CNN Rallies to Jim Acosta’s Defense…Sort Of
The dispute between our next President and CNN’s Jim Acosta hasn’t exactly died down. On Sunday Trump’s Sean Spicer said Acosta should apologize, and CNN leaped to their reporter’s defense with a statement of support.
At least that’s the accepted storyline, but on closer inspection The Cable Gamer sees some holes in the fabric. Let’s look at what Mr. Spicer said about Jim Acosta in his appearance on Media Buzz:
SEAN SPICER: You do not treat the President elect or any major figure in that way. It’s childish and disrespectful…He went on and he lied about the events of that day. He was 100% false. He said I came up to him and told him if he asked a hard question he’d be removed. That’s 100% not true…I walked over to him, politely said to him Jim, your behavior was not acceptable; that was highly disrespectful the way you spoke to the President-elect…He continued to argue with me, I said Jim, I just want to be clear. If that happens again I will have you removed, the same way that we’d remove a protester that was acting as disrespectful as he did. The idea that he would go on television afterwards and make it that it was about answering tough questions…The idea that he took no responsibility for his behavior was highly unacceptable and inappropriate, and he does owe use and his fellow members of the press core an apology for his behavior.
Interviewer Howard Kurtz went out of his way to clarify with Spicer that the flare-up was over Acosta’s rudeness, not over asking a question. And yet CNN’s own account strangely avoids any explanation of this key disputed point:
Spicer claimed on Fox that Acosta mischaracterized the conversation…What the two men agree on is that Spicer told Acosta, “If that happens again,” at a future press conference, “I will have you removed.”
Brian Stelter reports what “the two men do agree on,” but doesn’t report what the two men did not agree on. That’s some peculiar news judgment right there. What’s more, Spicer’s most stinging accusation–calling Acosta a liar–is also left on the cutting room floor. Whereupon Stelter puts forward a statement from CNN’s PR department. Stripping away the boilerplate ecomiums of Acosta, the defense boils down to:
Just because Sean Spicer says something doesn’t make it true.
Your Cable Gamer has seen many non-denial denials in her time, but this one is a classic. CNN’s reporter is called a liar and their media reporter doesn’t even mention it. Instead he quotes corporate’s mealy-mouthed response that is little more than “that doesn’t make it so.” Mr. Acosta must really be impressed with such a powerful, devastating rebuttal. Not. (Stelter farcically refers to this PR obfuscation as an “unusually strong statement” of support!)
Our spidey-sense starts tingling when we see highly paid public relations people going out of their way to avoid obvious elephants in the room. But what if there’s a way to know for sure who is telling the truth? Sean Spicer says there is:
SPICER: The cameras were on. You can actually view, for people who had kept B-roll.
It was caught on tape? Another thing Brian Stelter left out of his report. Another thing CNN PR artfully avoided responding to. Why would that be? Wouldn’t this prove Mr. Acosta’s version once and for all?
Or would it?
Like Brian Stelter’s report, CNN’s response to Sean Spicer’s charges managed to miss the most salient points. It’s hard to miss the mark so completely unless it’s done on purpose. Now why would they do that?
Late Developments at MSNBC May Trump Long-Standing Ethical Issues
Players in The Cable Game know there are rules…and there are rules. Some of the former are more observed in the breach, and some of the latter are just not spoken of. Things better left unsaid.
You’ve heard the rules about conflicts of interest, and every once in a while somebody will be forced to rattle off a “disclosure.” Chris Matthews spouts a few words about his wife running for the US House, and he can go right back to “covering” the elections as if he didn’t have a personal interest in seeing the Democrats take back the majority. But when dealing with one of the rules, it’s not necessary for the journalist to say anything at all. He can cover the topic, flip a switch and do commentary, go out and advocate for it, even become an outright activist. And not only can he skip making any disclosures, but nobody else will call him on it. That’s how you know you’re dealing not just with one of the rules, but one of the rules.
Today Thomas Roberts spent hours “covering” (i.e. supporting) the Supreme Court decision on marriage. It’s a perfectly defensible ruling, and one The Cable Gamer may even agree with. But we don’t recall that J-school class explaining the rules about “marriage equality” permitting journalists who ordinarily feign neutrality to openly support it, slant their coverage to favor it, and even lobby for it on and off the air. Yet here’s Thomas Roberts rallying the troops by telling them “we” still have work to do, and dismissing any questions of impartiality with a wave of his hand:
I’ve been confronted with issues with how to control any bias for a long time, but when it comes to discrimination or issues of inequality, I’ve always been a fan of shining bright lights in dark places.
