If you follow my Twitter feed, you know that I often have critical words to say about CNN. Based on my tweets alone, you might reasonably conclude that I hate the network.
The truth is I don’t. I’m just bitterly disappointed in what the network has become. CNN’s decline has occurred at the exact moment that a solid news—not opinion—network is needed most.
There’s a vital need for a cable news channel that aims down the middle and gets it right. CNN should be the network that meets that need. Instead, it’s too often filled with silly and completely unnecessary graphics of holograms (really), silly and completely unnecessary over-coverage of “breaking” stories (such as the hours-long broadcast following the arrival of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship), and, worst of all, incorrect reporting.
CNN has had its credibility shattered in recent years. Its reputation took a bad hit in 1998, when the network claimed that U.S. troops committed war crimes during Operation Tailwind, a covert incursion that occurred during the Vietnam War. The network retracted the report.
In 2000, the network suffered another black eye by calling the presidential race incorrectly. More recently, CNN said that Gabrielle Giffords had died (she didn’t), that the Supreme Court overturned ObamaCare (it didn’t), and that Ryan Lanza was the Newtown shooter (he wasn’t – it was his brother, Adam).
But CNN’s misreporting in April about the Boston Marathon bombings may have been its lowest moment, compounding the network’s growing reputation for blowing the big story.
At the time of this report, no arrest had been made—correspondent John King made these comments before the manhunt in Watertown, Mass., that led to the death of one suspect and the capture of another.
King didn’t stop there. He also described the suspect as a “dark-skinned male,” which turned out to a questionable description—and was probably too vague to warrant mention at all.
John King later acknowledged his mistake and described his agony over getting it wrong. But CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker seemed not to care. He sent his staff a tone-deaf and congratulatory statement on their wonderful coverage of the bombing:
“For journalists like each of us, these are the times that define what we do and why we do it. All of you, across every division of CNN Worldwide, have done exceptional work. And when we made a mistake, we moved quickly to acknowledge it and correct it.”
Zucker is right that these are the times that define what they do. It’s just that his rose-colored definition is wrong. Although many of CNN’s reporters and correspondents reported parts of the story well, their successes were drowned out by their mistakes.
It’s true that other news organizations botched this story (and some others I mentioned in this piece), but I don’t expect more from many of those outlets. I do expect more from CNN. For that reason, I’m naming CNN’s misreporting the worst video media disaster of the month.
Brad Phillips is the author of “The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.” He blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared.