Much hay is continuing to be made of Carol Costello’s Palin self inflicted wound and the lack of on air apology. The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple thought she should have given one. I would tend to agree with Wemple. I cringed when I saw it which was before I heard about it blowing up on red blogs. It meets the standard for an on air apology. It could be argued that it merits suspension or even termination. Mediaite’s Joe Concha said it was her only option. I think he was wrong, both on the conclusion and the underlying premise that generated it. I’ll get to why in a moment.
Lets first cut away the hysteria from the controversy with a few facts…
Fact 1: The most vocal opposition to what Costello did is coming from the Right. Here, you want to say to me, “No kidding.”
Fact 2: The Right has no love lost for Costello going back well before this incident. One could make a persuasive argument that the feeling is mutual.
Fact 4: Because of Facts 1 and 2, regardless of what she does…or more accurately what CNN allows her to do, the Right won’t be happy until she’s off the air.
Fact 5: That ain’t gonna happen. If it was going to happen it would have happened already.
So, while there are legitimate issues raised about Costello’s commentary in regards to the Palin audio and what has transpired since that occurred, the loudest most vocal chorus of people who are trying to keep this story on fire, post written apology, are a group that doesn’t care whether there’s an on air apology or not because their ultimate goal is not an on air apology but to stick it to CNN and Costello to try and get her fired. Any way possible.
But it is a mistake to assume, as Concha did, that Costello is the one controlling the narrative. It’s CNN. It was never Costello’s “only option.” It was the network’s option…an option the network, for whatever reason…a reason I cannot fathom…chose not to take.
Why do we know this? Because of what CNN told Breitbart’s John Nolte.
UPDATE: According to CNN, Costello will not apologize on the air. “No she will not,” was the official response to a query from Breitbart News.
This quote has been widely misinterpreted by the Right as to mean Costello has refused to apologize on the air. What CNN actually meant was CNN had decided to not have Costello apologize on the air.
How do we know this? Simple. Costello isn’t a big enough talent to be able to freely wield veto power at the network. If the network felt the issue was serious enough to merit an on air apology you can bet your ass Costello would be on the air apologizing and if she balked she’d be gone.
This is why the on air apology was always CNN’s option to take and the network decided, incorrectly in my view, to not take it.
Now CNN is truly in a bind and has left Costello twisting in the wind and this points to something we have seen before with the network under Jeff Zucker. Having made a decision, the network refuses to reverse itself despite any evidence to the contrary that a reversal is in its best interest. Call it the Pandora’s Box option. If the network reversed itself at this point it would embolden its critics and they would, correctly in my view, come away from this having learned the lesson that if you squawk loud enough and make a big enough stink, CNN may cave. No network wants that. I can only think of one instance in the last ten years where a network reversed itself and that was MSNBC and Don Imus. No…Bashir doesn’t count. That was a different scenario.
It’s a dangerous game to play. If the criticisms are full of hot air, there’s no danger and you can ride out the storm. But if the criticisms hold even an ounce of truth, as the non-ideologically based criticisms do have here, then you’re stuck looking doggedly stubborn clinging to a position that is increasingly tenuous.
As I said, this isn’t the first time this year we’ve seen this play out. It happened with Fareed Zakaria. CNN doggedly stuck to its position that it was standing behind Zakaria even as more and more damaging anecdotes came out begging for a reappraisal of the situation. CNN wound up looking terrible for its stubbornness and Zakaria’s reputation is, for many, in tatters.
So, CNN blew it last week by not having Costello apologize on the air. But don’t expect CNN to change course now. It’s made its bed and now it must lie in it, regardless of the lousy optics. And Costello, whether she was really sorry or not, whether her written apology was genuine or not, whether she wanted to apologize on the air or not, will come out the worse for the network’s error.