There was a bit of a dust-up last week when POTUS chewed out CNN’s Chris Cuomo over an interview with Senator Richard Blumenthal. Mr. Trump complained that CC didn’t even question Blumenthal about misrepresenting his combat experience, only Cuomo did in fact do so, in his very first question:
CUOMO: All right, so first we have a credibility attack and then an attack on the facts. What is your response to the president of the United States saying you should not be believed because you misrepresented your military record in the past?
Not a particularly pointed question (note how Cuomo separates himself from the uncomfortable fact of Blumenthal’s dishonesty by out-sourcing the issue to Trump) but at least he asked it. Whereupon the Senator simply ignores Cuomo’s question and gives a pre-scripted answer. A competent interviewer (like Jake Tapper) wouldn’t let him get away with that, but Cuomo–whether for lack of competence, or just to protect a fellow Democrat–gives the Senator a total pass and promptly drops the issue.
That’s a pretty poor job of interviewing, but The Cable Gamer has seen worse. In fact, what she saw yesterday may just go into the record books.
To say Andrew Sullivan has credibility issues is like saying you might find sand in the Sahara. For years he has promoted a daft conspiracy theory involving Sarah Palin’s son Trig: that she faked her 2008 pregnancy to cover up for the fact that he was actually Bristol’s child. Even Donald Trump faced facts and abandoned his birtherism, but Andrew Sullivan seems reluctant to let his go. And yet here he is, on Reliable Sources (yes, the irony is thick), to proclaim it’s Trump who’s the “unstable” one.
This is a situation rife with cross-examination possibilities, all of which Brian Stelter studiously avoided. No mention of Sullivan’s history of tin-foil conspiracy mongering at all. The Q&A is full of obvious gaping holes where questions about Sullivan’s birtherism would be mandatory to anyone who calls himself a journalist:
STELTER: My next guest, Andrew Sullivan, a pioneering blogger, now a contributing editor for the “New York magazine” is taking it a step further, questioning Trump’s mental health…
SULLIVAN: …And he’s [Trump] able to command his underlings to actually go out there and say things that are empirically untrue.
STELTER: You said unstable. In your column you said mentally unstable. Why do you think it’s appropriate to be describing the president that way?
SULLIVAN: I’m not a shrink, and if I were, I wouldn’t say this, anyway, because you can’t diagnose someone. But I’m a human being, and I can tell if someone is saying things that we know not to be true and never corrects it.
STELTER: But you’re taking it a couple of steps further by questioning his mental stability. And I wonder why you think that’s not been said more often on television or in columns like your own.
SULLIVAN: I think sometimes you want to assume that there is a rationality at the center of our entire republic. That there is someone who can listen to reason, who see an empirical fact, who can distinguish between an opinion and a fact, between what he wants to be true and what is true.
Look at those doors, flung wide open to question Andrew Sullivan about his own “empirically untrue” statements that he “never corrects” because he “wants it to be true.” Yet Jeff Zucker’s wunderkind journalist, Brian Stelter, blindly stumbles on, never once mentioning the pachyderm in the room:
SULLIVAN: He won’t correct anything. In fact, I don’t think of all the hundreds and hundreds of false statements he’s made, he and his spokesman have not actually retracted a single one.
SULLIVAN: But at some point, being a writer or a journalist requires one to simply say what one is seeing in front of one’s eyes.
SULLIVAN: If you continually do that and you never recognize reality…it is, to put it frankly, a little bonkers.
SULLIVAN: We have to relate it to reality at some point, our interpretation of reality.
STELTER: Andrew Sullivan, thank you so much for being here this morning.
SULLIVAN: You’re so welcome, Brian.
There are grade-school newsletters whose interns could conduct a better interview than this. The Cable Gamer sees two possible explanations. Either Brian Stelter is a partisan hack, as far left as his twitter feed suggests, who has ceased being a media reporter to function as a propagandist. Or he really is the worst interviewer in the world.
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.
