Column: Brian Stelter Flunks at Defending CNN

September 18th, 2020 6:20 AM

CNN host Brian Stelter has a slimy new book out called Hoax, attacking Fox News and President Trump with a lot of anonymously-sourced hit quotes. My favorite stop on his book tour has to be an appearance in the closing minutes of ABC’s The View on September 16.

What made it great was several co-hosts turning the microscope back on CNN. Stelter’s obsequious inquirers like Terry Gross on NPR or Judy Woodruff on PBS never pressed him on whether CNN manipulated politicians behind the scenes and lied about it.

But Meghan McCain turned right to the ethical questions being asked about CNN lately, most prominently by Tucker Carlson on Fox. Turnabout is fair play. Carlson played audio of Jeff Zucker offering debate advice to Trump in 2016, and talked about offering Trump his own program. Jake Tapper was exposed for lying about trying to urge his Republican acquaintance Sean Parnell to run in a “safer R district” for Congress than Conor Lamb’s vulnerable seat in Pennsylvania.

McCain really drew blood on the unprofessional comedy with Governor Andrew Cuomo: “I had serious problems with the way Chris Cuomo has a recurring primetime, sort of comic routine with his brother instead of asking about policies that were literally sending my friend Janice Dean’s relatives to die in nursing homes. So, with the criticism of CNN, do you believe that this is acceptable?”

Stelter didn’t answer the question honestly. It’s tough to be forced on defense, especially when you play the Media Ethics Police on CNN every Sunday morning on Reliable Sources. Instead, Stelter first complained these tapes “are cherry-picked.” Everything that airs on the news is “cherry-picked.”

Then he turned to leaker conspiracy theories: “You know, Michael Cohen says these audiotapes were only held by Trump, the Trump Organization and the DOJ. So all of a sudden they’re airing on Fox News. You have to wonder if it's another example of this feedback loop?”

Michael Cohen is a convicted liar, so he’s probably not your most, ahem, Reliable Source

Stelter was flailing now. “I’m not a spokesperson for CNN. It's not for me to comment on these tapes. Here's what I do think is sad, though. I think it’s sad that private conversations get leaked out and get distorted and become polarized and weaponized.”

This is simply obscene, if you’ve turned pages of Stelter’s book. It’s nastily “cherry-picked,” recounting leaked private conservations that are “weaponized.” The book is filled with tawdry little claims, like Rupert Murdoch’s wife Jerry Hall calls Trump a “pig.” Unlike Carlson’s revelations, most of this gossipy material isn’t backed by recordings.

Stelter wasn’t done being preposterous. ABC’s Sara Haines asked if CNN is guilty of blurring news and opinion, which she said contributes to “the misinformation and the extreme divisiveness” of politics today.

He agreed, but claimed “I talk about it with my staff at Reliable Sources, and I always want to make sure I'm not part of that problem.” What? Anyone who’s watched this show knows Extreme Divisiveness is routine, starting with his opening, snarling anti-Trump commentaries. One of his guests said Trump’s policies would kill more people than Hitler, Stalin, and Mao combined. Stelter pushback: Zero.

Beyond lamely claiming they’re standing up for decency and democracy, Stelter can’t defend CNN on blurring opinion into the “news” product, providing as assembly line of acidulous anti-Trump segments, day after day. He can’t claim CNN isn’t trying to manipulate and coach newsmakers behind the scenes. He’s not allowed to scorn the brotherly softball treatment on Cuomo Prime Time. He clearly wasn’t prepared for this test, and he flunked.