CNN’s Brian Stelter loves to play the silly game of denying CNN is anything like Fox News in terms of shoveling opinions. He even plays it with children.
I just came across a July 21 YouTube interview Stelter did with a high-schooler named Ryan Anastasio, who seems like an earnest lover of news. But even teens can sense the opinionators. Ryan asked first if news consumers could learn more from newspaper than television. (Yes.) He even said you’d learn more from the broadcast networks. But then the game begins.
ANASTASIO: Would you agree with that assertion that you could probably learn more of what’s going on with the news from either reading the newspaper, or watching maybe the nightly news?
STELTER: I think it depends on what program you’re talking about. I think cable news is too broad a brush for a conversation about, you know, what amount of content, what amount of information. There are some cable-news shows that are almost purely entertainment. Talk shows that only bring on one side [like Stelter’s?], you know, ranting and raving about made-up controversies. And of course, I’m talking about Fox when I say that. There are cable-news shows that interview newsmakers and world leaders –
The kid interrupts, thinks this isn’t right.
ANASTASIO: You think CNN does that, too?
STELTER: Uhhh – well, what shows are you talking about?
ANASTASIO: At times, you do have some very opinion-based shows at night time, like you do at Fox.
STELTER: So which ones?
ANASTASIO: I’d argue probably Cuomo Prime Time, Don Lemon. I wouldn’t say those are more news – I’d say a lot of them are more opinion-based shows, wouldn’t you agree?
STELTER: I think those are newscasts that have opinionated voices on them. [!] But I agree that these definitions, these terms sometimes feel outdated in a 2020 news environment, like ‘newscast’ versus ‘opinion show.’ I don’t know if that’s necessarily the best divide to describe what’s on cable TV these days.
Stelter then tries to claim they're "opinion shows" because they interview people with opinions.
STELTER: I’m not saying I have a better set of terms, but I think, you know, there are a bunch of cable newscasts, news programs, that are just newscasts. But then, most of them are more in between, right? A typical hour will have correspondents, but also analysts, which is more of a news analyst assessing what’s going on, and then commentators, which is getting a lot more towards opinion. And then a politician or two, which clearly you’re getting a partisan opinion from a politician. And then maybe an advocacy group CEO or something, clearly an opinion position, arguing for a point of view. And I think a typical hour has all of that, or many of those aspects. So then what do you call that show?
I often say that cable news is really, it’s best to think of it as a talk show about the news. Like meaning the 24/7 day of cable news, pick any channel, it’s a rolling talk show about the news.
This is where Stelter admits CNN isn't really TV news, it's TV talk, just as he was forced to admit it by Ezra Klein of Vox, after employing the same clueless-about-CNN defense.
Stelter then admits CNN anchors issue opinionated "monologues," but that's a "necessary addition" to respond to Trump "lying and bullshit."
STELTER: And what I would say is on days when something terrible or wonderful is happening, you know, a royal wedding or a mass shooting, you’re gonna get raw, straight news coverage, right? Think about when it’s reporters on for hours, no commentators. And then other days, when there’s not as much urgently breaking, you’re gonna get a lot more commentators, you’re gonna get a lot more opinion, talk about the news. I think that makes sense, that back and forth makes sense about what is a priority. Like right now, think about CNN in July 2020. It is just like wall-to-wall doctors, nurses, health experts, you know, pandemic coverage. That’s exactly what we should be right now. By 10 or 11 pm, yeah, you are gonna get some opinion voices as well, trying to call out the Trump administration’s failures, and that’s totally appropriate in my view, because it’s a rolling talk show about the news.
But then I think what happens is, to your point about Cuomo, who brings on these big newsmakers. If you’re booking newsmakers, if you’re booking mayors or governors, or senators, you’re gonna get a lot of opinion out of them. But I would argue that their opinions are also news. So then is it a newscast or an opinion show? That’s what I mean.
And let me add one more thought to that, which is that I think sometimes people think about, when they say CNN has more point of view, CNN has more opinion now, they’re talking about the monologues that the anchors are doing, is that what you’re referring to, the essays that the anchors are doing?
STELTER: I think the essays are one of the big changes at CNN during the Trump years. And I think they are a necessary addition, to reply to all the lying and bullshit, the indecency that’s going on. Think about it this way. If President Trump didn’t lie for a week, he just told the truth, tried to play it straight, focused on the pandemic, didn’t you know – there probably wouldn’t be a lot of monologues and essays, I mean, there would be on other topics. You know, I would not be as compelled on my show to saying he’s in denial about the pandemic. And so, you know, the reason I start my show that way is I feel like I need to lay it out for the viewer, and show them what soundbites and proof and evidence of what’s wrong, what’s going on. And I think sometimes the best way to do that is an essay, or is a monologue. It’s kind of like a newspaper column. I think of these monologues a lot like they’re a newspaper column, like a Gail Collins or a Peggy Noonan or – it’s the newspaper columnist tradition brought to TV.
Why can't Stelter start by admitting the obvious, then, instead of pretending he doesn't know CNN is a Trump-bashing "Essay" network?