HL 152 – Unreliable Sources at CNN

March 3, 2022

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The hypocrisy and timing (that tritely is everything) could not be more nearly perfect.  In Brian Stelter’s February 27, 2022, edition of his weekly show “Reliable Sources” devoted to press quality, ethics, conflicts of interest and objectivity.  Stelter began the show with this commentary of Ukraine war coverage:

Nothing beats actually being there.  This has been a master class in conflict reporting and CNN has been on the front lines in the thick of it all, underscoring the unique reach of this network with teams across Ukraine, Russia and the entire region.  Media critics have been praising CNN’s coverage in particular with pointers saying the invasion coverage showed why CNN remains quote “TV’s gold standard for fact breaking international news.”  We will leave those reviews to others.

David Zaslav

And 58 minutes later Stelter ended the show by quoting the soon to be CEO of CNN, David Zaslav:

As you go around the world and you look at other news channels where people are sitting behind desks and giving their opinion about what’s going on, there’s a news network, CNN, that’s on the ground with journalists in bullet proof vests and helmets, that are doing what journalists do best, which is fight to tell the truth in dangerous places so that we can all be safe and we can assess what’s goin’ on.[1]  That’s CNN.

The content between the opening and closing that blurred the distinction between reporting and advertising[2] was inconsequential relative to the facts that got Stelter to say those things.  Perhaps he was ordered to.  Things contradictory to the preachings of his show and antithetical to the journalistic dispassion he regularly pontificates about.

A necessary admission is that we watch CNN, not infrequently, and more during Russia’s Rape of Ukraine.  Because live war coverage is CNN’s very strong suit.[3]

CNN really came of age by providing almost exclusive on-site coverage of the 1982 Falklands War.  Coverage vastly superior to the then 3.5 national broadcast networks, to say nothing about the then non-existent cable news competitors, MSNBC and Fox.[4]

One might think and pardon the obvious journalistic conflict in Stelter reviewing his employer as a momentary pride-inspired lapse.  If it was not so clear that the actual motivation was something else.

Allison Gollust & The Cuomo Brothers

In the weeks preceding Reliable Sources 2/27/2022, Warner Media fired CNN’s most popular anchor, Chris Cuomo, its marketing chief, Allison Gollust and its President, Jeff Zucker.  All for violations of “news standards and practices rules.”  With Cuomo that involved alleged assistance to his brother, then New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo.  That’s work in a war zone.

With Gollust it was alleged leaking CNN interview topics and questions to Governor Cuomo, who she once served as Communications Director.  And with Zucker failing to disclose his sexual relationship with subordinate Gollust.  Zucker’s close relationships with both Gollust and Chris Cuomo points to his knowledge of and complicity in the same ethical violations his close friend and lover were accused of.

These three highest level firings came while CNN ownership was being transferred from AT&T to Discovery, Inc., led by Zaslav.  That precarious period, many have experienced, when highly compensated employees are trying to impress their future boss/owners for promotion or just survival.

Jeff Zucker

We are dismissive of Reliable Source’s other content last Sunday, except one nugget.  While briefly and incompletely commenting upon the CNN firings Stetler said: “February began with a shock to the CNN system.  Long time President Jeff Zucker’s ouster, which may never be fully explained.”

Why would that be?  Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the law firm CNN retained to investigate this ethical mess has the facts and has reported them to CNN’s current and future owners, including journalism critic Zaslav.  The public will not know what really and fully happened to a source that it’s supposed rely upon until and unless CNN’s owners publicly release Cravath’s report.

[1]  We assume that CNN will invoke the copyright law doctrine of “fair use” to defend its use of Marvin Gaye’s lyrics.  But when unattributed, it’s still plagiarism.

Marvin Gaye

[2]  In 1991 we defended NBC in an investigation by the New York A.G. that it was engaging in a similar blurring of the lines between reporting and advertising in one of its sports news programs.

3]  Our notice of CNN goes way back to a 1980 meeting with Ted Turner and anchor Mary Alice Williams in the World Trade Center, where all three of us worked (they in CNN’s studio and we for the New York A.G.) to hear his plea for help in gaining access to Manhattan cable subscribers deprived of CNN by the Satellite News Channel, owned by the then cable operator Westinghouse.  We took care of that.

[4]   We successfully defended the nascent Fox News cable network from Ted Turner’s attempt to kill it in infancy, much as Westinghouse attempted to kill CNN – but that’s a post for another day.

1 Comment

  1. Beth Farmer

    Sigh. Quite right on the substance. Beyond that, I’m offended by what has turned into sports type play-by-play coverage, who’s up and who’s down, and, finally, all the former officials pontificating about how they would have done whatever and why isn’t everything solved right this minute. I’ve switched channels over to BBC.


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