Washington Post Cable Gamer Erik Wemple asks: Dear CNN, are you biased? That title has already been updated to reflect the two-week suspension handed out to reporter Elise Labott, who tweeted criticism of a House bill on refugees:
Mr. Wemple explained why even a single tweet can be damaging to CNN’s brand:
Evenhandedness, mind you, isn’t just a matter of journalistic principle for CNN. It’s a business imperative. Competitors Fox News and MSNBC are “two partisan networks, that are looking out for their viewers,” CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker has said. That split, he has argued, makes CNN ever more “essential” to viewers.
Sure, fine, whatever. But CNN viewers know that the network’s dedication to impartial news gathering and spin-free reporting is not always consistent. Sometimes it depends on who you are:
Sometimes if you’re a big name anchor the powers that be will look the other way. When Chris Cuomo was on his high horse about refugees he chewed out his Republican guest, telling him “There’s a lot of vetting, you know that!” and wagging a rhetorical finger about “compassion.” He famously disputed the notion that sanctuary cities are cities that provide sanctuary (to illegal immigrants). On twitter his history is even more colorful but you can just look at today’s haul for some really loaded terminology:
Compared to Elise Labott’s pictorial rhetoric, Chris Cuomo’s language is far more pointed and partisan. “Your ideas are the problem…Reason over fear and hate…” Cuomo’s viewpoint is not implied via sentimental imagery but stated unambiguously, complete with personal comments about those who disagree with him.
In record time Elise Labott gets suspended for two weeks, but somehow that never happens to Chris Cuomo. Zero-tolerance enforcement is applied sparingly when it comes to the marquee names, the people favored by the higher-ups. Sorry Elise. It’s not fair. It’s Zuckertown.
It wasn’t so long ago that The Cable Gamer ruminated a bit about the rules of journalism: the open, public rules, as well as the rules (the sub-rosa “way things are” that are rarely spoken of outside the innerest of inner circles). A Donald Trump controversy was the catalyst then, and in an amazing coincidence it is now as well.
The rules, as TCG explained back then, are those areas where impartial, non-partisan journalists get to play pundit—taking positions, calling out politicians, slanting stories—as media critics and journalism professors look the other way. We’ve seen it a lot with same-sex marriage and immigration, and now the emergence of Donald Trump and his ill-considered comments about John McCain have created an instant codicil to the rules. Green lights to “fire at will.”
We saw it with Luke Russert, supposedly a correspondent for NBC News who also slums on MSNBC, even occasionally hosting news programs and opinion shows there. Appearing with Andrea Mitchell he got personal about Mr. Trump, calling his hair “fake,” opining that he’s “really out there” with his “out of bounds comments.”
But that was nothing compared to CNN’s morning journalist Chris Cuomo (brother of a sitting Democratic governor). His attack on Trump didn’t require special glasses but it was in 3-D, as he ridiculed the candidate’s “disposition, dyspepsia, and demagoguery.” You know, just like an opinion host would do. No shocked eyebrows raised among the journalistic intelligentsia. See? The new rule is already in effect.
So let’s take it a step further. How about targeting journalists who are not attacking Trump? That sounds like a job for Media Matters:
Fox Host Blames John McCain For Trump’s Inflammatory Comments
This smear of Harris Faulkner is apparently based on two statements: one is a question (she asked if John McCain started the war of words by calling Trump supporters “crazies”), and one a report of a fact (that Donald Trump said McCain should apologize for that comment).
Did Harris Faulkner actually blame McCain for Trump’s attacks? No. Yet a Media Matters headline insists she did, while they conveniently neglect to provide any sort of a transcript beyond one meticulously edited sentence fragment. Ms. Faulkner’s real crime was she didn’t attack Donald Trump. Well that, and working for Fox News.
The “one-shot” CNN Quiz special aired on a holiday (Presidents’ Day) but its viewership in the news demo (242,000) made it not only CNN’s top-rated program Monday night, but easily in CNN’s top five for that entire week’s Monday-Friday lineup. Anderson Cooper can do this sort of show in his sleep, and it costs a lot less to produce than an hour of news with those boring (and expensive) satellite shots and finicky correspondents.
