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drove Bill O’Reilly from the airwaves, having his team call more than 20 advertisers demanding to know if they had withdrawn their ads yet.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.

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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.”

You Don’t Say, Mr. Wemple

If you want to spot agendas at play, look for the “mash-up.” Propagandists love to assemble these catchy montages of clips, all carefully selected to point to a pre-determined conclusion. The Cable Gamer was not surprised to see CNN’s Brian Stelter promoting a Fox News mash-up from Media Matters–as partisan and biased a source as the internet has to offer. It’s another sign that Stelter has given up on journalism and is now a partisan activist, because he knows as well as anyone that a “mash-up” can be edited to make any point you like. It’s all about what you include, and more importantly, what you omit.

It surprised us that the Washington Post would make a Fox News mash-up in the Media Matters style, yet they did. That a news organization would fashion coverage in the manner of a partisan political operation is disturbing enough, but it’s small potatoes compared to their Erik Wemple’s seemingly endless attack on Fox News, and its morning program in particular. Column after column offers a transcript of some snippet from that day’s Fox & Friends, designed to reinforce his insistence that it’s pure propaganda for Trump.

Clearly, it’s not hard to find two minutes in any three-hour news program where somebody says something nice about Trump. It’s especially easy on Fox & Friends. So Wemple is making as pointless a point as your Cable Gamer can imagine. Basically he’s making a slow-motion print-media mash-up. Instead of putting a dozen clips into a video, he’s just publishing the cherry-picked bits one at a time, each in its own column. As with the mash-ups, he never fails to make his point, because he just omits what doesn’t comport with the pre-selected meme.

On Tuesday Wemple gave us a Q&A with people at a diner near a military base reacting to Trump’s Afghanistan speech. A pretty safe bet there: a live remote on Fox News down the street from a military base. Sure enough, the people in this segment had a positive view of the speech, and that’s what Wemple wrote up. But what did he omit? This:

It’s very hard to imagine how we win a lasting peace in Afghanistan if we couldn’t do it with 100,000 troops. Now we’re gonna have about 13,000. … What does a victory look like in Afghanistan? We’re gonna be in Afghanistan until we take the long dirt nap ourselves. Is that really what the American people thought they were getting? They thought they were getting drain the swamp, not clear the desert.

Why didn’t Erik Wemple include this analysis by Laura Ingraham in his column? Because he says right at the top that Fox & Friends “hews most closely to state-run media,” and this contradicts his point. So he leaves it out. What readers don’t know won’t hurt the meme.

One day later Wemple wants readers to believe that Fox & Friends didn’t dare question Trump’s comments about the media, so he writes:

Considering that “Fox & Friends” is part of a news network, you might suppose that such rhetoric would chill the program’s co-hosts. Or at least prompt some neutral coverage of such a contention. But no way…

And in the exchange he quotes, there is no pushback against Trump’s comments. Yet once again, it’s not so much what Wemple says, it’s what he doesn’t say:

EARHARDT: He pointed to the media up there. He said all those guys, basically on the platform or in the rafters, and the whole crowd, this huge crowd turns around, they look at the media, and they go “Boo!” And one guy in particular was pointing—

DOOCY: They had an anti-CNN chant going for a while.

EARHARDT: He called out specific networks too.

BRIAN KILMEADE: It doesn’t make me comfortable, to be honest. I don’t feel comfortable with 15,000 people turning around, screaming at me. You know, you could have another President, another leader pointing at you. How would you feel if you had to leave that arena then?

Is this outraged alarmism a la Don Lemon or Morning Joe? Hardly. But then, neither was it the slavish “state-run media propaganda” that Wemple was selling. So, it ends up on the cutting room floor. In the best tradition of Media Matters and the other mash-up specialists whose expertise is cherry-picking of the most selective, disingenuous kind.

It’s like that fellow Tom Kennedy said: It’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you don’t say. And with Wemple what he doesn’t say tells us an awful lot.

UPDATE:

Shepard’s Strange Disclaimer

In his rush to separate himself from Judge Andrew Napolitano (a frequent guest on his program, at least up until today) Shepard Smith made an odd claim about the Judge’s theory that British spymasters surveilled Trump Tower at Obama’s request:

SHEPARD SMITH: We’ve not reported on that on this program or any Fox News programs. It was on the morning show but not on Fox News.

