CNN crossed a new low in cable news today. We all know that TV News in general and Cable News in particular loses control of its conscience and internal barometer regarding what’s appropriate and what is not when breaking news happens. But to even battle hardened jaded observers such as myself, my jaw dropped this time.
I was watching CNN Newsroom with Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow and something was a bit off about what I was seeing. Both Harlow and Sciutto had video wall backgrounds but they were both all gray. It took me a few minutes to realize what it was. It was video of the MH17 crash site looping over and over and over. In fact it wasn’t just being displayed in the video walls behind them but it was being displayed as a border when CNN went to a two shot.
I then rewound the DVR and found that during Fredricka Whitfield’s show they were showing the footage on small monitors behind her.
So here’s the news anchor talking and behind him is video of the crash site looping over and over again. To call this as being in bad taste just doesn’t seem to do justice to the visceral reaction I had to seeing it happen. There’s really no excuse for it. It’s a naked attempt at gratuitous sensationalism.
Look, I am not arguing against displaying images in times of tragedy. News has a duty to relay such images, within the bounds of taste of course. Nobody would complain about CNN going to a video only shot of the crash site, just as nobody would complain about someone looping footage of the Challenger explosion, or the Reagan assassination attempt, or the towers coming down on 9/11 (though after a while the networks did cut back severely in regards to airing such footage). It is how CNN is using that footage…it’s being used as the equivalent of decorative art…that’s the problem. When I first saw it I thought maybe I was seeing some sort of play on the scorched earth scenes in the first Matrix movie or maybe a video game.
But this wasn’t a movie or a game. It’s a scene from a real news event; an event where over a hundred people were murdered. But you can’t tell what’s going on because CNN has made it all but impossible to get any news value out of the bits of video that come through past the people on the screen. It’s a mood setter. Nothing more. It’s gratuitous and despicable.
Think I’m overhyping this? Let’s consider today’s CNN equivalent of those big breaking news events I mentioned earlier…
How would you feel if the news anchor was on the screen talking while the footage from any of these major news events looped over and over and over again?
Would you be okay with seeing the space shuttle blow up over and over again while some guy blocks out half the image? How about the Reagan assassination attempt? The towers coming down on 9/11?
Would you be okay with that or would you want to throw a brick through your screen?
So how could you possibly give a pass to what CNN did today?
What? You didn’t see bodies so it’s okay?