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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Klein Lowers the Bar

CNN president and former professional enabler of corporate flackery Jon Klein is proud of CNN's performance on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, during which time Anderson Cooper proclaimed for three hours, based exclusively on the testimony of a few misinformed and gleeful West Virginians parading around him, that a miracle had occured deep in the Sago mine when, as we now know, the actual consequences of the explosion were perfectly ordinary and fatal.

"Our coverage was outstanding on every level," Klein told the Associated Press. "Unlike print, which has to live with its mistakes etched in stone, TV is able to correct itself immediately. I think the audience accepts that."

Two things. Firstly: No matter how you assign the blame, to describe as "outstanding" your network's uneqivocal, unsourced, and unleavened assertions over the course of three hours that 12 miners survived, when in fact only one did, is sophistry. This is not an instance of "we just report what we're told." No matter how you cut it, and even if you accept no blame for reporting the word of 12 survivors, any reasonable and self-aware leader of a news organization would have to regret, given subsequent events, the fervor and conviction with which Cooper and others asserted an essentially unsourced fact. Maybe CNN did the best job they could--I don't think they did--but even if all are blameless, someone in Klein's position ought to have the tact to recognize that misreporting crucial details of life and death for three hours is not outstanding journalism.

Secondly: So what if TV is able to correct itself immediately? Does that mean that it's OK to say things that you don't know to be true, so long as you stop saying them if you find out that they aren't true? The only thing CNN flacks have left to trumpet is the perception that CNN is more reliable and trusted than its cable competitors. I know that everyone got it equally wrong on the miners, and I am singling CNN out here. But if Klein actually believes that CNN's commitment to the accuracy of the assertions its anchors make ought to be less rigorous than that of a newspaper, then he's taking away the one last feather in the poor, lost network's cap.