Let’s try this one more time. It will again be a frustrating exercise in futility, but as someone who actually expects the media to be responsible and who cares, believe it or not, about the CNN brand, it’s an uphill battle worth waging.
CNN has to fire Nancy Grace. It has to do it immediately.
I realize that as recently as a few days ago napoleonic CNN chief Jeff Zucker said that he “doesn’t give a shit” about the network’s critics. But this isn’t a case of somebody snarking at CNN because he doesn’t think Mike Rowe’s new show qualifies as news or he can’t understand what Wolf Blitzer is still doing on television. I’m several years out from working at CNN and I find it impossible to believe that I somehow value the network’s reputation more than the executives who continue to run the place.
And yet that would seem to be the case, because inexplicably CNN is still more than happy to be the bridge under which Nancy Grace is allowed to go on living. Night after night, she’s given a forum by a network which claims to be the gold standard of television journalism — it’s a forum she uses to not just recklessly spew incendiary rhetoric, but to level dangerous, unproven accusations at ostensibly innocent people. She does this, over and over again — defying every tenet of responsible journalism — because she knows she’ll never be held accountable. But this has to end. CNN has to hold her accountable. Ratings be damned, it can’t continue to call itself an ethical news operation if it doesn’t.
I know this will shock the hell out of you, but Grace is being taken to court again. The specifics of the case are maybe a little different than what we’ve seen before, but the general charge is the same: that Nancy Grace is an opportunistic, unscrupulous toad who puts self-righteous shtick over facts and who’s practically sociopathic in her disregard for the impact her completely unfounded accusations have in the real world. In a case that highlights, really, classic Grace, a Denver man named Ben Seibert is suing her for defamation, claiming that she branded him a “Selfie Stalker” on her show, even though he was completely innocent.
Seibert was briefly attached to a criminal case back in January in which a woman called 911 to say that someone had broken into her home while she was putting her kids to bed. Denver Crime Stoppers released a photo of Seibert, which the woman reportedly feared had been taken by her own cellphone inside her house. Police quickly cleared Seibert after he realized that his picture was being circulated and called to inform them that the shot was from his Facebook page and was taken nowhere near the woman’s home. Denver Crime Stoppers dropped the photo — they’re also named in the lawsuit — but needless to say Nancy Grace wouldn’t take “innocent” for an answer. Seibert’s lawsuit contends that she continued to hammer away at Seibert on the air, saying that taking a selfie represented a “textbook serial killer’s calling card.”
Seibert is asking for a little over a hundred-grand in damages — which when you think about it isn’t all that much. He says her false accusations humiliated him and got him pegged as a sicko on social media outlets across the country. Seibert’s lawyer says, with almost hilarious understatement, “Based on the history we’ve researched regarding Ms. Grace, we’re pretty confident there are other victims.”
No shit. There are more victims than you can imagine.
Working backward and naming only a few standouts: In July of 2012 Nancy Grace’s on-air crusade against a woman she’d dubbed “Vodka Mom” — 29-year-old Toni Medrano, who’d gotten drunk and accidentally passed out on her baby, killing the child — was blamed at least partially for the woman taking her own life by setting herself on fire. In February of 2012, Grace, with no evidence whatsoever, went on CNN’s air and alleged that Whitney Houston had been murdered. In 2011, Grace unleashed a breathtaking amount of indignant invective toward Casey Anthony, whom she branded “Tot Mom” — see a pattern developing here? — and it continued well after Anthony was found not guilty. As I said once before, Whether Casey Anthony is truly guilty or innocent doesn’t matter one bit — a court spoke and justice as we know it in this country was served. But that didn’t matter to Nancy Grace, because in her mind she is the only real arbiter of right, wrong and legality and therefore it’s within her God-given right to sit in judgment of each and every court case she calculatingly milks of every last drop of soap-opera tawdriness in the name of keeping herself relevant.
In 2006, after months of outraged torch-and-pitchfork bluster from Graces’s chair directed toward them, it was revealed that three Duke lacrosse players were in fact not guilty of all rape charges against them, a verdict which prompted the perpetually wrong Grace to not only refuse to admit that she was at fault but to sub in another CNN anchor to deliver the news of the court’s decision. And of course, also in 2006, there was the suicide of Melinda Duckett. In case you forgot, Duckett was the mother of a missing little boy and someone who Nancy Grace, in her infinite omniscience, had determined was actually guilty of killing that little boy. During a pre-taped interview, Grace berated Duckett to the point where, later, she killed herself. Grace then ran the interview, after the suicide. In the aftermath, she was forced to settle a lawsuit by Duckett’s family.
This is really just the tip of the witch’s hat. Nancy Grace has made either patently false or unethical and inflammatory statements regarding the cases of Trayvon Martin, Elizabeth Smart, Danielle van Dam, Tonya Craft, Barbara Olsen, and Michael Skakel. And this isn’t even including her history of questionable behavior as a prosecutor, which admittedly isn’t CNN’s problem.
All of this leaves us with one inevitable question: What the hell does Nancy Grace have to do to actually lose her job at CNN? Does she have to walk into Zucker’s office, hike up her skirt and piss on his desk? Does she have to declare, unequivocally, that Anderson Cooper is a serial killer (#TheUpperWestSideStrangler)? Seriously, what would it take for the network to finally acknowledge that it’s sanctioning, literally, the most irresponsible, dangerous person in cable news? It’s one thing to offer a controversial opinion or make an offensive comment — it’s another thing entirely to have tangible evidence of the real-world damage someone is doing and the lives that person is destroying. Nancy Grace treats the broadcast power and journalistic credibility of CNN as if it’s her own personal tree fort from which she can shout obscenities at the kids she doesn’t like. The great irony of her entire career is that it’s been based on her claim that she’s a defender of the innocent, when in reality she’s the guilty party.
Back in February, I wrote a lengthy piece unpacking HLN’s plan to become more “Millennial-friendly.” It was predictably harsh, but what was surprising is that newly minted HLN Executive Vice President and General Manager Albie Hecht reached out to me and proposed we get together over coffee because he wanted to hear my suggestions for how the network might do better. Well, I have only one suggestion, Albie, and it’s the most important one I can give you. Fire Nancy Grace. If you value the reputation of the network you manage, you have no other choice. It’s just that simple.
Chez Pazienza was the beating heart of The Daily Banter, sadly passing away on February 25, 2017. His voice remains ever present at the Banter, and his influence as powerful as ever.