CNN's Ferguson Field Reporting Was Good No Matter What Critics Say

CNN gets a lot of criticism, but its coverage on Monday night in Ferguson was admirable.
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CNN gets a lot of criticism, but its coverage on Monday night in Ferguson was admirable.
CNN

CNN gets made fun of a lot, sometimes with good reason. The network's coverage of the disappearance of a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet earlier this year was a case in point, and set a new benchmark for disaster porn overkill, even though new and credible information wasn't exactly pouring in on a regular basis. Still, despite lagging behind Fox and MSNBC in the ratings battle, CNN has a reputation for being the go-to source for breaking news. After all, it's more than capable of some damn good field reporting, especially as drama is unfolding in real time.

The network had planted several reporters in Ferguson, Mo. on Monday night, including Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, Van Jones, Stephanie Elam Jake Tapper, Jason Carroll, and Sara Sidner. In the hours after the St. Louis County prosecutor's office announced that the grand jury in nearby Clayton declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9., those reporters and their crews brought news and images of dramatic and often violent developments in Ferguson.

Because bashing CNN is a favorite pastime of other media outlets (and sometimes yours truly), the network is not surprisingly taking heat for its reporting in Ferguson on Monday night. Several outlets took issue with Lemon at one point he smelled marijuana, "obviously," while many tweeters were their usual stupid selves. But the crème de la crème came from Josh Voorhees at Slate,with an absurdly unfair characterization of CNN's coverage, which he called "egocentric," asserting,

"The images were powerful and important. Unfortunately, though, they were not all that informative, because the live shots were accompanied with on-air reporting from the ground that was occasionally contradictory, often confusing, and, whenever possible, self-referential."

First of all, when you're a reporter and you get tear gassed by police as Lemon, Cuomo, and Jones were....

Or are struck in the head with a bottle as Sidner was...

Or have bottles thrown at you like Elam had...

You are, by no fault of your own, going to part of the story. We were reminded in August during the initial round of Ferguson protests when Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J.Reilly of The Huffington Post were assaulted and arrested by police officers.

These are hazards that come with the job of reporting amid civil unrest. But despite being gassed, having rocks and bottles thrown at them, and being verbally harassed occasionally throughout the evening on live television, these reporters did their job as best as one can do that job when surrounded by mayhem. Furthermore, the reporting wasn't nearly as "self-referential" as Voorhees makes it seem. The reporters spent most of their airtime describing what they had witnessed and what they were being told by demonstrators and law enforcement. On at least two occasions Tapper even tried to interview demonstrators amid all the chaos, which is a risky proposition for live television.

But for Voorhees, these ballsy journalists left a lot to be desired because the reporting was "occasionally contradictory" and "often confusing." Perhaps next time CNN is covering a riot, its reporters should ask that the rioters riot in a less riotous fashion so the real time reporting is more accurate. That way, they won't confuse people like Voorhees who are watching the devastation unfold on television from the safety of a location where rioting isn't occurring.