The Mirror

We Watch CNN’s Terrible Media Show So You Don’t Have To


Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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LAYING ON PILLOWS — Hopefully you’re off eating french toast somewhere. Me? I’m holed up in my apartment listening to Brian Stelter lecture me about the evils of the world.

“You know, there are so many good people in the world,” Stelter says, starting off Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” with an incredibly preachy rant. “So many good people responding to these crimes right now. But then there are these [WEIRD PAUSE] darker forces as well. And what we all have in common, what we all share is this country but it’s also a poisoned media environment.  We have to look closely at the poison that is being spread SOMETIMES ON TELEVISION [he says, as though he’s reluctantly admitted that some poisonous shit winds up on cable news] sometimes out of the mouths of political leaders and sometimes in the darker corners of social media.”

It’s time for Stelter’s first sermon to end so others can join in. Panel #1 has arrived.

Professional President Trump hater Bill Kristol, editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard, wears an expression of deep sorrow on his face because of the synagogue murders in Pittsburgh — who can blame his lack of cheeriness? “Well obviously it’s horrible and deeply depressing,” when Stelter asks him to react to the news of the day. “…Can we now talk about that he has helped create an environment that made this possible?”

Kristol says Fox News has made “this” more acceptable. Stelter is keen on him bashing Fox News more. So he does. “Fox is going to say you’re blaming them,” Stelter says. “ARE YOU BLAMING THEM?”

Of course. Kristol says, “I’m blaming them for putting that guest on the air and not correcting him,” he said. “I’m blaming the management of Fox, the investors of Fox, some of the other talent at Fox who are decent people who are saying nothing.”

Stelter turns to WaPo media writer Margaret Sullivan, who takes a broad swipe at right-wing publications. The host wants to know what she thinks of the Sean Hannitys of the world? As if there were a cluster of Sean Hannitys floating around.

“I think they have a share sort of this revving up of hatred without regard for what it’s affect might be and without much regard to the truth,” she says. “…I think we need to call it what it is.”

Matt Lewis, a CNN contributor and a columnist at The Daily Beast, is about to ‘both sides’ the show. But he makes some other points that make some sense. After all, he is the conservative that liberal media types can tolerate.

“Look, we’re all responsible,” he says. “Look, we have a megaphone. We’re all responsible for creating and fostering what is a toxic, political environment right now. …I think cable news has incentives to gin up anger and anxiety and passion for ratings. …Tomorrow it could be Sean Hannity who is targeted or a Republican congressman who is targeted. While I agree with the condemnation of Fox News over its coverage of the Caravan, I think this is a more widespread problem. I think all the cable networks foster this anger. I think this is a much bigger problem and it has to do with media, it has to do with perverse incentives. …At the risk of sounding like Donald Trump and Charlottesville, where I think he was wrong, but I do think there is a problem on both sides.”

Oooh…Stelter sees a chance to get in on the both sides action. He says there’s security outside Fox News HQ, too. “This is not an issue that is unique to one news outlet or another.”

Sullivan says snidely, “But it’s not even.”

At the risk of both siding the show, Lewis both sides the show.

He doesn’t sound quite as ludicrous as when Trump both sided the protestors and white supremacists in Charlottesville, where a woman died in all that both sidedness.

Does Lewis have a point? Sure. Maybe. If you’re on the right, you think so. If you’re on the left, you think he may be an idiot. See what I did there? I just both sided this story.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director at the Dannenberg Public Policy Center at University of Pennsylvania, says, “We do know that you can create a climate that is more conducive to it,” she says. “…Let’s stop calling other people evil.”

Yeah, let’s.

Lewis jumps back in to bash Trump a little. “There is no one more important than the president of the United States to set the tone,” he says. “I see on non-Fox News networks people called racist, talk about separating families, that kind of rhetoric also contributes to this bitterness. We all need to police ourselves. …We need journalists to hold powerful people accountable.”

It’s Sullivan’s turn. “When you think about all the things that President Trump could have said this week …he also spent an awful lot of time blaming the media again in a completely inappropriate way as I see it,” she says. “I mean that’s not what he should be paying attention to right now. To blame the media is just simply wrong.”

Stelter laments that Trump tweeted about baseball this weekend. “I’ll never understand why he’s tweeting about baseball on a weekend like this,” he says. “I’ll just never understand it.”

