CNN, along with most other cable news outlets, laid out a narrative that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was well on his way to finding some major dirt on President Donald Trump. When it became very, very clear that Mueller would not be indicting Trump (or even his children for that matter) and that no further major indictments were coming, CNN and those other networks changed their tune and attempted to downplay the very scenario they were all but advocating themselves.
This left these networks with a lot of egg on their faces, and left media observers with questions about the future of news coverage.
Granted, we know that there will be no reckoning in the media, and that those who got this so wrong will never be held accountable for twisting facts to fit narratives, rather than reporting the facts and letting the viewers form their own opinions. It is not a new phenomenon, but it is a phenomenon on stark display in this case.
In an interview with the New York Times, CNN President Jeff Zucker defended his network in arguably the worst way possible, making the case that investigating isn’t their job.
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, said he was “entirely comfortable” with the network’s coverage.
“We are not investigators. We are journalists, and our role is to report the facts as we know them, which is exactly what we did,” Mr. Zucker said in an email. “A sitting president’s own Justice Department investigated his campaign for collusion with a hostile nation. That’s not enormous because the media says so. That’s enormous because it’s unprecedented.”
If I were a reporter at CNN, I would be offended by this quote. The entire point of journalism is to investigate, to find the right facts and report them.
Sure, Zucker was talking about investigators in the legal sense, but the fact remains that the information given at any time through the investigation never revealed the conclusions CNN and other networks were gearing up for. Anchors across CNN’s line-up relied on their own speculation and the speculation of partisan commentators – a point I addressed in response to Brian Stelter yesterday – rather than the facts at any given moment in the special counsel’s investigation.
Further, it doesn’t take much journalistic investigation to come to the conclusion that Mueller was less and less likely to actually indict Trump. The few indicators we did get pointed to actors within his campaign, not just Manafort but his son (Donald Trump, Jr.) and son-in-law (Jared Kushner). However, there was never a moment in which it seemed like a sure thing that Trump himself was going to end up being the target.
Yet, these networks were adamant about making sure their viewers knew Trump was truly in the hot seat here, and their coverage reflected this scenario more than any other.
This isn’t something you can attribute to your people not being investigators. This is something you can attribute to your network having an editorial agenda and pushing it, making sure your coverage and the way you use the facts play into that agenda.
CNN, specifically, has a problem with making every possible story about Trump somehow, and some of their biggest “scoops” about Trump have been duds at best – and, at worst, flat wrong and retracted.
This isn’t investigative, nor is it actual journalism. This is agenda setting, and CNN is more guilty of it than anything.