shannon Bream on Fox News. Although this respected attorney-journalist got a late start in the competition with Williams, she worked her way up the ratings ladder and started winning night after night: not just in the key demo but in total viewers too. Look at Mediaite’s ratings headlines covering January 22nd forward and see how they rewarded Ms. Bream for breaking the 11:00 pm glass ceiling:

  • Hannity Most-Watched Cable News Show Monday, MSNBC’s Hardball Last In Demo For Time Slot
  • Fox News’ Martha MacCallum Posts Strong Demo Ratings on Tuesday, Anderson Cooper 360 Struggles
  • Fox News’ Martha MacCallum Posts Strong Demo Ratings on Tuesday, Anderson Cooper 360 Struggles
  • The Five Leads Time Slot Across the Board in Thursday Ratings, CNN Tonight Third at 10 PM
  • Fox News Led All of TV For State of the Union Ratings — Most-Watched in Cable News History
  • MSNBC’s The 11th Hour Tops Demo in Time Slot Friday, Cuomo Prime Time Third at 9 PM
  • Fox News’ Special Report Dominates Time Slot on Wednesday, MSNBC’s The Beat Finishes 3rd in Demo
  • Fox News’ Hannity Has Huge Ratings Day Thursday, CNN’s Erin Burnett Third in Time Slot
  • Fox News’ Outnumbered Posts Big Ratings on Friday, MSNBC’s MTP Daily Third in Demo in Time Slot
  • Tucker Carlson Delivers Big on Monday, CNN’s Situation Room Third in Total Viewers in Time Slot
  • Maddow Scores in Key Demo Tuesday, Erin Burnett OutFront Lags Behind in Total Viewers
  • Hannity Posts Huge Numbers on Wednesday, MSNBC’s Hardball Third in Demo at 7 PM
  • MSNBC’s 11th Hour Tops Demo on Thursday, CNN’s The Lead Second in Time Slot

Spot a pattern? The 11:00 pm rating only makes the headline when MSNBC wins it. When Shannon Bream breaks through and starts a winning streak, the 11:00 pm ratings disappear from the headlines–only to reappear on just the two days MSNBC won the hour. That’s not accidental. The news for ratings-watchers is Shannon Bream surpassing Brian Williams and relegating him to 2nd place. But Mediaite has decided to bury the lede night after night, while flacking for Williams when his infrequent wins allow it.

The pattern is unmistakable. The question is: why?

Who’s Deep State Plot Is It Anyway?

Brian Stelter was up in arms today (and every other day) about Sean Hannity and the “pro-Trump media.” Already the tweets are flying:

CNN’s media critic has developed a serious concern that someone, somewhere, hasn’t been paying sufficient obeisance to the Special Counsel. Such dangerous talk must stop. The fact that Stelter targets Fox News (a network that regularly doubles or triples CNN’s viewership), well, that’s frosting on the cake:

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CNN, and Stelter in particular, don’t like criticism of Mueller. They’re so rabid in their defense of the investigations that they could be on Mueller’s PR staff:

STELTER: You can’t understand fully how the Mueller probe is being perceived, how the public is understanding it, without understanding how conservative media is trying to discredit Mueller, discredit the FBI, and discredit the DoJ.  There is this concerted effort from pro-Trump hosts on Fox News, from radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, and from right-wing bloggers and social media stars, to tear down Mueller, demand his firing, and in some cases even demand his arrest.

Here are three examples of incendiary talk that CNN and Stelter would have you believe border on the treasonous:

He casually described the Special Counsel’s behavior as “criminal,” not to mention “frightening,” “absurd” and “unfair.”

The Special Prosecutor has become corrupt in the sense that Lord Acton meant when he said “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

There are serious questions of wrongdoing here, and I think we need a truly independent investigation of the investigation itself, so that we can know who’s behind these lies, who is behind these leaks, and let the investigation continue.

Brian Stelter did not hide his disgust over Hannity demanding an “investigation of the investigation itself:”

STELTER: See these “Muellergate” banners from Hannity the other night? It straight up says onscreen “Investigating the investigators.” Fox’s message is that Trump is the victim of a deep state plot to ruin his presidency.

