Mediaite’s Joe Concha takes a few ideological conspiracy theory tinged whacks at Brian Stelter and Reliable Sources…
But now, fortunately for those who have worked for Fox — or are currently employed by Fox, or like to write books about Fox — there’s now a very public place to get everything off one’s chest, and 100,000 or so in the 25-to-54 demo can hear all about it: CNN’s Reliable Sources. CNN, of course, is a competitor of Fox in a mostly-lopsided cable news race, and therefore has the motive to make the network running ahead of it look bad or stupid. Reliable has been on the air since 1992, and is currently hosted by longtime Fox critic and former New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter.
First off some disclosure on where I stand regarding Stelter. He’s a professional acquaintance and a somewhat kindred spirit. We both share a driving passion toward the nuts and bolts and mechanics of TV News. I do wish he hadn’t taken the CNN gig and had stayed at The Times because of the conflict of interest issues working at CNN brings to someone of his calibre where he can do extensive reporting on other networks but is necessarily constrained from going as in depth on his own network. Worse, when he does infrequently go that in depth we are left to wonder what the motivation is behind why this one story made it out in such detail but others, just as if not more deserving of similar treatment, did not.
But this is the bane of being a media journalist working at a media company. Kurtz suffered such a problem when he was at CNN (and does now at FNC). It goes with the territory.
However this is a different topic deserving of its own blog post.
Being a fellow nuts and boltser I can see why Stelter does focus in on big stories involving “the competition”. Concha is focussing only on the “what” part, not the “why” part. So we get stories like this one where Concha writes about all the bad FNC stories out there being reported on Reliable Sources. I’m still waiting for Concha to pen a piece on all the bad MSNBC stories out there being reported on Media Buzz, but whatever.
But are these stories not deserving of the air time? Overall I would say yeah they are. Certainly I would quibble over the Eric Burns interview. I didn’t see the need for that at all given the subject was O’Reilly and his now documented history of questionable anecdotes and I don’t see any value that Burns brought to that discussion. But lets look at the other two Concha cites…
Bringing Gabriel Sherman on to discuss Ailes and the need for GOP candidates to snuggle up to FNC was in line with standard network operating procedure. You have the legitimate subject of GOP candidates making nice with FNC. That’s just as fair a thought exercise as looking at the progressive heavy hitters cozying up to MSNBC the past few years.
So you have your subject…Roger Ailes; kingmaker. This isn’t an entirely new subject. It’s a meme that has been making the rounds off and on for fifteen years. Remember back in 2008 (or was it 2012?) there was a lot of stories about Rudy Giuliani’s numerous appearances on FNC in the weeks before the primaries and how it was a sign that Ailes was giving him a push. I’m not saying those were legitimate arguments or not but they certainly merited pondering a bit.
So you have your subject, Ailes. The next step is to bring on the “content expert”. Though I thought Sherman’s Ailes book was a letdown and Ze’ev Chafets got something of a bum deal on his official Ailes biography because it was the official bio and therefore there had to be something wrong with it, there is no denying that Sherman is one of the most dangerous media writers in the country operating today…definitely in the top three for me. Of course Stelter is going to book Sherman.
And Mickey Kaus’ saga with The Daily Caller is most definitely a news story very much in the vein which any media show worth its salt is going to discuss. I would disagree that Kaus’ tale is about FNC…at least not directly. Kaus can rant about there being this wall of silence about discussing FNC or a fear of talking about FNC. I think it’s a little too much hype.
But clearly something freaked Tucker Carlson about Kaus’ Caller story. That’s all on Carlson. When he first joined FNC I argued it was a conflict of interest timebomb waiting to self-detonate. I just didn’t look at it from the angle that Carlson in one of his dual roles (FNC host and Daily Caller Editor and Chief) would spike a story critical of FNC. I don’t think there was any interference on FNC’s end. Carlson just panicked. I think his actions bordered on rampant paranoia.
I’ve seen very conservative media outlets pen some negative pieces about FNC…not of the “trying to out right flank FNC” variety but the kind of arguments that liberals would make. One was James Taranto ridiculing FNC’s “homicide bomber” meme. The other was someone on National Review’s The Corner making the observation that it would be nice if Linda Vester’s old talk show featured an opposing liberal voice now and again.
