Saturday, March 22, 2014

Breaking News: CNN And The Internet Are Not Pwning Chuck Todd

Lately, I've been feeling like the exact opposite of Lloyd Bridges' Airplane! character, who says "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue," because I appear to have chosen the correct three weeks to go on a news media staycation. Since I banged out my last syllable for Mediaite, cable news has been completely dominated by the same two glacially-developing stories: Ukraine (which does produce occasional genuine news) and the missing airplane.

Both stories offer rich fodder for media criticism, but especially in the case of the missing Flight MH370, that criticism quickly becomes as repetitive as the story itself. Unfortunately for CNN, they happen to be offering the most clickably absurd coverage, and just when you think they can't possibly top themselves, this happens:

I've got news for both of those guys, the preferred term is "Zombo-American Aircraft."

One interesting wrinkle in the Flight 370 meta-media story is the glee with which media observers are fanning the flames of a de facto feud between Chuck Todd and CNN producer Vaughn Sterling. In case you missed it, Chuck made this observation about the coverage on Wednesday:

At the time Chuck tweeted that, here's what CNN viewers were looking at:

That's pretty tough to argue with, but The Situation Room producer Vaughn Sterling tried anyway:
Sterling tweeted a few more examples, which, according to Mediaite, equaled the "tearing apart" of Chuck Todd, although I'd like to think that headline was a tongue-in-cheek bit of self-satire. Thinking up over-the-top headline adjectives is something of a competitive parlor game, like The Aristocrats! for media writers. I'd have gone with "CNN Producer Rips The Legs Off Of Chuck Todd, Puts Them In His Hands, Then Forces Him To Hit Himself With His Own Bloody Legs While Asking 'Why Are You Hitting Yourself?' Over Breaking News Hypocrisy," but I think that's too many characters.

Here's the thing, though. Chuck Todd wasn't kidding when, on Friday, he clarified his criticism:

Through the feud-oriented lens of media reporting, this sounds like he's saying that CNN is making everyone else look bad, but that's not what he said. Remember, Chuck hosts a show on MSNBC, but he's also NBC News' Chief White house Correspondent, and as such, is a fulcrum in the tension between the two. There's no reason to think that his critique of "Breaking News" abuse excludes MSNBC, or anyone in cable news.

I used to have the same problem when I was at Mediaite. I wrote frequently, and passionately, about the value of racial diversity in media, and invariably, some genius would accost me on Twitter to ask me how many black writers there are at Mediaite. Now, as then, it's not my place to speak for Mediaite, especially about decisions in which I had no involvement. All I can say is that I was free to publish those opinions, and even encouraged to do so, and I would be happy to see more racial diversity at any and all media outlets.

 In much the same way, I'm sure Chuck Todd would be happy to see all cable news channels stop abusing the "Breaking New" or "News Alert" banners. First and foremost, Chuck is a newsman who cares deeply about journalism, and he also has a marked distaste for media feuds. That this has become one is probably endlessly irritating to him, but hopefully, Chuck is also discovering the power and the value of strong media criticism, as illustrated by this observation from Dylan Byers:
UPDATE (10:03 a.m.): CNN led the 10 a.m. hour with "developing story," rather than "breaking news."
If this dustup can, in some small way, help to stem the tide of meaningless "Breaking News" alerts, then I'm sure Chuck would agree that being force to metaphorically beat himself with his own torn-off legs is a small price to pay.

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