Part 1—CNN and the NFL: Last Thursday, Anderson Cooper got it massively wrong.
There’s nothing new about that, of course. When the big business known as “cable news” finds a story it very much likes, competent journalistic practice tends to fly out the window.
The coverage of Ray Rice and Roger Goodell has become a fascinating example of this broken journalistic culture. We’re not sure when we’ve seen a richer example of the way modern, novelized “news coverage” works, especially in the fever swamps of “cable news” and general punditry.
In Cooper’s segment last Thursday night, representatives of one corporate behemoth expressed their outrage, real or feigned, about the conduct of another. Three-letter armies clashed by night as CNN met the NFL
On a journalistic basis, the result was extremely poor. But then, the work was tremendously poor all last week as CNN and the other “news channels” entertained their angry viewers, pleasuring them with incompetent work straight out of Salem Village.
For one example of this incompetence, let’s return to Thursday night’s segment. For the CNN transcript, click here.
As he started, Cooper hyped “breaking news tonight on how the NFL handled the case of Ray Rice.” Soon, he threw to Miguel Marquez, who was “joining us live with the latest.”
Marquez discussed an ESPN report, the report we reviewed in Saturday’s post. As he discussed this “new information,” Marquez got it majorly wrong:
COOPER (9/11/14) Now the NFL has hired a former FBI director to look into how the league handled the case. And it sounds like he's going to have plenty to investigate.Yay! In the cable news version of Salem Village, we had “new information about Roger Goodell,” one target of the latest angry group chase.
Miguel Marquez joins us now live with the latest. So let's talk about this new information about Roger Goodell. What exactly is it?
MARQUEZ (continuing directly): ESPN is reporting that on June 16th there was a meeting in Goodell's New York offices. There were several individuals there—Ray Rice; his wife; two reps from the player's union; Ozzie Newsome, the GM of the Ravens; and also Dick Cass, the president of the Ravens. Four of the individuals in that meeting described to the ESPN reporter that this was—that Rice said that he punched his then-fiancée. One said that he said the word slapped.
Alas! As he described the new information, Marquez grossly misstated the contents of that ESPN report. As is almost always the case in such matters, his misstatements tilted the story in the direction his own corporate entity likes.
What was wrong with Marquez’s account of the ESPN report? The highly telegenic TV performer grossly misstated one basic point, badly fumbled another.
In Don Van Natta’s report for ESPN, Van Natta never claims that any of his sources attended the June 16 meeting at which Rice spoke with Goodell. As such, he never claims that his sources had first-hand knowledge of what Rice said to Goodell.
Speaking with Cooper, Marquez placed the sources “in that meeting.” No such claim is ever made in Van Natta’s (rather slippery) report.
Marquez fumbled a second important point. This second point is more nuanced.
In Van Natta’s report, none of the sources is quoted saying that Rice told Goodell that he “punched” his fiancée.
Van Natta directly quotes three of the sources who were defending Rice’s forthrightness. But none of them is quoted using the key word “punched.”
(A fifth source is directly quoted saying that Rice used the word “slapped.”)
At the start of his report, Van Natta paraphrases the four sources. In his paraphrase, he has them saying that Rice copped to punching his then-fiancée.
But when Van Natta actually quotes those (anonymous) sources, no one is quoted using that word. And we’re sorry, but yes:
If you have any idea of the slippery way our “journalists” often work, Van Natta’s failure to include such a quote should rouse your suspicion, your concern.
Did any of Van Natta’s sources actually use the word “punched?” More significantly, were any of Van Natta’s sources actually present at the meeting they are describing?
There’s no way to answer those question from reading Van Natta’s familiarly slippery report. If CNN employed competent journalists, they would have noticed these basic problems and pursued these questions further.
That said, CNN employs very few competent journalists. To the extent that it does employ such people, the network labored to keep them off the air during last week’s discussions of Rice and Goodell.
In fairness, Cooper’s presentation last Thursday wasn’t primarily journalistic. At its heart, Cooper’s performance was part of an entertainment/moral outrage spectacular, an entertainment series he’d been conducting all week.
The values of such presentations don’t come from the world of journalism. They come from the world of entertainment and from the world of the corporation.
They also come from the world of Salem Village, a very familiar setting in our American culture.
Increasingly, these entertainment/outrage spectaculars have taken the place of journalism within our failing culture. They’ve changed the outcome of a White House campaign. They dumb us down further each night.
Cooper’s discussion last Thursday only got worse as it went along. That said, it came from the precincts of Salem Village, like similar discussions on CNN and the other cable “news channels” last week.
Some readers are enjoying the dunking of Goodell. Like Nietzsche’s dreamer, they demand the right to keep on dreaming.
People like them were always happy to see the dunkings in Salem Village. In the South, people like them were always happy when the ropes came out.
We won’t be evaluating Goodell and Rice at this site this week. We’ll be evaluating the work of Anderson Cooper, Rachel Nichols, Christopher Hayes, Shira Springer.
We’ll be discussing the work of Erin Burnett, including her segment from last Thursday night, directly before Cooper came on the air. As we discuss these people’s work, we’ll be discussing this possibility:
Is it possible that CNN is a great deal like the NFL? Is it possible that CNN and the NFL are a pair of roughly similar big-money corporate entities?
Is it possible they have a great deal in common? Whatever you think of the NFL, is it possible that you should be concerned by the various Roger Goodells who work for CNN too?
Tomorrow: Erin Burnett says she can’t see the difference. Sadly, we believe her.