SALEM VILLAGE AND CABLE NEWS: Anderson Cooper attempts to report!


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.

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.
Yay! In the cable news version of Salem Village, we had “new information about Roger Goodell,” one target of the latest angry group chase.

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.

First point:

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.


  1. Let's face it. We in the general public aren't that interested in most of the news. We have our own lives to lead. Our eyes would glaze over if we tried to follow all the truly important stories in foreign policy, sports, entertainment, crime, politics, etc., etc.

    When the media do get our attention on one particular topic, be it Ray Rice, or Trayvon Martin, or Al Gore's alleged lying, the media focus on that topic and give it too much coverage. That way, they give the public the comfortable feeling that we're up to date on the news.

    1. Speak for yourself. I am very interested in actual news. My eyes do not glaze over when I try to follow important stories.

      Repeating the same things over and over does not constitute "too much coverage." I also resent the way you have juxtaposed Al Gore with Ray Rice and Trayvon Martin, as if they were three of a kind.

    2. Yes, David. It's all those "other" stupid people out there who are not interested in the critical issues of the day -- such as, how does Meredith Vieira really live?

    3. I'm facing it, DinC, and let me assure you I am perplexed.
      I am interested in both the news and how it is distorted in the corporate Salem dunking booth.

      I felt we were as close as 4th and inches on finding out how Fawn Brodie's "procedures" transmigrated into causing the death of thousands of Iraqi's in the 2000 election. TDH than brought out the switch and began giving the cartoon creationists in the corporate media a whipping over their NFL coverage.

      I don't know how often Frank Nixon beat Richard and his dead brothers or if any of this led to Donald's involvement with things that the plumbers were tryng to discover at Watergate.
      I don't know how often Ray Rice beat his girlfriend or Adrian Peterson beat his little boy. I care about the former because
      ut may impact 2016. I don't care about the latter because the Ravens and the Vikings aren't going to the Super Bowl in 2015 and no matter how much people tell you it is important to establish the running game, rushing offense is dull, dull, dull.

    4. David in CA must have skipped breakfast to beat the trolls out of the gate this morning.

      What happened to Ray Rice or his wife is not "news". It is important only to Rice, his family and the many people who bet on professional sports. But it is NOT news.

      Where is it written that Somerby must continue on a single subject until even the trolls understand it?

      This is the circus that the plutocrats want the masses to be following while they engage in subversion of our democracy for their own purposes -- enhancing their own wealth. You need to be asking, what would a real free press be covering if it were actually reporting the news?

    5. If we judge by what people know (or think they know) about the world, people do indeed know very little. We don't know who controls each house of congress, we don't even know if our taxes have gone up or down. There are reasons for that ignorance. One is exactly as DinC's put it -- many folks may feel what's the point to spending my time consuming "news," I've got other priorities. I didn't hear him say those people were stupid. Given our media environment, they've got a point.

      To beat on DinCal for occasionally stating something both true and obvious is pathetic. He's a generally misinformed economic libertarian and anthropogenic climate change denier. But in this case he's not the troll.

    6. Sorry for being unclear. I have never considered David in CA to be a troll. I said he got up before the trolls this morning. The trolls are 10:23 & 10:28 and many others who will appear later, without fail.

      If you include what people know about their own lives as part of the world, they know a great deal. In this time of globalization, people cannot afford to define their lives locally any more, yet our news does nothing to help us widen our viewpoint. We are interconnected now and affected by what happens elsewhere so we need to understand much more than entertainment news. If news media connected global events to our personal interests, people would both pay attention and know more. The media don't bother to do that.

      I learn more about the world from John Oliver than from Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and their ilk.

    7. Maybe I wasn't clear about what I meant by following all the important stories. Here's an example:

      Spouse-beating is important. At least I think it is. The media are focusing on 3 specific cases, and that's what we in the public are following. But, all spousal abuse is important. To really understand this topic, one should also be following the thousands of other instances of spousal abuse that are being committed. Obviously none of us would take the trouble to do this, even if the media reported all of them.

    8. You don't study domestic abuse by following a bunch of individual cases. The media does not inform the public about it by castigating public figures caught engaging in it. If it cared, it would summarize the research and present an examination of our public policies, with an analysis of the pros and cons of suggestions for dealing with it, with perhaps some interviews with politicians about how they propose to reduce domestic violence during their terms in office.