There were never any repercussions from either incident. FNC can take critisism. Hell, as Concha did note in his story, Bernie Goldberg threw a sharp elbow at the network on O’Reilly’s show just recently.
So Carlson spiking Kaus reveals more about his craven cowardly spineless stewardship of the Caller than it ever did about the network he happens to be an employee of. Indeed, I would imagine that FNC was none too thrilled about Carlson’s decision because of the bad optics it created for the network…over something they were never a party to in the first place.
But it’s still a story that Reliable Sources had to cover.
And there’s this from Concha…
In looking at transcripts of the program on a week-to-week basis since the beginning of this year, Reliable has featured segments critical of Fox News in eight of the 10 shows it has aired. Context: Compare that to the ten shows leading up to Stelter’s tenure as full-time host which were moderated, post-Kurtz departure, by various guest hosts from Frank Sesno to John Avlon to Eric Deggans to David Folkenflik: During that stretch, Fox was only discussed twice in any real capacity.
All I’ll say here is I wonder how much FNC was in the news in the timeframe those ten shows aired? FNC has been in the news a lot recently, so of course you’re going to get a high percentage. Would I have booked all those segments if I was running things? Maybe. I might have altered the themes for some of the segments but a lot of the segments merited notation of some kind.
Then Concha trots out the ratings straw man…
Well, since the 29-year-old Stelter took over in late 2013, the program has beaten Fox’s Media Buzz with Howard Kurtz twice in approximately 65 tries (“approximately” because Reliable has been partially or totally pre-empted for breaking news a few times). And before you say Fox always beats CNN, think again: CNN often beats Fox on Sundays as a whole, yet Reliable‘s numbers continue to show no signs of improvement.
Concha’s inherent implication here is that the reason Media Buzz is beating Reliable is because of the focus on other networks. And yes it is his implication because there’s no other reason to use the ratings in a piece critical of cross network sniping. The problem here is there are other perfectly valid and operable explanations for why Reliable is getting routinely bested. Here are a few…
– preference for Kurtz over Stelter.
– Reliable segment selection (there have been segments on Reliable that I felt had no business making air on that show)
– Media Buzz segment selection.
Fox is a huge media player that stirs controversy, emotions, and plenty of opinion good and bad, no doubt. Discussing it occasionally when warranted on a media program is absolutely the right call. The network has its share of editorial hits and misses. But when it becomes a regular occurrence that screams repetition, audiences will turn away.
1. Concha’s implication is that the segments he highlighted weren’t warranted. I would vehemently disagree on two of the three he cited and the third I would argue was deserving of a segment but was badly bungled by booking Burns.
2. To imply that the segments he highlighted constitute repetition is a tad spurious. At a high level…a very high level…you could make an argument that it’s repetition because FNC is the subject.
But if you go down to the segment level, at least the three Concha cited, they could not be less dissimilar:
– Roger Ailes, Kingmaker (Sherman)
– O’Reilly’s “misrepresentations” (Burns)
– The Fear Factor (Kaus)
Where’s the overlap? Where’s the redundancy?
There isn’t any.
Stelter is a modern American success story. He went from a guy who started a respected media blog from scratch as a teenager to the New York Times right out of college to hosting his own media program on CNN — all before the age of 29.
But if he wants this run to continue, it might be time to start to rethink what Reliable Sources is: A program that breaks down big media stories and issues of the day? Or one that engages in inter-network food fights every Sunday morning few outside the bubble care about?
News flash: You can make the point that few outside the bubble care about any media navel gazing, inter-network or otherwise. What I don’t like is conflating genuine media stories with inter-network food fights. Concha argues the latter is going on but the three stories he cited were all legitimate stories which really undermines what he’s trying to sell here. Why couldn’t Concha cite some examples of the tinfoil Media Matters variety? If they exist, and I don’t know if they do or don’t, they would do a lot more to buttress Concha’s argument than these three do.
In any case I would consider any comparison of Reliable Sources to Olbermann’s Countdown very wide of the mark. Countdown at times viewed like a regurgitation of Media Matters. Whatever you can say about Stelter’s show, and the opinions will vary obviously, it doesn’t come anywhere close to that level of over the top scrutiny.
It may get to that point one day. But that day is not today.