CNN’s chief media correspondent and alleged agent of disinformation, Brian Stelter, hosts the weekend program Reliable Sources to roughly 45 homes around the country. He uses the platform to fairly regularly attack Fox News and other center-right media outlets for their partisan coverage of political events.
Stelter’s newsletter and TV show devoted huge chunks of their time to this effort, sprinkling in vague “misinformation” accusations along with their standard fare. It’s important to remember that Stelter, who works for CNN, ignored the biggest media stories of the past couple of years – the unethical behavior and subsequent firing of Chris Cuomo (he gave scant coverage to the latter) and the firing of former CNN President Jeff Zucker (largely running interference for Zucker in the weeks and months leading up to it).
His focus on Fox News can at times seem like he’s covering for his own network’s numerous issues in reporting and management.
That brings us to his show this weekend, which featured Yale assistant professor Joshua Kalla as a guest. Kalla ran a study on partisanship in media coverage, which almost assuredly meant that he would be blasting Fox News for what they do and don’t cover and how they cover issues. And, to be fair, he did.
But Kalla insisted that Fox News isn’t the only guilty party.
“Basically, you’re proving what we’ve sensed for a while,” Stelter told Kalla. “Which is, Fox viewers are in the dark about bad news for the GOP.”
“That’s right,” Kalla said, concurring. “Fox and CNN cover different issues, and Fox News predominantly covers issues that make the GOP look good, and make Democrats look bad.”
To that point, it was the type of commentary which could be heard on Reliable Sources just about each and every week. But then, Kalla went off book.
“On the flip side, CNN engages in this partisan coverage filtering as well,” the Yale researcher said.
Kalla cited the network’s coverage — or lack thereof — on the Abraham Accords, the peace agreements between the Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
“Fox News covered this really major accomplishment about 15 times more than CNN did,” Kalla said. “We saw how much both networks are encouraging in this partisan coverage filtering. It’s not about one side, it’s about the media writ large.”
To which Stelter had to fire back to defend his network’s honor.
“I think you’re engaging in some both sides-ism there, Josh,” Stelter said.
“Not trying to lay out a moral equivalency,” Kalla replied. “It’s not about what an objective standard is. It’s really about how all networks do engage in this. And in order for viewers to get a realistic picture of the world, we need viewers to see all types of information. And unfortunately what we find in the study is that the viewers don’t want to engage in watching all sides.”
Here’s the video of the exchange if you want to see it in action. It’s simply phenomenal.
Kalla’s finding makes sense. The diversification of the news media and its ability to be more partisan to make it more marketable has made it easier for people to look for the coverage they care about and watch solely that. It means that networks like CNN can’t be the gatekeepers anymore – which drives them absolutely crazy – and allows people to seek other means of information. Sometimes, it’s beneficial. Sometimes, it can be little more than propaganda.
But Kalla’s insistence that CNN engages in the exact same type of behavior as Fox News was apparently something Stelter was not prepared for. Sure, you could say that Stelter was just offering him the chance to expand on his point, but the reality is that many at CNN would be horrified if someone accused them of being like Fox News. They’ve all grown up thinking Fox News is the devil incarnate and that it is a blight on journalism.
For someone to come on Stelter’s show and say as much requires a certain level of fortitude, because the folks at CNN are very sensitive to that type of thing and they don’t take kindly to it (you can find many in the media, including me, who have been sent direct messages on Twitter by CNN personalities offended at the coverage they might have gotten on an issue).
Stelter’s position would be far more defensible if he himself wasn’t constantly going after Fox News for the very things his own network does on a routine basis. But his job is more of a glorified PR agent. He frequently goes after Fox News to cover for his own networks’ sins. Of course, all that leads to the inevitable: People have little trust in the media when they see the media being dishonest about themselves. No one trusts Stelter, which is perhaps why his show once got higher ratings on a week he was on vacation.
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