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”?
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.
Somebody, please tell me he’s joking: