‘They Put Our Lives at Risk’; Bernstein, Zucker Peddle Self-Worshipping Hyperbole Out the Wazoo

Let the record show that the 2019 RTDN First Amendment awards dinner held on Wednesday served as a new example of how there's no professional that worships itself more than national and political journalists, and their arrogance and egos will never not be disgusting.

For all the complaints about the President’s obsession with the press, it runs the other way with declarations that there’s never been a time “more perilous for the country, for reporting, for the truth, and for the First Amendment” because of Trump. This obsession has come at the expense of non-Trump stories that’s reached the territory of becoming a fetish.

This unhealthy fixation was best illustrated with the dinner’s final award, which was presented to CNN with speeches by political analyst Carl Bernstein and CNN head Jeffrey Zucker, that painted the press in such self-aggrandizing terms that one would think they’re the remaining members of the Avengers taking on Thanos. 

 

 

And there was even a movie-like trailer to postulate CNN’s supposed brilliance!

Bernstein took the stage to introduce Zucker and praised the previous award recipient, smug and woke sportscaster Dale Hansen from the Dallas, Texas ABC affiliate.

Once he finished doing that, CNN’s chief hyperbole expert, Bernstein was off and running. Here are his opening four sentences that suggested America’s in danger of ending as we know it and that journalists were almost mythical with “almost unlimited power” to do what they please (click “expand”):

Because it’s the press and it’s the First Amendment that right now is protecting this country in the way that no institution or individual in our culture is and so we’re here tonight at a deadly serious moment even as we celebrate. The First Amendment is not a hunting license. It’s not a fishing license. Rather, it demands us to use our enormous constitutional responsibility and unique, almost unlimited power with care, fairness, and perseverance and above all, an unshakable commitment to the best obtainable version of the truth, as I’ve often called it, and in doing this, the question of what is news — what is news is perhaps the most important decision we make as reporters, editors, and news executives and never has that question “what is news” been more important to our country and our democracy as during the Trump era. 

While asserting that “no news organization can claim” they’re “perfect,” Bernstein did so with rhetorical thumps of the chest at CNN’s brilliance of having made “choices....about what is news at CNN” were “essential to framing the national debate and produce great stories, analysis, commentary, and on-air controversy.”

In seemingly admitting that CNN makes itself the story, Bernstein defended the approach because, well, it must be done to defeat Trump. And speaking of being hyperbolic, Bernstein denied that happens at CNN because “I cannot remember a period in our national history when the news on a network has been less fake or contrived or rooted in manufactured controversy.”

Go ahead. It’s safe to spit out whatever beverage you’re currently consuming in disgust.

Leading into that CNN hype video, Bernstein ruled that he didn’t “know of a moment that’s more perilous for the country, for reporting, for the truth, and for the First Amendment because that First Amendment and it’s core meaning and what it says about who we are as a people is what our mission is.” 

For example, those who died in the Civil War, the influenza pandemic of 1918, and both World Wars would probably want to comment, but they’re long dead, so Bernstein was free to make this claim to a friendly audience.

When it was Zucker’s turn, he offered many of the same takes that were more poor attempts at seeming humbled. Zucker made the turn to nonsense when he took the first of many shots at the President: “We are here tonight to celebrate the First Amendment and oh, how do we love that First Amendment. If we could, we would kiss it like Donald Trump kissed that flag.”

Zucker offered a brief history lesson about why the First Amendment ended up being first in the Constitution, but that was short-lived as he pivoted to Trump and how the remainder of the speech was about how brilliant both he and Jim Acosta were in suing the White House to get Acosta’s press pass back. 

