The Silent Treatment

By Chez Pazienza: (Glenn Greenwald Honorary Update Below) Well, it was nice while it lasted. I was allowed all of about 24-hours of magnanimity and good will toward CNN before something happened to kind of blow it all to hell. You’ll remember that when we last left your humble narrator, he was painting a mental picture of CNN functioning as a news operation that closely resembles the hyper-idealized and eminently ethical one depicted in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. I truly believed that CNN had the potential to stand tall and assume a mantle that no other network in the country has been willing to, one of a news organization wholly dedicated to fierce, adversarial journalism; committed to letting only the facts dictate the terms of a story and unwilling to allow anyone from any political stripe to get away with trying to dance around or flat out ignore those facts. I still think CNN is capable of becoming that kind of news network — in fact, I still think it’s uniquely positioned among its contemporaries to make that little dream come true for the news-hungry public.

But then it goes off and does something stupid — like what it did less than 48-hours ago in response to an incident at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

For a while on Tuesday night, allegations were circulating via various online publications that someone on the floor of the convention, either a delegate or an attendee, had been escorted out by security after that person threw peanuts at a black CNN camera operator while shouting at her, “This is how we feed animals.” The evening had already seen reports, including one from Fox News, which claimed that chants of “USA!” were directed at a Puerto Rican functionary trying to speak onstage — and full disclosure: I admit to biting at those reports — but which turned out to be nothing more than the latest round of trouble being caused by Ron Paul’s mindlessly allegiant insurgents. With that in mind, at least in the wake of the initial reports, it wasn’t that hard to imagine the CNN camerawoman incident playing out exactly as advertised. Still, I didn’t do anything with it because there were really only two outlets pushing the story, Current’s David Shuster and Talking Points Memo, and while they’re both reputable sources it was a hell of a claim to make without absolute confirmation. As for CNN, it was willing to say that something had happened on the convention floor but it wouldn’t say what that something was.

By yesterday morning, however, the story as it had been reported the night before was confirmed: Two people attending the convention were ejected; they’d thrown nuts at an African-American camera operator for CNN and had called her an animal. The odd thing, though, is that almost nothing is known about the incident beyond these facts. Granted, to his credit, convention spokesman Kyle Downey issued a statement saying that the conduct of the people escorted out was “deplorable” and wouldn’t be tolerated. But beyond that, everyone’s being tight-lipped. Including CNN. And that’s the problem.

As of this writing, CNN’s nebulous statement from Tuesday night stands as the only thing the network has said about what happened and it has said it won’t be commenting any further. While I certainly wouldn’t want to see CNN blow an incident like this out of proportion, it is actually a story — one CNN seems reticent to cover. When a black woman, particularly an employee of a national news organization, is harassed and targeted with racial slurs, as this person seems to have been, on the floor of a political convention, that’s news. Again, not round-the-clock-coverage breaking news, but news at least worthy of bringing to the public in a straightforward manner. Even if you believe that CNN shouldn’t have taken the incident to air, it not only had no obligation to protect those involved and the political event hosting them, it had a responsibility to not provide them with protection.

I have no doubt that CNN believed that releasing the information would be needlessly inflammatory, and I do actually think that it’s fair to take into account that kind of consideration. But regardless of the reason for the harassment, whether it was racially motivated or simply a case of “liberal media”-bashing by those on the right, it’s something that’s worth reporting the facts of and allowing the audience to draw its own conclusions. Obviously, the GOP spokespeople on hand thought the intent behind it was bad enough to warrant it being called “deplorable,” “inexcusable” and “unacceptable” and then not spoken of again. Either way, though, the incident is inarguably an example of just how toxic our political climate has become — and that makes it reportable.

CNN shouldn’t be holding back on this because it leaves viewers — viewers like me — wondering what else it’s willing to withhold in the interest of protecting a political organization and appearing fair.

Update: While CNN management isn’t addressing the issue and there was no official story done by CNN on it, which I maintain there should have been, Wolf Blitzer did mention the incident yesterday on the air. “It’s just an ugly reminder that there is an element of hatred that still exists in our country,” he offered. While this is certainly a watered-down take on what happened and its larger implications, with Blitzer characteristically spreading the blame around enough so that he doesn’t offend any one political stripe or party, at least he acknowledged the attack and admitted that it was indeed racially motivated. Also, the camera operator, Patricia Carroll, is now talking. She spoke to an internet outlet and was, thankfully, less purposely nebulous than Blitzer, saying that she’s not surprised it happened. “This is Florida, and I’m from the Deep South,” she said. “You come to places like this, you can count the black people on your hand. They see us doing things they don’t think I should do.” “They,” needless to say, isn’t everyone — just one very specific segment of the population. And the fact that “they” could be found, and feel comfortable enough to announce their bigotry, at a Republican convention held in Tampa shouldn’t surprise anyone.

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