Part 3—At CNN and the Times: Was Carl Bernstein right, last Friday night, when he spoke with Anderson Cooper? Is it time for a change in the way CNN reports on Donald J. Trump?
Inevitably, there's always room for improvement! For one example, consider CNN's latest fuzzy report.
The fog was general over the famous cable channel last night. We'll cite the chunk of CNN's written report which was posted by Kevin Drum.
Last evening, CNN's Pamela Brown—her mother was a Miss America!—delivered this report to Cooper himself. According to Cooper, Brown was one of the reporters who "broke this story."
Presumably, he'd meant to say that she had broken this "news report:"
BROWN (/3/22/17): The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN....The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings.According to a recent confession, Drum was born again on Election Day. Perhaps for that reason, we'd say he may have gotten a tiny tad over his skis in the comments he offered about this fuzzy report.
....One law enforcement official said the information in hand suggests "people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready." But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it's premature to draw that inference from the information gathered so far since it's largely circumstantial.
What's so "fuzzy" about that report? Let's consider the fuzzy term "suspected Russian operatives" as we try to discern what Brown actually broke.
According to Brown, this is what CNN has "learned:"
CNN has learned that information "indicates" that Trumpsters communicated with "suspected" Russian operatives to "possibly" coordinate the release of information. According to U.S. officials!
To us, that's a rather fuzzy claim. Consider the term, "suspected Russian operatives:"
According to CNN, does the FBI claim to know or believe that Trumpsters communicated with actual Russian operatives? Actually, the alleged communications were with suspected operatives, whatever exactly that means.
These questions come to mind:
Who suspects that the people in question may have been Russian operatives?
Presumably, the FBI currently holds this suspicion. That said, did the Trumpsters suspect that these people were Russian operatives, back then in real time?
Also, on what basis are these people suspected to have been Russian operatives? Were these people so suspected back then? Or are they just so suspected now?
We ask these questions for a reason. To wit:
Is it possible that the "suspected Russian operatives" in question are the good people of Wikileaks? At present, would Wikileaks people qualify for the somewhat fuzzy label of "suspected Russian operatives?"
If so, would Trumpsters have known about this suspected connection in real time? If we're talking about Wikileaks people, would the Trumpsters have had reason to suspect that they were in league with the Russkies?
We don't know the answers to any of these questions. Last night, CNN viewers were lost in the fog of war of a 24-hour kind.
In fairness, CNN's report was exciting. It was also remarkably fuzzy. The channel served a cocktail mixed from "possibly" and "suspected." Chasers of "suggests" and "premature" were also served.
At times like these, excitement is driven by such fuzzy reports—reports which will, in standard second-grade fashion, be referred to as "stories." That said, news orgs like CNN are loathe to spot the fuzziness in such exciting reports.
Consider the nonsense on CNN last Friday night, one hour before Bernstein piped up.
Last Friday night, Bernstein said it was time for a change. One hour earlier, Cooper and a panel of thousands had battled the fuzzy, indeterminate claims advanced by Jeffrey Lord.
Lord is the hardest-working, most frustrating man in show business today. Last Friday night, he showcased his ability to bring CNN's story-telling to a screeching halt.
Last Friday, Cooper and a panel of thousands were imagining what James B. Comey was going to say on Monday morning to the House Intel committee. The panelists agreed that Comey the God was going to clean Trump's clock.
The cast of thousands all agreed—Comey was going to say that Trump had been wrong with all that wiretap blather. But then, Cooper was forced to throw to Lord.
Here's what "the great frustrater" said for maybe the ten millionth time:
LORD (3/17/17): Anderson, I guess I'm going to be the lone voice here. I just respectfully disagree with all of my friends here.Groans were heard across the land. There he went again!
After Lord discussed a transient point, Cooper took him where the rubber meets the road. For perhaps the ten millionth time, Lord lodged these observations about Donald J. Trump's prescient wiretap claim:
COOPER: Again, we'll know more Monday [when Comey testifies]. But according to the latest reporting, the Department of Justice report does not confirm the president's claims. Jeffrey, does the president need to admit he was wrong?There he went again! For perhaps the ten millionth time, Lord was saying that "stories" in Maggie Haberman's New York Times support Trump's wiretap claim!