Translation: there are rules for this topic, and the “media critics” all agree with me so I can be as one-sided as I please. Howard Kurtz noted today how the coverage on MSNBC was one supporter of the ruling after another, but even he avoided mention of the elephant in the room: the obvious, flagrant bias of the anchor.
But Thomas Roberts’ ethical issues are nothing new. And now there’s a new development on MSNBC’s plate: The Donald. NBC has decided to distance itself from Mr. Trump:
NBC is evaluating its commitment to the upcoming Miss USA pageant hours after Univision’s decision to drop the program over comments made by Donald Trump, a source tells The Hollywood Reporter.
CNN’s Brian Stelter goes into more detail:
For now, NBC’s only comment is a statement that distances itself from Trump, but doesn’t sever any relationship with him.
So as of now, the pageant is still on and NBC will carry it. And yet Mr. Stelter oddly leaves out the detail that gives this controversy particular relevance to The Cable Game:
MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts and “Dancing with the Stars” dancer Cheryl Burke will host this year’s pageant.
Yes, that’s our Thomas Roberts, fearless crusader on issues of bias, discrimination, and inequality. Hosting a Donald Trump pageant, even as his parent network seeks to distance itself from the event, while his MSNBC colleagues rip the businessman nightly, if not hourly. Assuming the NBC broadcast goes forward (that’s The Cable Gamer’s best guess at this point) does Thomas Roberts intend to stay on as a host? If so, will NBC—or MSNBC—permit him to do so? Will his Lean Forward colleagues and assorted media critics excoriate him for giving credibility to Evil Donald Trump? Or just look the other way?
The Cable Gamer finds it strange that nobody has raised any of these issues. That’s fine for Thomas Roberts—he hardly needs to answers questions nobody is asking. It’s just funny how nicely that works out for him.
Who’s Sorry Now? Do We Really Need Another Apology?
It was just a random comment that slipped out during unscripted live coverage. It happened on CNN but, in this case, Don Lemon was not involved. Instead it was the uncontroversial but professional Fredricka Whitfield, who has hardly been a magnet for controversy during her years at CNN. When she used the phrase “courageous and brave” to describe the actions of a shooter trying to commit mass murder of police officers, it was hardly what she wanted to say but it’s what came out. It took 24 hours for her to make a three-sentence explanation (it would be false advertising to call it an “apology”) and that didn’t satisfy the commentariat.
At Mediaite Joe Concha thought it was crazy that she didn’t clarify or walk back what she said immediately, or at least before she left the air. Today Howard Kurtz echoed Concha in a Fox segment that went out of its way not to impugn Whitfield’s motives. Both seemed to think the non-apology apology was lame, and to an extent they’re right. It was tossed off so matter-of-factly that it gave the appearance of dutifully checking off a box to get it over with. But if anyone thinks the problem was the lack of an actual “apology,” The Cable Gamer disagrees.
To say that apologies have been devalued would be an understatement.We get them now almost daily in our media. Too often they’re another penalty that the guilty are made to serve before they can be let back into The Game. But Whitfield’s continuing problems are not because of a failure to apologize. They stem from the afterthought nature of her words, and their routine recitation.
The Cable Gamer knows what it’s like to be on the air live and pick the wrong words, and appreciates that hindsight is 20/20. But what if Ms. Whitfield had offered something like this explanation for her gaffe?
I just want to take a moment here to clear up something I said. I don’t know what happened when I was talking about the assault on those police officers because I know it was a reckless, brazen attack, and yet…when I was fumbling for words like those, out came “courageous and brave.” I’ve made some bad word choices but that has to be one of the worst, because it sure didn’t reflect what I was trying to say. If anyone is “courageous and bold” it’s the first responders who risk their lives every day to protect us, not the diseased minds who target them for assassination. So I just wanted to tell you, and any members of law enforcement whose jaws dropped when they heard those words, that it’s not what I meant. It was a slip of the tongue, not of the heart, and I promise to make sure it never happens again.
If Fredricka Whitfield had made an explanation along those lines on Saturday, the discussions about her today would be far different than what we are hearing now.
