CNN’s MH17 Video Theatrics Denigrate a Tragedy


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?

12 Responses to “CNN’s MH17 Video Theatrics Denigrate a Tragedy”

  1. joeremi Says:

    CNN’s coverage of this event has been reprehensible.

  2. I watched part of the Scuitto/Harlow crash coverage and I don’t see it quite as harshly as you and Joe. To be honest, I never noticed the background. Over the last few days I’ve seen these same crash site videos hundreds of times on many channels and they’re just background noise to me now.

    It’s just the way cable news TV is done now. I don’t expect there will be much outrage in the media as all networks now use a variation of the same technique. Whether it’s the footage looped as green-screen background, on multiple background screens or playing in a window beside the host or guest as they comment it’s all the same to me. But then I pretty cynical about what happens on cable news these days.

  3. LynnLGM Says:

    All I really notice are the dark clouds, and the overall sense of ‘Malaysian Flight 370, The Sequel’. They’re doing the same wall-to-wall as the last one, with many of the same characters. That was fine for a day, maybe two, but they’re sending me back to Fox.

  4. joeremi Says:

    They had a reasonable excuse to drag MH370 out and do stories on each passenger because there was an ongoing search, and for a time it was debatable whether they were alive or not. There’s no mystery here; the “what happened” part is over. The geopolitical ramifications are still a story, but the disaster is not.

  5. LynnLGM Says:

    no mystery
    Exactly. We pretty much know what happened, and who did it. There’s no excuse for trotting out victims from the last incident, other than to have her act as a proxy for the newest grieving relatives. It’s starting to be a little bit sick.

  6. joeremi Says:

    Ok, I finally got home and turned CNN on, and they’re running that wreckage backdrop behind Erin Burnett and her guest. Yes, that is very creepy.

  7. harry1420 Says:

    I dont see the big deal. So they are using video of the crash site as the background.

  8. joeremi Says:

    I dont see the big deal. So they are using video of the crash site as the background.

    The big deal is it’s a constant loop being used as a mood-setting background while the anchors talk. That background is a field littered with bodies. It’s appropriate for a story specifically addressing the crash site in which the video is the focus, and the only thing on screen. It is not appropriate as a constant background loop while people talk all day.

  9. You have to be a bit of a ghoul not to cringe while watching.

  10. If I were typing an article like the one above, I would have used these phrases to refer to the historic events referenced in the article above (I find these phrases clearer):

    Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

    The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan, the former president of the United States.

    The collapses of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

  11. joeremi Says:

    CNN finally ditched the looping smoke starting with New Day today, but they’re still using a still pic of the debris field.

  12. I think CNN needs to calm down the story now… (there are important things to cover in this story like the after effects geo politically .) but then again CNN track record of recent they might try to milk as much out of a tragedy unless ratings go down

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