    9. Anonymous @ 12:49 is the biggest troll of all. And an elite conspiracy nut to boot.

  2. I suppose the day is still young, but is the "Houses of Journalist County" series over?

    1. Salem is close to Nantucket as the dunked crow flies.

    2. You do get it that Salem is a metaphor, right?

      Salem is about evoking self-righteous moral judgment as a form of entertainment for the masses.

      Nantucket is about the subverting of the press by making them a part of the monied class, about selling out.

      The only thing these two have to do with each other is that they are both descriptions of how our press no longer performs its function in helping to maintain our democracy.

      You trolls seem to think that is funny. What kind of person laughs at serious problems troubling our society? Who behaves like this?

    3. The trolls are no longer people. They have given up their life, their ability to live - to mass media. Mass media lives for them now. Corporations control them, live for them, tell them how to think and what to say. The trolls are blind consumer robot goats in a shrieking herd. It's been very well organized and executed. Eddie Bernays 101.

    4. Humans cannot reason. Bob Somerby 101.

      Thanks for setting an example.

    5. "You do get it that Salem is a metaphor, right?" No, but I get your truly false, bordering on ludicrous, sense of self righteous intellectual superiority.

    6. If you feel this way on a regular basis, you should either go back to school or find somewhere else to hang out. It isn't other people's fault if they are smarter than you.

    7. If you are that incapable of detecting sarcasm you should steer clear of public exposure.

    8. 12 year olds use sarcasm. Adults use their words.

  3. But certainly for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence... illusion only is sacred, truth profane. Nay, sacredness is held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.

    Feuerbach, Preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity

    Cable news is a religious cult. People project themselves onto it like it's a god. Rather than living an authentic life, they give themselves over to these stories, these "bombshells", these distorted representations of life and let them think and "live" for them. They "live"through these stories instead of living a real life. The result is the dumbness you see everywhere. Look at the lack of logic and critical thinking in the pitiful comments here. It calls to mind what Jon Stuart said in his seminal interview with Maddow - where he tried to tell her of the damage she wreaks on society:

    He says on cable news, "left versus right is or seems to be only what matters and that that is a fun house mirror into what actually matters."

    1. It calls to mind what Jon Stuart said in his seminal interview with Maddow - where he tried to tell her of the damage she wreaks on society:

      Yes, that is why Stewart spent a whole hour being interviewed
      by someone. Because of the damage she does.

    2. Unless he was there for the opportunity to ask her to clean up her act.

    3. Exactly! He tried to tell her but it didn't sink in. He issued an indictment on her show and all of cable news. It's very fascinating to watch. I would be glad to cut and paste some of the descriptions of the damage he describes if you would like. Best regards,

    4. 6;10. Your post is a good example of the aforementioned lack of logic around these parts. I don't say that to embarrass you, you shouldn't be embarrassed about that. It's just the result of a long long systematic lowering of the ability to think and reason. It's not just you. It's happened on a mass scale.

  4. So what's the over/under on the number of days Bob will spend obsessively and compulsively telling his sheep that this is a non-story?

    1. Bob didn't say this is a non-story. Shouldn't you read the posts you are trolling? Some of the people in the comments said it was a non-story. Somerby says it is an example of the way journalism misuses sources to build a narrative that suits its purposes.

    2. He says "The values of such presentations... come from the world of entertainment and from the world of the corporation." From that you take away that he is saying this is a non-story? You need to think about what you are reading.

      What are the values of entertainment and the corporation compared to journalism? I'll give you a hint -- they don't involve searching for truth, eschewing bias, fairness and objectivity. This isn't about WHAT is reported, it is about HOW it is being reported -- that is true of much of what Somerby discusses.

      That doesn't mean the story is a non-story. He is talking about the values not the content.

    3. I don't know about if it is "story"/"non-story" but one thing is for sure - the story/non-story gets far more play than it deserves at the expense other more important stories from the real world like poverty or corporate disenfranchisement of the weak. It is falsely elevated to a degree that is, in comparison to important matters of humanity, absolutely insane. Anyone that spends more than 10 minutes thinking about this "story" is wasting their time and giving a huge part of themselves away. Ie. suffering.

    4. 4/7 @ 12:38. Odds are subject to change if the gay lineman sticks with the Cowboys but beats up his significant other.

    5. "Somerby says it is an example of the way journalism misuses sources to build a narrative that suits its purposes."

      Bob needs to open up an online College of Journalism.