Here’s one excerpt (click “expand,” emphasis mine):

As we’ve heard here tonight, this is an incredible to be a part of the American media. Not since McCarthy in the 50s and Nixons in the 70s has journalism been so important and, as Carl just said, it has never been better. Whether you like Donald Trump or you dislike Donald Trump, the one thing that I think we can all agree on is Donald Trump has made journalism great again. The other thing we can agree on is the media is not the enemy of the people....Last November, we made the most uncomfortable and easiest decision of my career. We sued the President of the United States for taking away the press credential of our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. All because he didn’t like the question that Jim was asking him. We didn’t pick that fight. We didn’t want that fight. But the decision to fight for our right was easy. The day we allow those in power to determine who gets to ask them questions, what kinds of questions we ask, that is the day that this dinner ceases to exist. Some things are bigger than us. Sometimes, the right thing to do is extremely clear. As you know, we won that case. A judge appointed by Donald Trump restored Jim’s White House credential almost immediately. Today, like every day, Jim was there, asking the questions that still make them uncomfortable, as it should be. We sued the President of the United States because, on that day, it was CNN. But on any other day, it could have been any one of you. 

Give me a break. For CNN, more than any other news organization, they love to be the story with the one likely exception being the despicable mail bomb sent to CNN because, while CNN is made up of goobers, even goobers deserve to be left alone.

That said, the hyperbole and assertion that bashing the press was endangering the lives of journalists were a bit much. Here’s Zucker’s nonsense in all its glory (click “expand,” emphasis mine):

This administration has made it abundantly clear that they do not have respect or tolerance of a free and independent press. They call us the enemy of the people. They limit our access. They selectively grant interviews, most often to outlets that have assured them that they will follow the script. Quite literally, they put our lives at risk with their words and their actions. When they took Jim’s press credential, they were sending the strongest signal yet that they truly did no understand the mandate of a free press. We felt it was our responsibility, on behalf of everyone in the media in this country and around the world to respond. The swift response from the court and ultimately the administration’s capitulation was a good thing. It was the right outcome. The fact that we had to do it all remains troubling. 

There is a long history of those who occupy the great seats of power in this country not agreeing with everything that is said and written about them and I have said many times before, this administration need not like what we say, but they should respect our right to say it. That’s our lawsuit was about. The President has treated our CNN journalists with disrespect on more than one occasion. The name-calling and the insults are sadly something that has become the norm in covering him. We don’t like it and it is wrong. But it will not stop us from doing our jobs. Revoking a press pass does. But that is something that no media organization should ever be okay with. 

We are living in extraordinary times. What we do has never been more important. The First Amendment grants us the right to ask any question we want and that responsibility is not something that should be taken lightly. Suing the White House is not something that should be taken lightly either. I am proud to be part of an organization that was willing to take the bold step that we did.

It should be noted that the First Amendment didn’t just apply to the press. Sure, journalists might state that (and Zucker himself did), but their actions sure seem to reflect otherwise.

And if you weren’t convinced that some journalists have an issue with idolatry, here's a take from master of ceremonies and ABC correspondent Pierre Thomas after Hansen’s speech: “You know, I didn’t know I was going to be prophetic when I say we would have a little First Amendment church tonight, but I think we had a little church tonight.”

To see the relevant transcript from the 2019 RTDNF First Amendment Awards on March 13, click “expand.”

RTDNF First Amendment Awards
March 13, 2019

PIERRE THOMAS [after Dale Hansen’s speech]: You know, I didn’t know I was going to be prophetic when I say we would have a little First Amendment church tonight, but I think we had a little church tonight. 

(....)

CARL BERNSTEIN: Because it’s the press and it’s the First Amendment that right now is protecting this country in the way that no institution or individual in our culture is and so we’re here tonight at a deadly serious moment even as we celebrate. The First Amendment is not a hunting license. It’s not a fishing license. Rather, it demands us to use our enormous constitutional responsibility and unique, almost unlimited power with care, fairness, and perseverance and above all, an unshakable commitment to the best obtainable version of the truth, as I’ve often called it, and in doing this, the question of what is news — what is news is perhaps the most important decision we make as reporters, editors, and news executives and never has that question “what is news” been more important to our country and our democracy as during the Trump era. I’d like to believe that the reason CNN, under the leadership of Jeff Zucker, is receiving this singular honor tonight is that the judges either recognized consciously or unconsciously how much thought and effort and commitment has gone into this network’s decision-making about what is news since January 20, 2017 and how to present it. That decision-making and from what I’ve conceived from my vantage point at CNN, the choices made by virtually every broadcast and producer and journalist covering the Trump presidency, is what has distinguished the network’s coverage day in and day out. This has not been a time for a conventional news mix. 