So it’s no surprise that The Cable Game hears rumblings that CNN execs want more. Bear in mind that there haven’t been many successful hour-long quiz shows, so I expect some thought is being given to a 30-minute format. Maybe bring in a studio audience and have a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni (“the San Francisco treat”) as a consolation prize–well, I’m not sure even Zucker would go that far. But special “celebrity” editions of the CNN Quiz? You know that’s in the cards.
Whether CNN’s attempt at a game show was a “one-time thing” or a harbinger of things to come depends on what the Nielsen gods report about its premiere episode. Scheduling it opposite the Celebrity Apprentice finale (a showdown with a heavy cable news resonance about it) was probably not the best programming move. But even lukewarm ratings are enough to trounce MSNBC these days, so the odds favor its return. Like most television, it’s an idea that dates back to the medium’s earliest years. It isn’t new to The Cable Game either: Bill O’Reilly used to do a news quiz, though it was just a five minute segment once a week.
The erstwhile “most trusted name in news” will put pretty much anything on the air these days as they “broaden the definition of news.” Documentaries arguably qualify. But documentaries purchased from independent filmmakers, with lax or nonexistent editorial standards and often some very large axes to grind, are problematic. And are we seeing hours devoted to pole dancers, sex workers, and cannabis because they are urgent page-one issues? Or for their appeal to younger viewers? All of this is in addition to shows you’d ordinarily expect to see on The Travel Channel (Parts Unknown) or Discovery (Somebody’s Gotta Do It). There’s even a series with Morgan Spurlock, apparently a reward for his tendentious, unreliable Super Size Me.
Perhaps CNN will air a Real Housewives style “documentary” series following Chris Cuomo around after work. Maybe strand a handful of CNN anchors on an island: I’m a Journalist! Get Me Out of Here! With reruns of other people’s reality shows (Shark Tank, Forensic Files) finding their way onto so-called “news channels,” Canadian newsman Peter Trueman comes to mind. He would end his broadcasts (on the fledgling Global network) with several minutes of commentary, sometimes with only the most remote connection to the news of the day. And then his closing mantra: “That may not be news, but that, too, is reality.” Nowadays that sounds more and more like the programming philosophy at CNN.
Sometimes there’s a certain schizophrenic quality to CNN’s programming. They’ll bend over backwards to avoid traditional news coverage by airing documentaries about sex workers, marijuana, or whatever subject they think will attract viewers. Yet they’ll pre-empt these shows at the drop of a hat to pile on the saturation coverage of a missing plane, today’s snowstorm, or the travails of Bill Cosby.
The latest bit of fluffery ropes six CNN anchors into a game show hosted by Anderson Cooper. There’s no mole to be found here; it’s a quiz format, and one hopes it isn’t all about Bill Cosby’s girlfriends or the interaction of airplanes with black holes. CNN has posted a promo and, to be fair, it doesn’t look as embarrassing as some of the stuff Jeff Zucker has put on CNN’s air. For now it’s a one-shot special, but I think if it became a weekly primetime show that might be overdoing it a bit.
One of the three teams of two shown in the promo is Alisyn Camerota with Jake Tapper. Something Tapper said (with Alisyn on camera) caught our ear:
Unlike the other guys, we actually really like each other.
Why did that phrase sound so familiar? It harkens back to ten years ago:
And then there’s the not-so-subtle dig at the competition, taking advantage of gossip items about rivalries and backstabbing on the sets of the network morning programs: Underneath, in yellow, the ad reads: ‘And our people actually like each other.’
That TV Newser post dates from 2005 and describes an advertising push for a morning show called Fox & Friends. A show Alisyn was closely associated with during her 16 years at Fox News. Coincidence? Or a sly barb at Aly’s old stomping grounds? Chris Cuomo is also in the promo, and it’s a good thing they didn’t give him that line. That might stretch credibility a bit too far. For now, the show will give Anderson Cooper a chance to hone his quizmaster skills; you never know what opportunities may come his way.