CNN’s “Leave It There” Problem

Since we’re memorializing our late, great news media this weekend, I thought I should direct folks to Jay Rosen’s piece on CNN’s “leave it there” problem. Rosen’s Jon Stewart clip from last year is priceless and sums up everything that’s wrong with cable news. Rosen writes:

But too often, on-air hosts for the network will let someone from one side of a dispute describe the world their way, then let the other side describe the world their way, and when the two worlds, so described, turn out to be incommensurate or even polar opposites, what happens?… CNN leaves it there. Viewers are left stranded and helpless. The network appears to inform them that there is no truth, only partisan bull.

Last week CNN’s Ali Velshi actually made news for not doing this. A clip of Velshi calling Rick Santorum on his hilarious claim that the stimulus “only created 240 million jobs” went viral, with bloggers and the Twitterati dutifully applauding Velshi for telling Santorum to “check his math.” So, you know, good for Velshi — but even here he missed the point. Worse than Santorum’s math was his obviously incorrect facts, which Velshi completely ignored. Think about it: we live in a country of 300 million people! A stimulus that created 240 million jobs would have created more jobs than workers, more jobs than able-bodied adult citizens.

Which begs the question: is this what it takes before a CNN host calls a guest on their does a guest have to make claims so obviously this flat-out wrong before a host calls them on it? Before CNN decides not to “leave it there”?

Says Rosen:

Leave the partisan fights to the guests: sounds great. Until you think about it for a minute. And really, that’s all it takes: about a minute. In a hyper-polarized environment like the one we increasingly have in the U.S. these fights have long since broken the borders of opinion. They now routinely break out over matters of fact. (Example: does cutting Federal tax rates increase revenues to the government?) Leaving partisan fights—over matters of fact—to the guests is a disaster, journalistically. But intervening in those fights takes skill, knowledge… and balls. Because one side could be a lot righter than the other, factually speaking.

In other words, you could have a situation where in order to do your duty journalistically, you have to take sides and say, “I’m sorry, Senator, but that simply doesn’t square with what we know.” Soon as you do that, your mantra, “We cover both sides but don’t favor either side” starts working against you. Cognitive dissonance rises. You’re not doing “straight news” any longer. You’re calling foul on the deceiver, raising the question: why did you invite this guy, anyway? You’re taking to heart what Daniel Patrick Moynihan was supposed to have said: You’re entitled to your own opinion. You’re not entitled to your own facts.

Rosen notes CNN’s managing editor Mark Whitaker has hinted they’ve seen the error of their ways. Whether CNN will continue to “leave it there” remains to be seen.

[UPDATE]:

Somebody, please tell me he’s joking:

6 Comments

Filed under Ali Velshi, CNN, Media, Rick Santorum

6 responses to “CNN’s “Leave It There” Problem

  1. I can’t watch this garbage for ten seconds anymore. Link TV is pretty good. At least, they ask a question and allow time for a thoughtful answer.

  2. Great short fiction at our place today, “Nineteen” by Greg Bryant. Cletis

  3. That was a great story, Cletis. Hope some of my readers follow the link, it’s a fast read!

  4. Why has the He-Said/She-Said format become so popular? It makes stories instantly writable and reportable without having to worry about fact-checking or inconvenient truths, and it gives the false appearance of balance and objectivity. It turns reporters into stenographers who merely record the words without cutting through the clutter. The finished product is not a reliable account of the facts,; rather it is an error of the mean.

    How often have we witnessed liars and prevaricators with a well-oiled PR machine and a crafty set of talking points spew bullshit before an audience of millions! This is what passes for news these days.

  5. Yes, Octopus is right. It’s laziness disguised as “balance.” I have to wonder also if the for-profit model of the news business has something to do with this? Back in the dinosaur ages before cable, it seems like networks’ entertainment divisions financed the news divisions. News was the loss-leader that didn’t make money but did give credibility. Don’t think it’s that way anymore. Now news bureaus have been shuttered to save the bottom line and the news department is expected to turn a profit just like sports and entertainment.

  6. ThresherK

    I think he is joking. This is David Corn, from (I forget) MoJo or The Nation, right?

    When mainstream newsreader X says “let’s fact-check Sarah Palin”, I consider them to dig thru something like it’s the Pentagon Papers or the Zapruder film. Like a puppy you can distract by throwing (or fake-throwing) a stick, when they get the stick they think they’ve accomplished something. Aha! She’s lying! I did my job!

    When a lefty such as Corn says this, I’m receiving the silent message, “Hey, you can’t out-bullshit a bull-shitter, so we’re not gonna let this make us nitpick and waste precious airtime; we can’t drivel set the narrative.”

    But I don’t follow as many twits (no sic) as you do, so my interpretation may be subject to correction, and not sure if this was yet another “run out the clock” play on the precious airtime CNN has to fill. And, yes, PressThink has been great for years, so…pretty much anything Jay Rosen says.