Wemple Blog gone wild: Let’s start with a good word for the Washington Post’s Eric Wemple.
Yesterday, on The Wemple Blog, Wemple was willing to poke fun at himself for his earlier performance on CNN’s Reliable Sources.
That said, we think Wemple’s presentations on CNN made amazingly little sense.
To watch the entire segment, click here. But people, here’s what happened:
Needless to say or perhaps to his credit, CNN’s Brian Stelter was discussing his network’s wraparound coverage of Malaysian flight 370. To his credit, Stelter was willing to consider the possibility that CNN had maybe lost its mind in its obsessive, round-the-clock pseudo-coverage.
Wemple, a Washington Post press-watcher, didn’t agree with that. Instead, he praised CNN for its obsessive coverage:
STELTER (3/23/14): We heard Bill O'Reilly this week saying that over-coverage of a story like this corrupts the news business.Two points, then a third:
WEMPLE: That's nonsense. No. Over-coverage, I think, gets a bad rap. On some of the sites and some of the critics scold over-coverage as if simply going heavy on a story is a sin in itself.
Now, think about newspaper columnists or, you know, any print reporter. When they stay on a story, they get awards and the awards always say, “Stick-to-it-iveness.” You know, “He’s on the story, non-stop, never let go of the story.” But the moment a TV network does the nonstop coverage, they're a source of derision. So, how is that?
I think that we have to stop reflexively criticizing over-coverage or nonstop coverage. I like it. I think when news organizations make strong decisions to go heavy on something and they put resources behind it, often times very good things happen. They break news.
Maybe that won't be the case here because this is such a hard thing to solve. But I like over coverage. I like it when news organizations obsess over something.
WEMPLE: My point here is that Jeff Zucker doesn't go all-out—
STELTER: The president of CNN, for those who don't know.
WEMPLE: Right, yes, CNN worldwide. If he doesn't go all-out on this story, he should be fired, because CNN is perfectly positioned to do this story. It brands itself as a way up the middle of this ideological cable divide. There's nothing more un-ideological on this story, at least the way it looks now, than a missing airline. I mean, there is nothing more non-ideological. So, that's one CNN.
Two, it's an international story. CNN is way more suited to carry out this story than its other—it vests overseas. It has bureaus everywhere. I was talking about that reportorial muscle. It has to do this. If it doesn't do this, it, you know, your leadership should be fired and marched out of their offices. It has to do this for survival, for its future. There is no other option.
Should CNN have obsessed in the way it has? That’s a matter of opinion. But the comparison of CNN to a single reporter makes absolutely no sense.
Forget about some lone reporter devoting himself to some topic. Suppose the New York Times as a whole did nothing in its daily editions except publish dueling speculations about where the missing airplane might be.
After days and weeks of that, would the Times be praised for stick-to-it-iveness? Presumably, no. The paper would be ridiculed.
That said, we’ll never find out. It’s hard to imagine a newspaper going full-tilt obsessive in the way CNN has done.
(Example: In the 5 o’clock hour on Sunday morning, CNN was already devoting an hour to live speculation about the missing plane, claiming it had BREAKING NEWS. Needless to say, it didn’t.)
Wemple’s comparison made no sense. Neither did his justification for the obsession—the fact that CNN is an international operation which vests itself overseas.
Russia’s action in Crimea has also been an overseas, international story. But CNN has largely ignored this major topic so it can waste barrels of time on the missing airplane.
In our view, Wemple’s arguments made no sense. That said, might we note the largest problem with the wall-to-wall coverage?
Imagine that CNN had made a different decision. Imagine that CNN had decided to devote twenty minutes per hour to the missing plane.
That would still represent massive coverage. But almost surely, the network would have developed better information if it had restricted itself to the major available information and the major possibilities as to what might have occurred.
By choosing to discuss the missing plane for hours at a time, CNN forced itself into endless bouts of dueling speculations. Actual information got lost in the blizzard of contradictory theories.
Thanks to its crazy investment of time, CNN’s coverage became non-coverage—an example of pseudo-coverage. A similar problem has developed in several prime-time programs on Fox.
There was one other problem with Wemple’s performance. We refer to the way he and Stelter played the Don Lemon card.
In the last few days, this has become the standard way to criticize cable coverage of the missing plane. In such ways, we all get dumbed down—and we’re talking about Stelter and Wemple here, not so much about Lemon.
Tomorrow, we may review the Lemon card, which everyone and his crazy uncle has played by now. For today, we invite you to consider the logic which came to us from one of the Washington Post’s press-watchers.
Wemple isn’t always wrong. But good grief! When he is!