LORD: No! What the president needs to do—and frankly, I am totally dumbfounded at these Republicans on the Hill. What they need to do is take all the news accounts from Maggie's paper and put them out there and investigate those. Notice that Fox News has—
Notice that Fox News has retracted its report. The New York Times has not done so with these stories.
How many times had Cooper's panels been through this? Haberman responded with two speeches which were beside the point, then finally offered this:
HABERMAN: For the record, those stories do not say what Sean Spicer said—claimed that they had said. Sean Spicer cited these to suggest they backed up the president's claim that he was wiretapped by the previous president.All the panelists knew what Lord was talking about. They'd all seen this pointless discussion about a thousand times.
LORD: He was surveilled.
HABERMAN: No, that is not what those stories said.
LORD: It is, Maggie. I just read them today.
HABERMAN: No, it is not. No, it is not. What those stories—
LORD: It says people in the Obama administration were responsible for surveillance, and then that surveillance was leaked to the New York Times.
HABERMAN: First of all, that's not what they said.
At the bare minimum, Lord was talking about this news report from the January 20 New York Times, a rather fuzzy news report with fuzzy claims about "wiretapping." Now it fell to Cooper to play his role in this well-rehearsed, time-killing game:
COOPER: Jeffrey, we've had the reporter that you have cited multiple times. You've cited his reporting claims. We've had the reporter on twice saying you are wrong. "My article did not say what Sean Spicer and the White House and you are claiming it says."As he's said before? Truer words were never spoken! Endless story short:
[Silly misstatement provokes good-natured group laughter]
LORD: What I am saying to you is that it is abundantly clear in those stories that people working for the Obama administration—and let's remember, again, as I've said before, when some bureaucrat in the Agriculture Department said ketchup was a vegetable, Ronald Reagan was personally held responsible. That's what we do with presidents. Hence, Harry Truman's "the buck stops here."
This happened on Barack Obama's watch with people in his administration. He was responsible.
Cooper referred to Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg. He had appeared on his program several times, saying his January 20 news report doesn't support Trump's wiretap claim.
Now, Lord was saying that he had just reread the report that very day! He said that, properly understood, it did in fact support Trump's insightful wiretap claim.
This silly Groundhog Day discussion had occurred many times. At no point did Cooper ever ask Lord to cite the words of the Times report which supposedly supports Trump's claim.
At no point had Cooper ever cited the language in the report which refutes Trump's claim (or Lord's). And by the way:
If Cooper's panel had ever gotten into the New York Times report, they would have found some fuzzy language and claims, including remarks about "wiretapping." Certain parts of the somewhat fuzzy report could conceivably be taken various ways in these excited times.
One hour later, Bernstein was saying that it's time for a change in the way CNN reports on Donald J. Trump. Concerning that, we'll say this:
Back in the day, TV news ate thirty minutes each night. Today, cable news stars are paid large sums to eat a full twenty-four hours.
The excitement of the fuzzy claim keeps the whole show going. The failure to resolve any point plays a key role in this game.
When you have to fill large chunks of time, the inability to resolve any point is perhaps your best friend. Perhaps for that reason, the stars who are paid to extend this game tend to display analytical skills straight outta second grade.
Again and again, the Coopers seem to be working on second grade level. They seem weirdly unable to settle any point. As a result, like Freddy Krueger, Lord just keeps coming back.
Along the way, fuzzy claims keep things exciting and fun. Lord provides nightly conflict.
On CNN, a cast of thousands battles with Lord on a regular basis. Constantly, the valiant pundit is forced to "guess that he's going to be the lone voice here." He's forced to "just respectfully disagree with all his friends on CNN."
Five nights later, his CNN friends may report that the FBI has information that "indicates" certain things about what Trumpsters "possibly" did with "suspected" Russian operatives.
They push their fuzziness all night long. Excitement spreads; another long day is done.
Tomorrow: In our view, the answer to Krugman's question is, in part, Frank Rich