Sunday Morning Media Mash-Up
Here’s a peek at some of what the two cable news media review shows will be featuring Sunday morning (courtesy FishbowlDC):
- Sharyl Attkisson, investigative journalist;
- Amy Holmes, The Blaze TV;
- Kirsten Powers, Fox News contributor;
- Ben Terris of the Washington Post feature writer;
- Marisa Guthrie, The Hollywood Reporter;
- Terence Smith, former PBS correspondent.
- Joe Berlinger, documentary maker;
- Mark Geragos, CNN legal contributor;
- Carol Leonig, Washington Post writer;
- Mickey Kaus, former Daily Caller contributor;
- and “many more“.
At the risk of tooting my own horn, TCG sort-of predicted one of those Reliable Sources names several days ago. Though to be honest, that’s like predicting tomorrow’s sunrise.
Throwback Thursday: Team MSNBC vs. Team Olbermann
The Daily Beast‘s Howard Kurtz goes behind the scenes at MSNBC, detailing the fight between Team Suits and Team Olbermann–although as Kurtz makes clear, there’s no real “team” Olbermann; Keith Olbermann is mostly in this by himself. Him and his ego.
Best quote: MSNBC “chief” Phil Griffin to Michael Price, Olbermann’s manager, in the middle of the suspension dissension: “We are at war.” If so, it was a war that Olbermann won decisively, and that MSNBC lost–to wit, Olbermann returning in triumph to his show last Tuesday, declaring, “If I had known this would happen–I would have done this years ago.” And so Olby further reminded us that Griffin has been emasculated, more than once (if that’s possible, and in Griffin’s case, it is).
And yet after reviewing the corporate infighting, Kurtz concludes his piece with these grafs, suggesting that Comcast will handle the situation differently, reminding us that Olbermann is a hothead, and that the new lefty MSNBC might well do well enough even without KO:
What’s more, the incoming bosses at Comcast, which will soon close a deal to buy NBC from General Electric, are a more buttoned-down crowd, and people at the network expect less tolerance for Olbermann than Zucker has shown over the years.
Olbermann quit MSNBC once before, in 1998, after openly criticizing his bosses. He is, today, a far bigger star. Management doesn’t want to turn him into a martyr, but no one will be shocked if he winds up leaving again.
On one point, all sides seem to agree: With the notable exception of Maddow, his onetime protégé, Olbermann has no major allies left at 30 Rock. And that, given his history of crusading against authority, may be how he likes it.
Indeed, as we read the whole Kurtz article, it’s hard to see how any organization could function amidst this degree of backstabbing, leaking, and Tweeting. Who is going to say anything about anything, knowing that it will all come spilling out? So The Cable Gamer continues to think that Olbermann is not long for the MSNBC world.
Reposted from The Cable Game, 15 November 2010
Brian Stelter, CNN’s media reporter, got his start with what was basically a hobby: the Cable Newser blog. In those days he could play fast and loose, protect his pals, do whatever he liked. Because it was just a small niche blog.
But now he’s a media reporter for the erstwhile Most Trusted Name in News, and the standards are, or should be, different. When Carol Costello has a laughing jag over a young woman being assaulted, you’d expect some mention on Reliable Sources. The Jim Clancy incident seems to have escaped notice by CNN’s flagship media criticism show. Stelter seems a bit too willing to sweep things under the rug. (I don’t even want to go into his whitewash of plagiarist Fareed Zakaria.)
Brian devoted a Reliable Sources segment last week to Fox News and its no-go zone difficulties, not to mention various additional reports through the week like this one with the overly enthusiastic Jeffrey Toobin. Through it all nobody mentioned that CNN itself had talked about, reported on, and presented without skepticism their own “no-go zone” claims. Only after someone else had to remind CNN what they reported did Anderson Cooper admit their culpability and apologize.
Howard Kurtz reported Fox’s apology on Media Buzz despite it being an embarrassment to his own network. But Brian Stelter said nothing about CNN’s apology on today’s Reliable Sources. Is Reliable a media watchdog show, or a protection racket to distract from CNN mistakes?
Spiking stories that embarrass Keith Olbermann is one thing if you’re a school kid playing around with a blog. But spiking stories on a news channel to please the guy who signs your checks would be more disturbing. It’s a JV move. Brian should put on his big boy pants and do his job. He’ll earn the respect of his viewers.