CNN gets glum, defensive after resignations

After the resignations of three individuals Monday over a poorly vetted story, CNN is feeling both glum and defensive. Buzzfeed reportsCNN’s Jeff Zucker tried to rally the troops:

On Tuesday, CNN President Jeff Zucker sought to rally news staffers during the morning conference call, hours after President Trump tweeted about the resignations. According to a CNN source, Zucker told staffers to keep fighting the good fight, and that the impassioned response only demonstrated CNN’s growing influence.

Still, CNN sources described a glum environment in the wake of the resignations, as staffers watched conservative commentators like Fox News’ Sean Hannity revel in CNN’s pain…

“They’ll never understand that CNN did the journalistically responsible thing, and we’ll never convince them of that,” said another CNN source. “If Jeff lit himself on fire, it wouldn’t appease the pro-Trump media.”

CNN has had a tough time recently. The story they retracted over the weekend isn’t the first one they’ve had to backtrack on related to this general topic, i.e. Trump and Russia. Just a few weeks ago, CNN corrected another story on which four top reporters had worked. That story said that former FBI Director James Comey would undercut President Trump when he testified before Congress. Specifically, the story promised Comey would not agree with Trump’s claim that Comey had told him he was not under investigation. The next day, Comey released prepared testimony which showed he had indeed told Trump he wasn’t under investigation. CNN issued a big correction. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple pointed out what motivated this embarrassing own goal:

So CNN assigned four reporters to inaccurately predict testimony that was coming in a matter of hours. Why throw a squadron of talent after what New York University professor Jay Rosen calls an “ego scoop”? Who would ever remember this exclusive? Does CNN believe the entire country is checking its countdown clocks every few minutes?

The network prized the testimony preview because this was COMEY WEEK. According to an account from NewsBusters, CNN hyped the upcoming testimony for 10 hours from noon on June 1 through noon Wednesday. Such big-event hysteria apparently ruled out considerations that testimony prediction would prove to be an ephemeral and pointless pursuit.

“Big-event hysteria” is one way to put it. You could also call it partisan hysteria because we all know which side of the aisle was most excited about Comey’s testimony.

On top of that, CNN was dealing with fallout from Kathy Griffin holding up a faux severed head intended to look like Trump and from Reza Aslan attacking the President as a “pice of s***” and an “embarrassment to America.” CNN cut ties with both Griffin and Aslan. Those were also individual incidents and yet they also had a clear anti-Trump tone. Are you beginning to see a pattern?

Yesterday, CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter used his blog to defend the network and to suggest that many of its critics are “anti-journalism.”

The consensus pro-J view, as far as I can tell, is that CNN made mistakes with this Russia-related story last week; that the company took serious action as a result; and that it hopefully will learn from this affair.

But there’s an alternative view, popular on partisan web sites and social media, that is straight-up “anti-journalism.” These activists and commenters don’t promote accountability, they promote resentment and hatred. They claim that most, if not all, journalists have sinister agendas… that newsrooms are occupied by “enemies of the people…” and that the evil “MSM” is propaganda. These anti-J people claim that reporters routinely cover up good news and invent bad news.

Stelter is right that some people have reached a point of frustration with the media, and with CNN in particular, that it seems their only goal now is negation. He may not find that helpful but he ought to consider where it comes from. Not everyone who he labels “anti-j” started out that way.

To counter, Stelter’s own take, here’s what I see. The problem at CNN isn’t that CNN made one isolated mistake, which it took swift action to fix. The problem at CNN is that CNN is clearly looking to lead the charge against the Trump administration. There is an obvious desire to go on the attack, to hype “COMEY WEEK” with the expectation that this could damage Trump irreparably. The tone of the coverage seems to cross the line from reporting to zealotry.

If the James O’Keefe video showed us anything it’s that even people who work at CNN recognize something other than news value is driving a lot of the coverage. That’s why all of the recent mistakes happen in the same direction, i.e. these are stories (or people) who went too far in trying to make the administration look bad. The mistakes don’t seem to happen in the other direction.

CNN’s audience has surely noticed the tone at the network is suddenly very different than it was under the Obama administration. If you want to know why some people are increasingly treating the network as a partisan shill, i.e. CNN delenda est, it’s probably because the network increasingly seems to be playing partisan games (“COMEY WEEK”) and getting sloppy in the process.