Conflict of Interest…
Look. I like Brian Stelter. I’ve met the guy. He’s done a capable job taking over Reliable Sources. He’s a TV nut. He’s not one of those guys who got thrown the TV beat and had to learn how to do it. He was a natural. And he takes his journalism seriously.
All that said, I still cringe when I see him report on his own bosses. The latest example? This CNNMoney article co-authored with Tom Kludt…
CNN, the owner of this web site, is among the news outlets that has verbally described Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons but refrained from showing them. The network has made similar decisions about depictions of Mohammed in the past.
In the network’s daily editorial meeting on Thursday morning, CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker addressed the decision.
“Journalistically, every bone says we want to use and should use” the cartoons, Zucker said. But “as managers, protecting and taking care of the safety of our employees around the world is more important right now.”
The Zucker quote is big news. Already this story got picked up by The Hollywood Reporter.
The problem is the massive conflict of interest, whether cosmetic or substantive, that’s at work here.
How are we to trust this Zucker quote as the first and last say on the matter. Was that all Zucker said or was there more? Was there stuff that Zucker said that was specifically ordered not to be revealed through this article?
We don’t know the answers. I could guess. It would seem unlikely that Stelter would allow himself to get manipulated like that. But this incestuous relationship between CNN and Stelter, who is both employee and “reporter on his own network”, automatically puts these questions and others like them on the table where, try as hard as he might, Stelter can’t vanquish them. That’s why it’s called a conflict of interest in the first place.
If CNN is going to allow Stelter to report on itself instead of instituting a blanket ban/recusal on all news CNN (which is what it should have done in the first place), then the network and Stelter need to clearly and publicly define what the boundaries are that Stelter is either allowed to or expected to operate in when reporting on his own network.
Not that this solves anything. As long as Stelter is allowed to report on his own network, the questions will continue to be asked. And there is no answer available that puts the matter to rest once and for all.