Your Cable News, America: Chuck Todd & CNN Producer Square Off on Twitter Over Flight 370 Coverage
Chuck Todd is a bit of a joke. We know this. He’s the guy who once said that it isn’t his job to call out partisan lies and set the record straight for the audience. He’s the guy who just a year before that literally broke down on the air over the public being misled by lies and half-truths, despite his unwillingness to correct those lies for the public. He’s the guy who contributed to the bullshit by saying that asking legitimate questions about Mitt Romney’s super-secret tax history amounted to the Obama administration “swift boating” Romney. So, yeah, joke.
With this in mind, the fact that Todd jumped on the schadenfreude bandwagon now occupied by every TV news person not currently working at CNN shouldn’t surprise anybody. Over the past couple of days, Todd has fired off a series of tweets from his seat atop Mount Olympus, where he converses with the ghost of Eric Sevareid, aimed squarely at CNN and its relentless, astonishingly silly coverage of the search for Flight 370.
Todd’s main point of contention seems to be CNN’s abuse of the already abused-to-death phrase “Breaking News,” his point being that what CNN is doing stopped being breaking days ago and by continuing to throw the term out there it’s simply devaluing it for the audience and the rest of the media. I mentioned a couple of days ago what’s behind CNN’s liberal use of “breaking” and “developing” in its coverage of this story — namely that the network believes that the absence of real information is precisely what allows it to get away with treating the story as if it’s constantly developing. As far as the network is concerned, being able to ask a bunch of questions that don’t have answers is what propels the story forward. If there was a conclusion to report, the whole thing would basically be over. No more mystery and drama to hype.
But it’s noteworthy that CNN hasn’t taken the unrelenting criticism that’s been heaped on it lying down. Both officially and anonymously, the network has defended this ridiculous shit-show, culminating in a Twitter response to Todd’s comments from Vaughn Sterling, who’s a senior producer on The Situation Room. Sterling seems to think that because other networks are covering Flight 370 and occasionally labeling developments in the story “breaking,” it’s hypocritical for people from those networks — like Chuck Todd — to take shots at CNN.
And so we get this juvenile “Ooh, snap.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the adults running the national cable news outlets you rely on for the important information of the day. They’re squaring off on fucking Twitter over who can be dumber.
Look, here’s the thing: Todd’s a boob, but he’s right. What CNN is doing is technically lousy for the business as a whole. The ceaseless, almost prurient, entertain-every-crackpot-theory-out-there, we-ran-out-of-real-news-days-ago approach to this story is exactly the kind of clever quick-fix parlor trick Jeff Zucker excels at — remember, this is the guy who brought you “super-sized” episodes of Friends to cut into Survivor‘s quarter-hour numbers and who brilliantly installed Leno at 10PM weeknights to both prevent his exit from NBC and cut costs in prime-time — and as usual it’s working, short-term. Numbers are up for CNN. But that’s almost certainly not going to last, not unless CNN plans on continuing this formula — as if the entire network were Nancy Grace — and picking one story it can tawdrily dedicate itself to at the expense of everything else, over and over again. What CNN will then become is a network willing to turn anything into a missing airliner or poop-cruise as long as it brings in a few eyeballs. Right now it almost feels like there might be a method to the madness in making the once-vaunted network into a carnival sideshow people will tune in for just to see how insane it all gets.
Regardless, we’re well past the zero barrier for CNN and cable news in general in all of this. This kind of stupidity is almost certainly the future, and it’s one CNN’s people don’t seem to be embarrassed by. In fact, they’re apparently very proud to be a part of it.
Although I will say that yesterday when I wrote about this I almost wanted to make mention of the fact that it sure would be nice if CNN had an in-house aviation expert who could speak authoritatively on the subject it’s now running into the ground. Someone like, oh, I don’t know, Miles O’Brien, whom the network unceremoniously let go in late 2008. Well, lo and behold, look who’s back.