Rather, the choices made about what is news at CNN have been essential to framing the national debate and produce great stories, analysis, commentary, and on-air controversy? Yes, but it has helped frame this hugely important, crucial to our future in this country debate by our decisions at CNN, by Jeff Zucker’s leadership about what is news. One thing CNN’s decisions have not done is to give its viewers fake news. I cannot remember a period in our national history when the news on a network has been less fake or contrived or rooted in manufactured controversy and my personal belief, based on many conversations with people who have been around Donald Trump for years, is that he understands that and this fact that we are reporting real news which he knows is the source of so much of his rage and demagogy. Yes, we’ve attempted to follow the money and follow the lies, but also to follow the policies and pronouncements and actions of a President in every sphere and always with that goal of the best obtainable version of truth and with another crucial element about what is news — context. Because it’s that gray matter. News isn’t black and white, but it’s in that gray area, in that context area and in our presentation of what our news, often in that gray area that we really inform our readers, our viewers, and those that we serve as journalists. We haven’t been perfect. No news organization can claim that and it would be grandiose to make such a claim in finding the right tone, particularly during this presidency, is a particularly aspect of covering Donald Trump and his White House and his administration. 

No news organization has achieved perfect pitch in this uniquely challenging atmosphere, but everyday, it goes back to deciding what is news and I really believe that CNN has led the way in determining what is real news in this era. At the White House Correspondents Association dinner a while back, Bob Woodward and I spoke and I said that the reporting on this presidency has been the greatest of my lifetime by the greatest number of news organizations. And I think, tonight, is a time that we should remember this moment of being together because I don’t know of a moment, as a journalist, which I’ve been for 55 years, I don’t know of a moment that’s more perilous for the country, for reporting, for the truth, and for the First Amendment because that First Amendment and it’s core meaning and what it says about who we are as a people is what our mission is. Not a hunting license. Not a fishing license. But once again, to determine what it is that we know, through our reporting, through our efforts and perseverance, is the real news. So, under Jeff Zucker and his leadership, I think CNN has grasped something from the beginning about this presidency and about this moment. 

And let’s take a look at the video tape and get an idea — perhaps a little better than what I’ve said, exactly how that’s been accomplished.

[CNN TRIBUTE VIDEO]

Jeff Zucker.

JEFF ZUCKER: Um, Carl, just a minute, but I’d like to know who produced the show? Seriously? I got to follow that? Seriously? I’ll tell you right now. How’s it sound? The Situation Room with Dale Hansen? Okay, I’m going to be in trouble. I’m going to be in trouble. So, okay, never mind that. The Lead with Dale Hansen? Seriously, quadruple whatever it is right now. She’s got it? Okay! Sorry, Dave. I’m sorry, Dave. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Seriously?

Anyway, that was incredible. And Carl, I just want to say having you here tonight for me and for us. The first book I read was All the President’s Men. And the second book I ever read was All the President’s Men and so, like so many people in this room, you are one of main reasons that we all went into journalism, so thank you. 

Now, I recognize that this has been a long evening and I am really the only thing standing between us and having to take four escalators up to the lobby, so I will be brief because so much of have what’s been said here tonight has been so eloquent and I also can tell you I know how thrilled the CNN table is that we were last tonight, so let me start by thanking Radio, TV, and Digital News Foundation for this wonderful honor tonight. I am here tonight representing nearly 4,000 CNN journalists around the world who are the real recipient of this award. As we sit here tonight, they’re in Venezuela, they’re in eastern Syria, they’re in Sudan, they’re in Ethiopia, and they’re a mile down the block at the White House and in everyone of those places, their mandate is the same: to hold those in power accountable and to tell the truth. I could not be prouder of the work they do, so while I am thrilled to accept this honor on their behalf, this recognition belongs to them. Let’s also pay tribute to the recipients here tonight. It is a very special group. We salute those whose lives have been lost and commend those who, everyday, honor their memories by continuing to fight for answers and the truth. To each of the recipients here tonight, congratulations and I especially want to congratulate Shep, who I admire greatly. We are here tonight to celebrate the First Amendment and oh, how do we love that First Amendment. If we could, we would kiss it like Donald Trump kissed that flag. 

