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.

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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:

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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.

Looking for Mr. Riot

One week ago, your Cable Gamer led the way in shining a spotlight on CNN’s refusal to cover the Katie Couric controversy (a deceptive edit in her gun violence documentary). Today on Reliable Sources the silence was broken, and Brian Stelter did a good segment with Elizabeth Harrington and David Zurawik:

BRIAN STELTER: Obviously, it is a point of view documentary. But David, is there any way to defend that kind of edit that was made?

DAVID ZURAWIK: Absolutely not, Brian. Really, if I vented the contempt I have for that dishonesty in the documentary format, I think I would drop over right now from a stroke. It’s outrageous. And that what you call the B.S. explanation, absolutely. That was so bad. I couldn’t believe it.

We wanted the listener to pause and think about it. Please. And the lie upon lie. Dishonest documentary makers are one of the lowest forms of life in media. There’s no defense.

Other than the inexplicable delay in broaching the subject, there’s little to criticize here. But The Cable Gamer would note that while it seems obvious to Mr. Stelter this is a “point of view” documentary, that’s not exactly how it was promoted. Epix trumpeted the film as presenting “honest, unbiased, and thoughtful commentary.” Sundance sang from the same sheet of music:

…a documentary that is scrupulously comprehensive and decidedly fair to both sides of one of the most polarizing issues that is tearing our country apart.

The Epix promo for the film further emphasized that it’s a “fair look at both sides of the gun control debate:”

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In fact words to that effect were mouthed by Matt Lauer for Katie Couric’s appearance on Today. But if a documentary massages the facts to push a “point of view,” is it fair? Is it even properly called a “documentary?” How does it differ from propaganda?

Brian Stelter gets props for getting around to this story, but the news isn’t all good—there was still something missing from today’s Reliable Sources. Stelter has been friendly to Vox.com in the past, inviting its reporters on the air, quoting its headlines, and even finding their formulations about topics like Benghazi convincing:

STELTER: On the subject of Benghazi, I was persuaded by a piece on Vox.com this week, talking about why people do or do not buy into conspiracy theories.

But for all the free PR that site has been given by Mr. Stelter, there was no discussion today about Vox’s troublesome editor. Emmett Rensin encouraged opponents of Donald Trump to start riots, and sure enough opponents of Donald Trump rioted. Vox has placed Mr. Rensin on suspension. We looked and it seems CNN ignored this story completely—until Riot Boy was reprimanded, at which point Dylan Byers did one online report. But the comprehensive CNN transcript archives show no on-air references to Vox or their resident riot enthusiast over the past week. Another blackout.

This is strikingly similar to how CNN and Reliable Sources avoided the Couric matter. Will it take them a week to tell their viewers about Mr. Riot too?

CNN Buries Katie Couric Controversy, Stelter Plays Along

cnn_rs_deray_150524a1-800x430-696x374The folks at Newsbusters noticed something that your Cable Gamer pointed out Sunday:

Brad Wilmouth has the transcript to the Kurtz discussion, and makes the observation that while Reliable Sources didn’t have time to say anything about Couric’s dishonest edit, they did spend an entire segment speculating about what might happen when Rush Limbaugh’s radio contract expires. (Bottom line: we’ll see.) Earlier Curtis Houck did a piece establishing that the broadcast networks ignored the story after it broke, while on cable neither CNN nor MSNBC had given the story any coverage whatsoever (as of evening May 26th).

The Cable Gamer did a search of CNN’s very comprehensive transcript archive for the past week, and the name Couric came up zero times. Which suggests that as we near a full week since the story broke CNN has yet to air a single mention of it. If they aren’t out to bury the story, they’re giving a good imitation of it.

Meanwhile, Sunday’s Reliable Sources had time not just for the Rush speculative chit-chat, but also for the ever-popular discussion of how the Republican party is crypto-racist: built on “racial anxiety,” exploiting a “backlash to a black President” and a need for “restoring whites to a preferred position.” And mind you, that’s just from the host, Brian Stelter. His two guests formed a Reliable Sources fair and balanced panel: they both agreed that Republicans are riding the racism wave. If that seems like a familiar set-up then you must have been watching Reliable Sources last week, when another panel reviewed Megyn Kelly’s Fox special. How do you think that fair and balanced panel broke down? They gave Megyn two thumbs down. It’s like Keith Olbermann is booking Stelter’s guests.