The Cable Gamer has a couple of problems with this statement. When Judge Napolitano advanced this notion on Fox & Friends Smith claims he was “not on Fox News.” Where was he then, on HGTV? Fox News has bragged for years that their morning program Fox & Friends is #1 in all cable news, yet here is FNC’s primary news anchor pretending like they’re on some other channel.

SMITH: We’ve not reporting on that on this program or any Fox News programs. It was on the morning show but not on Fox News.

Assuming that Shep will allow that hours other than just 3:00 pm Eastern are Fox News, then what is The First 100 Days, anchored by Martha MacCallum, one of FNC’s designated two top political news anchors? Yes, Judge Napolitano discussed what his sources told him there too:

Your Cable Gamer wonders what is going on with Shepard Smith. Is he just vamping, ad-libbing whatever pops into his head? Or is this all in the teleprompter–which might be even worse, given that it appears to have been written by person or persons who don’t have a clue what airs on their own news channel?

Hair Brained

The Cable Gamer is somewhat sensitive about “dumb blonde” stereotypes. But she really gets hacked off when they come from an ignorant partisan without a glimmer of a clue what she’s talking about. An apt description for Hadley Freeman, a writer for the lefty Brit “news” site The Guardian. Her article is titled:

Why do all the women on Fox News look and dress alike? Republicans prefer blondes.

That’s nonsensical on its face, and underneath appears a graphic showing three blondes: Kellyanne Conway, Ann Coulter and Ivanka Trump. The alert reader may have noticed that none of these women work for Fox News (in fact Ann Coulter was an employee of MSNBC). But Ms. Freeman isn’t picky about such things as accuracy, and plows ahead with enraptured descriptions of “left wing media women” like Andrea Mitchell who looks like “all the Golden Girls at once.” Then comes the good stuff…the attack on Fox News:

But then we turn to rightwing women. Kellyanne Conway, Scottie Nell Hughes, Tomi Lahren, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Ivanka Trump, and pretty much every single woman on Fox News: a uniform vision of girlishly long bottle-blond hair.

Ms. Freeman must have spent all of three minutes researching this piece. She cites five women who have never been employed by Fox News in any capacity, plus Laura Ingraham who is a contributor (though Freeman doesn’t seem to realize that). In fact, as far as the plethora of Fox News blondes is concerned, that’s as far as she goes. One. Hadley Freeman never cites any further examples, even though she’s sure “pretty much every single woman on Fox News” is a blonde and they all look alike:

When I see them all lined up as talking heads on the news, I get a rare insight into what it must be like to gaze upon the bar area of one of those private American tennis clubs that don’t allow anyone whose name is “too urban” or ends in -stein or -berg. Welcome, people, to death by Wasp… How hard it must be having to operate within such a narrow aesthetic palette. I mean, this is a demographic that considers being brunette a physical deformity

The author’s ignorance of FNC is impressive. In an article ostensibly about “all the women of Fox News” she cites close to a dozen women…and only one works at Fox. And then she claims Ivanka Trump is “rightwing.” Plus there’s her assertion that she has seen them “all lined up as talking heads on the news,” talking about six women, only four of whom are talking heads (i.e. pundits) and only one on Fox. In what alternate universe are they all talking heads on Fox News?

And as for brunette hair being “a physical deformity” because of a “narrow aesthetic palette,” Freeman is full of it. She clearly has no clue who’s on Fox News and who isn’t. Blondes are not “pretty much every single woman on Fox News.” Most likely they are a minority. If the reader doubts that, your Cable Gamer has assembled a selection of Fox News on-air reporters, anchors, correspondents, and contributors who are not of the blonde persuasion:

browne acuna guilfoyle banderasherridge  cowan green gabriel fischer faulkner boothe holder huntsman lee joshi 1446482252329griffin ratner  bartiromo jackson mcglowan uma miller neville roginsky2 turner mcdowell vogel williams pirro

It’s doubtful Freeman could pick any of these people out of a line-up, let alone identify them. Yet among those pictured above are a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, a former CBS News correspondent, a winner of an “outstanding newscast” Emmy, a member of the Jesse Jackson family, a former Navy fighter pilot, the first openly gay commentator hired by a cable news channel (Fox), and a six-time Emmy winner who is also America’s most watched female African-American cable news anchor. And there are more than just these 30. To sum it up: Sod off, Freeman. Your incompetent, hair-brained hit job is giving fake news a bad name.

Postscript: The Cable Gamer would be remiss if she did not acknowledge that there are fair-haired females at FNC, and like Megyn Kelly (now with NBC News) they are smart, savvy, and thoroughly professional. They break the blonde of the ordinary.