Let’s pause so the host can give CNN a big kiss.

“I have to say I was so proud to be a CNN employee this week,” he says. “To see how this company …all mobilized in a crisis. CNN president Jeff Zucker emailed updates every hour.”  Zucker held a town hall. He announced a change: All mail will be screened as a off site location. “It’s a sad sign of our times,” Stelter says.

Stop the presses. An adult has entered the room. An honest-to-God media reporter. His name is Bill Carter and he should be hosting this program. I’m not sure if it’s his white hair and serious dark glasses. He has a seasoned nature. He’s put in the time and years in this profession — and it shows.

“It’s remarkable,” Carter says. “News people are dedicated professionals. …We have become targets. …I think this is kind of a state of emergency. I’ve been around a long time. It’s nothing like anything I’ve ever seen before. …This is at a height and level of venom I’ve never seen. …The president has demagogued so many issues. He has called the press the enemy of the people. Think about what those means. Those code words are really dangerous words in my opinion. …A lot of it comes back to…it directly comes back to what we’ve been seeing on TV with these Caravans and the Jews are somehow facilitating this…this does not sound like America to me. [The President says] well, I take this tone because the media makes me take this tone. …The honest version of him is well, my hair was wet. …Women look like horses and Mexicans are rapists. That’s him.”

As the panel concludes, Carter looks thoroughly annoyed.

Sullivan adds, “Each day brings a new terror and a new reason for fear.” She blames the president and right-wing media for being a “huge part” of the problem.

Lewis gets meta and I think it’s his smartest take of the day. He says Trump makes it hard for him to go after the media because it looks like he’s defending Trump when he’s not. Yes, he says, there’s obviously liberal bias. But it doesn’t excuse Trump’s rhetoric.

“I am very worried,” he says, explaining that it’s increasingly likely that we’re going to see a successful attack on a media personality.

Stelter made his virgin appearance at a Trump rally this past week in Charlotte. “Trump is leading a hate movement against the media,” he says. “Did I feel like I was in danger there? No. But the boos and insults can be intimidating.”

He plays a clip of a male rallygoer screaming “CNN SUCKS…CNN SUUUUKS…CNN SUUUUUUUKS.”

“We must unite to conquer hate,” the host says, reading a tweet from Trump.

Stelter replies dramatically, “Yes, we must. So when are you going to start?”

Cut to a commercial break.

The topic is now Gab, a Twitter-like website that featured some of synagogue killer Robert Bowers‘s disgusting tweets.

“They say it’s a free speech platform, but it really is a cesspool for hate,” explains Oliver Darcy, a CNN media reporter. “If you go on, the worst kind of anti-Semitic, sexist hate. …It’s really disturbing to me.”

Julia Ioffe, a writer for GQ, is also disturbed. When she wrote about first lady Melania Trump and Melania despised her story, she got Holocaust memes and gas chamber memes, which turned into real death threats.

“It’s supercharged by the President of the United States and people around him like [House Maj. Leader] Kevin McCarthy [R-Calif.],” she says.  “There was Twitter before Donald Trump. I didn’t start getting death threats until Donald Trump become president and I was on Twitter for a good seven years before. …When the ground is fertile, all this stuff blossoms.

Inevitably the conversation turns to NBC’s Megyn Kelly, who has had what has to be one of the worst weeks of her life. “Has her star completely burnt out now?” Stelter asks. “This has been an embarrassment for NBC.”

Sullivan doesn’t believe the “blackface” comments got her fired. “I don’t think that particular thing,” she says. “We [her and Bill Carter] think it was about a 20 percent factor. She never seemed to be the right fit for that job. She didn’t have the warmth or the empathy.

Carter’s take: “It seems like [NBC was] blinded by celebrity and glamour,” he says. “The idea of installing her in this job was so wrong-headed. She is an abrasive kind of personality. I think she was doomed to fail. I think the management made a really ham-handed decision. She wasn’t even liked by many of the staff, so there was that going on.”

Sullivan offers Kelly a flotation device of sorts: “I don’t think she’s done, but it’s hard to see how she resuscitates herself.”

Stelter ends the show much like he started it: preaching. Argggghhh.

“It’s been a difficult week here at CNN,” he says. “And a difficult week across the country. It’s time for reflection, especially on Sunday morning. A time for reflection. A time for all of us, myself included, to look inward.”