None of this answers the question of why CNN has refused to air a report on this story for almost a week now , or why their media program avoided it too. (They did post an online report, but oddly it has received no on-air promotion.) One observer offered this reason for the broadcast blackout:

He may be on to something there. While there are zero mentions of Katie Couric in the transcript to Sunday’s Reliable, one name comes up 77 times: Trump!

UPDATE: As we published late Monday night CNN posted a follow-up Couric story online. The Cable Gamer will watch to see if the on-air blackout continues.

In the meantime, Betsy Rothstein writes:

Turns out that Zucker, the president of CNN Worldwide, ordered Stelter to not run any segment on Couric. After all, Zucker are Couric are old friends who worked together on NBC’s “TODAY Show.” Couric was a famed co-host and Zucker was executive producer. Zucker also produced Couric’s daytime talk show that tanked after two seasons.

It’s hard to blame Stelter for this one, but one would hope he at least pushed back.

The plot thickens.

Family Matters

694940094001_4914399671001_11e016f0-ea84-468f-b93a-d3471cfa0174Tonight Greta ran a special hour about the Trump family, featuring interviews with the Trump children and his wife, and a tour of Trump Tower. Not really The Cable Gamer’s cup of tea, but she decided to keep an eye on it once the instant response from the twitterati kicked into gear. Here are a couple of accounts we watched:

Oliver Darcy of The Blaze:

  • This feels so much like a reality show.
  • It’s literally called “Meet the Trumps” on the program guide.
  • @Greta to @MELANIATRUMP: “Which magazines have you been on the cover of?” Follow-up: “Which one would be the top one?”
  • This special feels like something you’d see on state-run television somewhere.

And here’s Tré Goins-Phillips, also of The Blaze:

  • Tonight is the night of Trump, Trump and more Trump on @FoxNews.
  • Of his credentials, @Greta asks @DonaldJTrumpJr, “Did you play catch with [your dad] or go look at properties?”
  • Another hard-hitting question from @Greta: “Do you think [your dad] wants to be president?” she asks @DonaldJTrumpJr.
  • UPDATE: @Greta is now playing a reel of Trump’s kids and wife praising him.
  • The tough questions from @Greta keep rolling in:m “Do you think you’d be a good first lady?” she asks @MELANIATRUMP

The Cable Gamer was frankly taken by surprise with this new-found concern over asking soft questions of a candidate’s wife or children. Do these people suggest that Melania Trump should be peppered with questions about the nuclear triad? Should Greta have cornered Ivanka and demanded she address some arcane issue she has no involvement with?

If Chelsea Clinton had been grilled about her dad’s perjury or her mother’s Benghazi testimony we might understand expecting the same treatment for the Trump family. But let’s be honest—that didn’t happen, because it’s never been the case that profiles of a candidate’s family subject them to a Perry Mason style cross-examination. And even if that had been the case, it wouldn’t have been Greta doing it. Her interviewing philosophy is cut from a different cloth:

My interview style of 22 plus years is polite and blunt. Everyone gets the same interview style from me, I don’t pick sides and I am not showing off. For some, that is seen as “lavish praise.” (see below) When I read that description I got to thinking – what ever happened to good manners and good manners in journalism? You can get information – and I did – without trying to score personal points or play to others in the media who love that…

When Trump’s son joined him at the Town Hall for one short segment, I was polite to his son – as I am with all spouses of all candidates and their families. They are not the candidate. Go back and check that out as I have interviewed many family members over this long 2016 campaign…

Ted Turner in the old days of CNN taught us “the news is the star” — in other words, this is not all about us (in the media.) Ted was and is right. Maybe it is time for all of us to be reflective about how to best get the job done for the voters. I am always looking to improve and get better.

There’s something else Greta said in that post that bears repeating:

Incidentally, to be fair to all the candidates, I have offered – almost mathematically even – every candidate in both parties the exact same opportunities for Town Halls and interviews. No candidate is obliged to accept and I can’t go out and kidnap them, tie them up and force them to do interviews if they do not want to.🙂

For all the talk about “state-run television” and “Trump and more Trump,” doesn’t this suggest that the other candidates had the same opportunity and simply didn’t take advantage of it? It should, because Greta says that’s exactly what happened with tonight’s special:

We made an offer to do the same special for the Clinton and Sanders families but got no response. I would have given both these candidates equal time and same type of questions. I still am willing to do so.

