There’s been a bit of kefuffle over this story and whether there’s really anything to it or not.
Side note: If FTVLive is going to say that insiders said Zucker had Stelter downplay the Zakaria plagiarism story, the least it could do is link to an article that actually makes the accusation instead of linking to one that doesn’t.
Side note 2: I missed it originally but I think I should retroactively charge FTVLive a fee for letting them use my a little bit pregnant defense argument which I made a full day before it did.
But I digress…
The only reason I’m writing about this at all is to clarify a comment I made yesterday on Twitter about this whole mess.
Because its just not that big a story?
@brianstelter if it’s false then the bigger question. Why the hell did you not cover the story?
There are three questions at play here…
1) Is this a story?
2) Does it deserve to be covered on Reliable Sources?
3) Is the fact that it wasn’t discussed indicative of anything nefarious or did it amount to your basic editorial decision?
Is this a story? Sure. It’s a story. A documentary edited out necessary context and as a result framed things incorrectly. That is absolutely a story. How much of a story is open to interpretation. I don’t have a dog in this fight and I have not seen this documentary. Nor do I intend to. But I would want to know whether this edit, had it not been made, would have substantially altered the overall theme of the documentary? For example, if the entire doc is slanted pro-gun control and not an honest examination of the issue (whatever an honest examination would entail and that too is open to interpretation based largely on where you stand on the issue) then the edit amounts to nothing more than an asterisk because it doesn’t change the overall narrative any. On the other hand, if the overall film was indeed an attempt at an honest examination of the issue, the edit still amounts to an asterisk as it would stand as an example of a screw up that ideally wouldn’t alter the overall narrative of the film.
Either way, the edit is a story but it needs to be put in context and that context can be credibly argued as minimal based on what we currently know.
Which leads me to the second question; Does it deserve to be covered on Reliable Sources?
My feeling is it could have gone either way. I could make arguments in both directions based on the first question alone. However, the central problem is Reliable Sources, as is true for all media shows, cherry picks what to cover and what not to cover. I have hit Stelter before over subjects his show hasn’t covered…just as I hit Howard Kurtz for the same issue when it was his show. I think cable news is inherently conflicted as a platform for both media reporting and media criticism. There are always going to be arguments about what got discussed, what didn’t get discussed, and how often it was/wasn’t discussed. The fact that Kurtz tackled it is irrelevant because those two shows never mirror each other. One is always going to tackle stories the other chose not to and vice versa.
One weighting factor in deciding whether to cover it or not concerns what the story is about and who is involved. On a superficial level, the fact that Katie Couric was involved would tend to suggest that it’s a big story. But appearances can sometimes be misleading.
We need to examine Couric’s role here. Was she the editor? No. She didn’t make the cuts.
Was this a major documentary? No. I hadn’t even heard of it until this story popped up.
Is Couric still a major player or is her career trajectory on the wane? Well since leaving Today she essentially washed out as the face of CBS News. She then washed out trying the talk show route. She’s now working for Yahoo where her buzz level is so low she’s rarely mentioned in conjunction with it. She’s essentially become the female Dan Rather…wandering the wilderness but without Rather’s (now tainted) pedigree. She’s still known primarily as the perky former Today show host.
This is a mitigating factor you just can’t dismiss out of hand. If Couric had been at CBS when this happened or with any major news outlet (Yahoo? Please) that would be a story approaching Brian Williams or Dan Rather proportions for the collateral damage it could cause.
But she isn’t. That weighs heavily on taking this story to big levels and it becomes more of a valid argument regarding how prominent it should be.
Is the fact that it wasn’t discussed indicative of anything nefarious or did it amount to your basic editorial decision? There’s evidence the latter is at work here.
I find the Zucker conspiracy theory to be lacking in credibility regardless of what CNN has said on the matter. If Zucker really wanted the story spiked it would have been spiked across the board. That hasn’t happened. Stelter has put it in the media newsletter. Not once. But twice.
Some have made the argument that CNN hasn’t covered it on its air at all. Under normal circumstances…read: not a Trump dominated election year…I would find this argument more persuasive. But CNN’s news barometer has been off kilter all year with a whole mess of stories not getting covered. I repeatedly blasted the network for not giving enough coverage to the Fiji typhoon catastrophe.
But all of this ignores a revolting yet fundamental truth. This isn’t the CNN of 10 years ago. This is Jeff Zucker’s CNN where most of the news is not covered. Zucker himself recently copped to it when he said that the network now goes deep on a paltry handful of stories a day and if you want news you should go to digital. I hate hate hate this paradigm. But it is the paradigm. So I am not at all surprised to hear the charge that the Couric fiasco has not been discussed on air.
With TumpClintonSandersElection2016ClintonEmail still dominating everything, CNN isn’t going to give it space…particularly since the story doesn’t rise to the level of a Brian Williams transgression which the network did cover and cover a lot. Not enough people care about this story. Hate to break it to you but those that do constitute a distinct minority of the general viewing public. This story doesn’t have the depth or the legs to generate that kind of viewer interest. Numbers are what CNN cares about most these days. And that sucks.