But did you ever stop and realize that, if our Founding Fathers had their way, we would be here tonight celebrating the Third Amendment? That’s right, this would be the Third Amendment dinner if Madison had his way. Now, what am I talking about? Go down the street sometime to the National Archives and look at the Constitution in all its glory and you’ll see that the men who understood how important it was to protect a free press actually had the First Amendment as the third amendment to the Constitution. Go look at the document. The first amendments to the United States Constitution dealt with, first, what the size of the Congress would be, and second, how much Congress would be paid. I know what a shock. They were worried first and foremost about their back paychecks even back then. But, as it turned out, the 13 states failed to ratify those first two amendments and thus the third amendment, the one that protects freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble, the third amendment, became the First Amendment. It’s a true story. Go look it up. And it’s that First Amendment that sets this country from every other. It’s the First Amendment that makes us great. 

As we’ve heard here tonight, this is an incredible to be a part of the American media. Not since McCarthy in the 50s and Nixons in the 70s has journalism been so important and, as Carl just said, it has never been better. Whether you like Donald Trump or you dislike Donald Trump, the one thing that I think we can all agree on is Donald Trump has made journalism great again. The other thing we can agree on is the media is not the enemy of the people. At CNN, our core mission is to tell the truth and hold those in power accountable, even when it’s uncomfortable — especially when it’s uncomfortable. Last November, we made the most uncomfortable and easiest decision of my career. We sued the President of the United States for taking away the press credential of our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. All because he didn’t like the question that Jim was asking him. We didn’t pick that fight. We didn’t want that fight. But the decision to fight for our right was easy. The day we allow those in power to determine who gets to ask them questions, what kinds of questions we ask, that is the day that this dinner ceases to exist. Some things are bigger than us. Sometimes, the right thing to do is extremely clear. As you know, we won that case. A judge appointed by Donald Trump restored Jim’s White House credential almost immediately. Today, like every day, Jim was there, asking the questions that still make them uncomfortable, as it should be. We sued the President of the United States because, on that day, it was CNN. But on any other day, it could have been any one of you. 

This administration has made it abundantly clear that they do not have respect or tolerance of a free and independent press. They call us the enemy of the people. They limit our access. They selectively grant interviews, most often to outlets that have assured them that they will follow the script. Quite literally, they put our lives at risk with their words and their actions. When they took Jim’s press credential, they were sending the strongest signal yet that they truly did no understand the mandate of a free press. We felt it was our responsibility, on behalf of everyone in the media in this country and around the world to respond. The swift response from the court and ultimately the administration’s capitulation was a good thing. It was the right outcome. The fact that we had to do it all remains troubling. There is a long history of those who occupy the great seats of power in this country not agreeing with everything that is said and written about them and I have said many times before, this administration need not like what we say, but they should respect our right to say it. That’s our lawsuit was about. The President has treated our CNN journalists with disrespect on more than one occasion. The name-calling and the insults are sadly something that has become the norm in covering him. We don’t like it and it is wrong. But it will not stop us from doing our jobs. Revoking a press pass does. But that is something that no media organization should ever be okay with. 

We are living in extraordinary times. What we do has never been more important. The First Amendment grants us the right to ask any question we want and that responsibility is not something that should be taken lightly. Suing the White House is not something that should be taken lightly either. I am proud to be part of an organization that was willing to take the bold step that we did. I want to take this opportunity to also thank every organization here tonight for supporting us through that. We must all always stand up for the First Amendment, even if it was originally third. Thank you very much.


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