And just in case people didn’t see that post, Greta tweeted it too. Interestingly, as we are about to hit publish, neither Mr. Darcy nor Mr. Goins-Phillips tweets any mention of Greta’s offer whatsoever. Of course doing so might throw water on any one of several memes (Greta the “Trump shill,” Fox is “Trump and more Trump,” etc.) And for some the rule is: when there’s a conflict between the truth and the meme…tweet the meme.

Amber Alert: Missing Persons Update

Unless she shows up on Outnumbered tomorrow, Tuesday will mark four weeks since Andrea Tantaros vanished from the Fox News airwaves. After a short-lived stab at explaining her position (the unconvincing “free speech” gambit) she changed course and clammed up. She has since “protected” her twitter account—only people she approves as followers can read it. That is not exactly an ace move if you’re trying to promote a new book (it’s currently ranked #4457 at Amazon). This hunkering down tells The Cable Gamer that, while Tantaros picked the wrong toes to step on, at least she learned from her first stumble and knows this is not a time to dig a deeper hole.

Another Fox News employee among the missing is Ed Henry, who it was learned was conducting an extra-marital affair with a Las Vegas lady. He immediately left the air and went into radio (and every other kind) silence. The Cable Gamer wondered about the reaction; a Fox & Friends Weekend co-host not only had an extra-marital affair with a guest of the show but fathered a child. There was barely a hiccup in his role at Fox News. True, there may be a higher standard for a Washington correspondent than a morning chat show host. But there is another reason Mr. Henry’s case is more troubling:

Now the National Enquirer‎ is reporting Henry sent Lima raunchy sexts plus a picture of his penis — which, mercifully, the publication pixilated. Sources say Henry has a “morality clause” in his contract, which means he could be fired if he does anything to embarrass the network.

Roger Ailes is quoted noting a lack of judgment, “especially given his position as a journalist.” Ed Henry is a talented, tenacious reporter. He may survive this but, with the redolence of Anthony Weiner now hanging over him, it’s an uphill battle.

Finally, there’s the case of Michelle Fields. After her high-visibility clash with Trump’s campaign manager, she stopped appearing on Fox’s Cashin’ In, hosted by Trump-friendly Eric Bolling. The PR suggested it was a mutual decision until things calmed down, but that happened long ago and she’s still not back. Now with a new role at Huffington Post, the odds are getting longer.

Fields and Fox might have worked this out in a few week’s time if she hadn’t crossed an important line. While Fox News has no problem with differing viewpoints, they obviously take a dim view when people start hitting the channel’s journalists and hosts with personal attacks. (This is not unique to FNC; MSNBC banned Markos from the air because, among other things, he promoted a highly dubious rumor about Joe Scarborough). Michelle Fields did impugn Sean Hannity’s integrity, but she’s hardly alone on that limb. No, it was something else that really sealed her fate.

Fields let it be known that she was planning a defamation suit against the Trump camp, and a Fox News host who is also an experienced attorney offered some unsolicited, but friendly, advice:

Yes, the burden of proof is less in a civil case, but she is just not going to win and it will be expensive and a heartache. Even if one can win, it is not always worth it. Anyone encouraging this young woman to bring a lawsuit is irresponsible to her.

That may not have been what Michelle Fields wanted to hear, but there’s no reason to doubt it was offered in good faith. Fields could have just let it pass without comment, or said thanks, I’ll think about it. Instead, she aimed a tactical nuke at Greta and fired:

If you have a regular spot on a well-rated show on Fox News, you don’t want to go calling one of their top program hosts a “shill”—i.e. a person motivated not by truth or journalism but by their own personal profit or self-interest. You especially don’t want to do it to Greta van Susteren, who is widely liked and admired across political and social strata at Fox News. Talk about crossing a line! But Fields has shown no remorse (not even the token step of deleting the tweet), and The Cable Gamer will be surprised if Roger Ailes ever lets her in the building again.

By the way, many weeks have passed yet the announced defamation suit has yet to materialize. And Fields quietly stonewalls when asked about it. Maybe her own attorneys gave her the same advice Greta did. That would add a touch of irony to the outburst that may have ended the Fox News career of Michelle Fields.