That truly is the last straw. This time Hannity has gone too far. Except the quote your Cable Gamer used wasn’t from Hannity at all. It was spoken by Paul Begala and dates from the era of Ken Starr. (The other two quotes, slightly edited to disguise their origin, are also Begala’s.) Yes, the same Paul Begala who, like Brian Stelter, works for CNN, appears regularly on their airwaves, and has not, to our knowledge, ever been called out by Stelter for his “deep state plot” conspiracy theories.

Far from calling out Begala, Brian Stelter once gave a warm write-up to a cinematic glorification of Begala’s bare-knuckled style of political combat. As for Begala’s view of Stelter, they’re clearly BFF’s:

Paul Begala even gets invited onto Stelter’s Sunday show Reliable Sources. Because who could be more reliable than someone who promotes “deep state plot” conspiracy theories, just like that dangerous Hannity guy?

Meanwhile CNN and Stelter continue to bitch about Fox News:

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Both Fox News and the Washington Examiner reported on highlights from the memo while other outlets were still scrambling to get their hands on the doc. This raised eyebrows: Chuck Todd said releasing details to conservative media was “not a good look…”

How dare Fox News scoop CNN by getting memo details first and reporting them accurately? No doubt a featured segment on the next, very special edition of Reliable Sources.

The Man Behind the Curtain

cnn_rs_deray_150524a1-800x430-696x374The Cable Gamer wonders about Brian Stelter. CNN’s “not a media critic” reporter has a propensity to go after people who displease him or his bosses. You’ll recall how eagerly he promoted the boycott that eventually drove Bill O’Reilly from the airwaves, having his team call more than 20 advertisers demanding to know if they had withdrawn their ads yet. A legitimate story of course, and yet when the boycotters targeted leftist Stephen Colbert, unbiased Stelter suddenly volunteered how opposed he is to boycotts that threaten free speech–a cavil that somehow never got mentioned in connection with O’Reilly or Hannity.

Stelter has of late joined the “never Trump” bandwagon to declare Fox News “state-run” television. Talking to Kellyanne Conway he huffed:

STELTER: I guess you just want everybody to be like Fox News, state-run media.

Just by coincidence, Stelter’s boss Jeff Zucker used the same phrase before Stelter did. It’s almost like it’s part of a campaign to indict an opposing channel, one that regularly trounces CNN in the Nielsens. Needless to say it’s a mindless, ignorant, easily-disproved slur. Just today, for example, this happened to “state run media” Fox News:

The National Press Foundation has selected Fox News anchor Bret Baier as the 2017 honoree of the Sol Taishoff Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism…Previous recipients of the Taishoff award, which is the NPF’s highest honor for a broadcast journalist, include Martha Raddatz, Tim Russert, Gwen Ifill, George Stephanopolous, and Andrea Mitchell.

Isn’t this media news? TV Newser, the site Brian Stelter founded years ago, considered it such. And yet nine hours after the story broke there was no mention on CNN’s website. CNN’s media reporter, who by 9:00 pm had issued over 70 tweets and retweets, studiously ignored Baier’s award, sounding off instead about Van Jones, the Pocahontas “slur,” and how “shocking” it is that Trump criticizes the press.

You read that right: Brian Stelter is shocked that Trump criticizes the press, after he himself smeared Fox News as “state run media.” Your Cable Gamer couldn’t make this up if she tried. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Stelter would protect his spin by not telling his followers that the chief political anchor of “state run media” has been honored by the National Press Foundation. Stories too favorable to Fox News just don’t get reported. (Meanwhile, stories that serve CNN’s purpose, like the NPF awards to Wolf Blitzer, Dana Bash, and others, get the full treatment. That’s called “journalism” in Zuckertown.)

Will Brian Stelter bury Bret Baier’s award with a one-sentence mention in his nighty newsletter, seen by a tiny fraction of the half-million-plus who follow him on twitter? That way he can claim “I covered it” while giving it as little visibility as possible. The Cable Gamer is not staying up to find out–it really doesn’t matter if Brian grudgingly slips in a newsletter fig leaf or continues to spike the story. Stelter’s cards are on the table, and the game he’s playing is more obvious than ever. Which is just how Jeff, the man behind the curtain, likes it.

Babbling Brooke

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When it comes to sharp, incisive, clear-thinking commentary during unscripted interviews, The Cable Gamer thinks of plenty of names before coming up with Brooke Baldwin. CNN’s afternoon chatterbox is known for having her difficulties with the English language, which sometimes lead her into embarrassing predicaments. It was difficult avoiding her today (the downside of air transporation is airports and their slim pickings when it comes to cable news) and what we saw was not what one would expect from the self-proclaimed “most trusted name in news.”

