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.
CNN Commentary reports on the players for CNN’s upcoming Democratic debate:
CNN is repeating its format from its previous GOP debate. Anderson Cooper, who was reportedly the debate moderator, will be joined by a panel of questioners made up of chief political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN en Espanol political anchor Juan Carlos Lopez. CNN Tonight anchor Don Lemon will also ask questions of the Democratic candidates submitted via Facebook.
CNN is repeating its format, but not the participants. Gone are moderator Jake Tapper and questioner Hugh Hewitt (the latter a concession to Salem broadcasting, the conservative partner who apparently didn’t 100% trust CNN to treat the GOP fairly). As it turned out neither Hewitt nor Dana Bash had much to do in that talkathon. Tapper set the contentious tone that pervaded the three-hour-plus event.
Nobody seems to be questioning the reason for jettisoning most of the team from the GOP debate, but maybe it was more about who they wanted to replace them with. Both Cooper and Don Lemon are openly gay, and not shy about offering “analysis” on issues relevant to that constituency—which just happens to be a key Democratic voting block. Mr. Lopez is an unexpected addition (there wasn’t any fourth questioner with the Repubs). Lopez is particularly attuned to matters involving immigrants—which just happens to be another interest group important to Democrats. But The Cable Gamer is probably overthinking this. This could all be simple coincidence. After all, why not fire the team that delivered CNN its highest ratings in history?
Meanwhile, what could Jake Tapper be thinking? After succeeding wildly with the game plan to provoke fights among the GOP participants and provide CNN producers with a plethora of two-shots, Tapper will find himself watching the sequel from the sidelines. Will Cooper be a provocateur like Jake was, needling and prodding the participants to go at each other? The Cable Gamer has to think if CNN wanted Tapper-type questioning they would get Tapper, not yank him off the stage. Now it’s silver-haired Anderson Cooper’s show, and however it turns out, it won’t be the same without Jake.
The Cable Gamer has been following the career of Jake Tapper with interest and admiration, and congratulated CNN when they picked him to anchor State of the Union. He’s still doing his afternoon hour (The Lead) and today was covering the horrors of the Charleston murders. But…well, let the Washington Post‘s resident Cable Gamer Erik Wemple take it from here. He quotes from a South Carolina politico J. Todd Rutherford who was Jake Tapper’s interview subject:
It’s a place that they can feel free to desecrate and leave blood everywhere, and that’s what this man did. And he did so on some ill-gotten belief, on some wrong belief that it’s okay to do that. He hears that, because he watches the news and he watches things like Fox News, where they talk about things that they call news, but they’re really not. They use that coded language, they use hate speech, they talk about the president as if he’s not the president. They talk about churchgoers as if they’re not really churchgoers. And that’s what this young man acted on. That’s why you can walk into a church and treat people like animals when they’re really human beings.
At this point, journalist Jake Tapper says there’s a lot to “unpack” in all that but proceeds to change the subject, and in short order the interview draws to a close.
Really, there are all sorts of questions that might occur to a reporter after being handed that spiel, like how did Fox News demean churchgoers? When did they ever say the President is not the President? But the most glaringly obvious journalistic response might have been to challenge what appears on its face to be an unsupported, fact-free, utterly invented claim:
Bingo. How do you know he watches Fox News? How do you know what he acted on? Bill O’Reilly asked Rutherford that question. A copy boy on a high school newspaper would know to ask such questions. Instead, Jake Tapper went wow, that’s a lot to unpack, so let’s talk about something else. As Bernard Goldberg put it: “He let it go. He didn’t challenge it.”
The Cable Gamer is not going to insult Mr. Tapper by suggesting these questions never occurred to him. So there has to be another explanation. What could it be?
- CNN boss Jeff Zucker says Roger Ailes’ Fox News is just a GOP house channel
- Jeff Zucker Ushers CNN Into New ‘Attitude’ Era
- Did CNN’s Jeff Zucker Cross A Line Hosting The Obamas For Dinner?
- CNN Boss Jeff Zucker Calls Out Fox News As a Front For the Republican Party
The Cable Gamer would like to think Jake Tapper’s journalistic instincts were better than to let a preposterous smear of Fox News air without challenge, but that’s just what he did. Was he taking his cue from the words of his boss? Perhaps he was reluctant to deviate from the company line. Or maybe he was told “Forget it, Jake…It’s Zuckertown.”
Update: Jake Tapper has responded to TCG on twitter:
One thing that seems to annoy the Megyn Kelly haters: she has an infuriating tendency to get it right. When the Duke LaCrosse rape case smelled fishy it was Megyn who stood out from a compliant media to expose the holes in the case, and her reporting was ultimately vindicated. Several recent high-profile shooting incidents left legal “experts” like Lisa Bloom, Sonny Hostin, and that crowd with red faces when Ms. Kelly’s warnings of serious flaws in the prosecution cases turned out to be on point. And now, like the canary who signaled to coal miners that theis oxygen levels were dangerously low, Megyn Kelly is sounding an alarm to the people and the press over the chipping away at our right to free expression.
And someone in the mainstream media is noticing. Erik Wemple, an astute observer of The Cable Game and an equal opportunity critic, has published an extraordinary column documenting the vacillation and equivocation of the press corps—ordinarily defenders of the first Amendment but now suddenly squeamish. He indicts Chris Matthews, Donald Trump, Alisyn Camerota, Jake Tapper, Martha MacCallum, Greta van Susteren and more, some of the biggest personalities in The Cable Game, for implicitly proposing suppression of free speech (something they never did regarding “Piss Christ” or The Book of Mormon). And adds:
To her enduring credit, Fox News’s Megyn Kelly has been screaming all week about the folly of the “too-provocative” crowd.
To be sure, others in The Cable Game have expressed similar sentiments to Megyn’s, but few have been as outspoken, detailed, and unflappable as Ms. Kelly. And she’d not just picking on the competition. She faced down her FNC colleague Bill O’Reilly and lived to tell the tale (and continued the debate on her own program). No less a legal authority than Alan Dershowitz has applauded (rhetorically and literally) her stand for free speech. And her track record shows she has the gravitas to be taken seriously.
Megyn Kelly has sounded a warning: the first amendment’s oxygen supply is getting perilously thin. If anyone should stand up for unfettered free expression, it’s the press. How many will?
There isn’t a lot that CNN is doing right these days, so it’s good to see they can make a smart move when the chips are down. It’s not like Jake Tapper wasn’t the blindingly obvious choice to helm State of the Union from the day Candy Crowley left. But this is Jeff Zucker we’re talking about, and TCG had visions of Don Lemon, or maybe the comedy team of Cooper and Griffin, being given the prestigious Sunday slot.
This is an important move because of how Candy Crowley poisoned the CNN well for Republicans. When she inserted herself into that Obama/Romney debate with a false talking point that threw a lifeline to POTUS, it may have been a pivotal moment in the campaign. From that moment her position at CNN damaged the network’s cred among the GOP crowd, none of whom wanted to see even the possibility of Candy jumping in again to save the Democratic nominee. Republicans would hardly agree to a post-primary Presidential debate on CNN unless she was gone and someone lacking leftist baggage took her place. The choice of Jake Tapper, respected by politicos on both sides of the aisle, means when election season shifts into high gear, CNN will be back in the game.
Already media savants are speculating about how Jake Tapper can make State of the Union the “dominant” Sunday show. The Cable Game isn’t convinced, especially if Zucker is hovering over his shoulder and calling the shots (a la Reliable Sources). But given a free hand Jake Tapper could make State of the Union a thoughtful and fair Sunday show, and it wouldn’t hurt to have one more of those.
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.