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.

6 Responses to “Conflict of Interest…”

  1. Come on Spud. You have no evidence Stelter didn’t give the full quote or took it out of context.

    The quote:

    “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.”

    seems, to me anyway, to be straightforward and pretty unambiguous.

    I think with rare exceptions Stelter has been pretty unbiased in his reporting of CNN on CNN. He’s certainly doing a better job than his predecessor.

    “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”

    ^^Not covering CNN just makes no sense at all to me; and the show would then be criticized even more if no mention at all was made of CNN scandals.

    Media critics, just like political critics and sports critics, all have conflicts and biases of one kind or another. As long as you are aware of the potential conflicts and biases I see no problem with Stelter doing what he does on CNN. Heck if you want to see conflicts and biases, on a media criticism show just check out Howie’s show on FNC.

  2. John Nolte ‏@NolteNC
    @brianstelter at least Zucker is being honest about “safety of employees” and not hiding behind “sensitivity” lies.

    Perhaps this belongs under Free For All, but I’ll take a chance.

  3. Jim Clancy might be in a pickle with his anti Israel rants on Twitter

    CNN ‘clown’ Jim Clancy goes on incoherent anti-Israel tirade

    http://twitchy.com/2015/01/07/cnn-clown-jim-clancy-goes-on-incoherent-anti-israel-tirade/

  4. Fritz, reporters can remain as unbiased as humanly possible while still having a conflict of interest that renders their reports suspect. Spud’s right. If the Pope was employed by CNN, for example, I wouldn’t expect people to trust his reports on anything Catholic.

  5. “reporters can remain as unbiased as humanly possible while still having a conflict of interest that renders their reports suspect.”

    ^^That’s what I said Al.

    “Media critics, just like political critics and sports critics, all have conflicts and biases of one kind or another. As long as you are aware of the potential conflicts and biases I see no problem with Stelter doing what he does on CNN.”

    But if you follow Spud’s logic (banning reporters/hosts from doing stories where they have a conflict) then no reporter or host could do a story, as they all have conflicts or biases of some kind. All we can do is keep an open mind about what we are hearing.

    “If the Pope was employed by CNN, for example, I wouldn’t expect people to trust his reports on anything Catholic.”

    ^^Maybe. But, if that’s true, you shouldn’t believe a “report on anything Catholic” by any reporter that was a Catholic; or a Jew, Muslim or Protestant, for that matter, because their bias could be anti-Catholic.

    Reporters and hosts have been doing stories where they have conflicts forever. At times those conflicts cause problems; but, on the whole, most reporters and hosts, on none opinion shows, do a good job of ignoring those conflicts and biases.

  6. – “report on anything Catholic” by any reporter that was a Catholic-

    The difference is that, unlike the Pope, most Catholics aren’t employed by the Catholic Church while Stelter is employed by CNN along with those who he reports on. That’s the conflict of interest.

    Dr. Sanjay Gupta has expertise to do a good job reporting on medical matters and he can do so without any conflict of interest… unless, of course, his report is about a hospital or group where he or his partners practice.

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