The topic was a Trump volunteer who wanted to take a meeting with Putin in Russia. And Brooke had the breaking news about what really happened:

BROOKE BALDWIN: This was a big deal because we had thought, right, that Trump hadn’t perhaps wanted to have this meeting with Putin, and according to our sources, he in fact did, and it was Sessions that said no.

JIM SCIUTTO: That’s right

Jim Sciutto was introduced with no disclosure that he was a political appointee in the Obama administration. But he confirmed what Baldwin said: Trump wanted to have the meeting.

Or did he?

SCIUTTO: And in that meeting he suggested this meeting with Putin in Russia, which Trump was present, didn’t immediately knock it down. Sessions did knock it down…

Did Trump say he wanted to have the meeting, or did he simply not knock it down? They are not the same thing. And what is “immediately” intended to convey? That he didn’t knock it down then, but two minutes later he did? Are you clear on what happened? Your Cable Gamer isn’t. Two different versions of the same discussion, and nobody bothers to say which is correct. Maybe they’re both wrong! So much for journalism. Brooke wasn’t interested in straightening it out. She moved on.

Earlier in the hour Baldwin had been excitedly teasing a Paul Rappaport passport scandal:

BALDWIN: Why would Paul Manafort have three passports?
BALDWIN: Why would he have three passports and is that even legal?

Now that Brooke had the chance, she posed the question–only it was in the form of a statement:

BALDWIN: Paul Manafort had three passports. That cannot be legal.

Brooke may not be the most skilled wordsmith in the cable game, but she understands the rhetorical climaxa series of related ideas so arranged that each surpasses the preceding in force or intensity. She moves from three passports, to asking if three passports are legal, to declaring that it “cannot be legal.” All the teases kept the viewer waiting for this big reveal. And then it came:

SCIUTTO: Well it’s not…I don’t know…I have two passports. You can get more than one passport for reasons of convenience…

Sciutto moved from the number of passports to another issue, leaving that whole build-up the televised equivalent of internet click-bait: make the suckers think they are going to hear something big, and when it collapses, disgorge some word salad and move on to the next talking point. And if people should end up with the impression that there just might be something illegal about having three passports–so much the better!

Brooke Baldwin has a good on-air personality and does well with stories that don’t require a surfeit of precision. But she has problems communicating facts without leaving people who are actually listening either befuddled or annoyed. Not something your Cable Gamer wants to be while sitting on an uncomfortable airport chair. Next time: the train.

Unreliable Tweets Make for Unreliable Sources

We begin with a tweet from MSNBC’s Chris Hayes:

It may be “legit amazing” to Hayes, but to The Cable Gamer it looks more like a lie. Here are the stories reported on Bret Baier’s Special Report on Oct 24:

  • GOP Senators vs President Trump
  • GOP Tax Talks
  • Clinton Investigations
  • Remembering a Hero
  • Economic Recovery
  • Muzzling the Consumer Financial Protections Bureau
  • Middle East Politics
  • China Leadership
  • Panel: GOP Civil War
  • Panel: Clinton Investigations

In the following hour The Story dealt with these stories:

  • Jeff Flake
  • Opioids
  • Jeff Flake
  • Clinton investigations
  • Tax Reform
  • Niger Ambush
  • Catholic “hate group”; Moana controversy

cnn_rs_deray_150524a1-800x430-696x374Hillary and uranium were not airing 24/7. They weren’t even the lead story. They were just a fraction of the coverage time. No matter. Hayes’ lie was spread to thousands, and if you look closely you’ll note that Brian Stelter retweeted it. Why would CNN’s media critic promote something so false and misleading? Well, it’s an attack on Fox News that doubles as a defense of Hillary Clinton—to Brian that’s like dangling catnip in front of Garfield. In fact Mr. Stelter liked it so much he’s going to make its fallacious point a centerpiece of this week’s Fox-bashing Reliable Sources:

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At one time Mr. Stelter was an ace Cable Gamer keeping an eye on all parties; you’d rarely catch him taking sides, promoting dishonest memes, or engaging in petty campaigns against competitors. But that was then; now he’s working in Zuckertown, where mendacious smears of more successful rivals is coin of the realm, particularly on Sunday mornings. Too bad. Your Cable Gamer liked the original recipe Brian Stelter better.

Epilog: Hayes/Stelter defenders will suggest that Hayes’ “24/7” claim was “hyperbole,” a “literary device.” Exaggeration for impact or comedic effect. They’ll say your Cable Gamer is taking him, and Stelter, too literally. So, consider this:

It could be because players have attributed their kneeling to everything from police brutality to Trump hate to the gender pay gap (that last actually reported on Stelter’s own network, CNN). It led Lahren to say you could get 100 different answers from 100 different players. And Stelter pounced:

How differently CNN’s media critic reacted here. The same Brian Stelter who touted a preposterously inaccurate claim about Fox coverage, and will make it a segment on Sunday, became Mr. Literal with Ms. Lahren. The man who has no problem promoting a spurious allegation from MSNBC went after the Fox commentator for not actually producing 100 literal football players and their 100 literally different answers. Twitter saw through that:

  • Just listen to yourself … that is an idiotic stance … in order for her to be right there has to be dif answer for every player … crazy —Tim Bryant
  • Kinda silly to “fact check” her when she was using a rhetorical device – Amber Athey
  • You do realize that Brian believes anyone who doesn’t share his far left views is wrong, it makes him a good liberal, but a bad reporter —James
  • It’s a rhetorical question about how the kneeling has evolved into something different from original purpose. You aren’t this dumb Brian —MAGAland

Are you sure?

CNN: A Simple Twist of Fake

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“We are not fake news” –CNN’s Jim Acosta

Sorry Jim Acosta, The Cable Gamer will be the judge of that. Let’s start with this:

Fox host compares 9/11 memorial to Confederate monuments, by CNN’s Tom Kludt.

As it turns out, Fox host Brian Kilmeade didn’t compare anything to anything. What’s more, he didn’t reference “Confederate monuments.” The only mention of “confederate” in the story is the one Tom Kludt inserted. And where did he get it from?

Fox’s Kilmeade asks if people will one day try to take down 9/11 memorials like they are with Confederate statues, by Media Matters staff.

Again the mention of “confederate” is not from Mr. Kilmeade. It’s inserted by the writers, the time the ones at Media Matters. And yet in a few hours time this invented angle has found its way to the reporters at CNN where they insert it, Media Matters style, into a discussion where it was never referenced–a shoddy bit of “reporting” if there ever was one. And the very definition of #FakeNews.

Media Matters is a partisan spin operation, a one-sided pressure group that seeks (and often succeeds) in pushing mainstream media to parrot its spin and talking points. It certainly achieved that goal with Tom Kludt. No matter that Brian Kilmeade has refuted this falsehood at length; CNN’s story makes no mention of his rebuttal. That would spoil the fakiness of the #FakeNews.

Fast forward to today. From Matt Gertz, Media Matters “Senior Fellow:”

One of CNN’s media reporting team quickly echoes the sentiment:

And if that wasn’t enough, CNN’s prestigious Jake Tapper fell into line as well:

Mr. Tapper obediently parroted the Media Matters spin,* and thereby contributed another dose of #FakeNews to CNN’s crumbling reputation. But did the White House spokesperson call for ESPN to fire anyone? Actually, no:

SANDERS: I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.

Your Cable Gamer has read that statement over and over, and has yet to see where Sanders called for anyone to be fired. To say “I think it’s a fireable offense by ESPN” is not to say “ESPN should fire her.” It’s a comment on the seriousness of the infraction, and does not call for, demand, or request anything. Long-time Cable Gamer “Spud” of Inside Cable News noted that, given ESPN past practices, it may in fact be a fireable offense:

So another twisting of the truth from Media Matters finds itself being spread by CNN’s allegedly nonpartisan reporters. What accounts for this? Who better to ask than the host of Reliable Sources, CNN’s Brian Stelter?

Mr. Stelter has not responded.

Footnote:

* People don’t realize how much mainstream journos rely on Media Matters for their hot takes on current affairs. You wouldn’t know it from Jake Tapper’s tweet in isolation, but the chain is as clear as Tinker-Evers-Chance. It all started with Matt Gertz of Media Matters:

Matt Gertz was retweeted by Noah Rothman:

Rothman retweeted by Fallows.

And Fallows tosses to Jake Tapper:

Amazing how people, some of whom should know better, take Media Matters “reports” at face value. Do Mr. Tapper’s followers realize they are in effect reading Media Matters spin? No wonder some are starting to call him “Fake Tapper.”