CNN should never have made the exception. But that’s only the tip of the what’s-wrong-with-the-news-media-today iceberg.
For those who have been living under a rock or, perhaps for those in New Jersey set to go before the Board of Public Utilities (see The Watch List, below), here’s what you’ve missed: The Cuomo brothers have had better days. So, too, CNN.
Now, as political issues continue to mount and those around him make a run for the hills, Andrew is under intense media scrutiny. Rightly so. If you question whether that’s fair, remember elected officials are public figures. Media scrutiny is part of what they signed up for. That said, such scrutiny should abide by the highest journalistic standards. Cheap shots may be tempting but, ultimately, they hurt a news outlet’s credibility.
It’s the younger brother who gets our attention. For a long time, CNN had a rule in place that barred Chris from interviewing Andrew, under the category of conflict of interest. That’s standard policy. It’s meant to ensure viewers at home don’t end up talking back to the television, frustrated by — in this case — one brother interviewing another and wondering whether or not they should believe what they are seeing. Is it spin? A publicity stunt? Both? Even if such an interview doesn’t actually rise to the level of conflict of interest, the optics surrounding it are bad. Very bad. CNN relaxed the restriction to allow the brothers to talk about the pandemic, which actually did have news value, but it got lost in brotherly banter that, while amusing, resulted in many Americans muttering at their television screens. Very bad optics? Very, very yes.
Small wonder Chris Cuomo is now getting lambasted for his announcement he won’t be covering his brother on his show going forward. Some of the criticism is deserved. But big picture? It’s the right decision. It’s also the right decision for CNN to continue to cover the New York state governor and follow the story, wherever it goes.
Now let’s zoom out even farther, beyond the news media bubble’s comfort zone: The hard truth about credibility is that it requires sacrifice. Journalists who place a premium on credibility don’t tweet personal opinions, and they don’t play journalist one minute, and talk-show host the next minute. (Larry King was most notable for correcting people when they erroneously referred to him as a journalist.) Old-school journalism professors would explain that any connection journalists form may ultimately cause them to have their credibility questioned. Such a “connection” ranged from membership in an organization to stock holdings, to political party affiliations. In fact, lots of old-time chatter focused on whether or not a journalist should even vote, as that, too, could ultimately call credibility into question.
Maybe 2021 will be the year the new breed in news media finally comes to terms with the concept that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
The Watch List
Zoom Time in New Jersey: The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has announced that residents with Altice/Optimum complaints may speak during its March 16 meeting, which will be a Zoom call at 10 a.m. The public hearing is the result of complaints regarding a lack of customer service and reliable connectivity that have emanated from about a dozen towns in Jersey.
FCC Approves Subsidies: The FCC has earmarked $3.2 billion to subsidize broadband costs for low-income households to ensure they have internet access for things like remote schooling and access to healthcare. Those families living on Native American lands may qualify for up to $75 a month in subsidies, while others may qualify for up to $50 a month. There’s also a one-time discount of up to $100 to qualifying households to purchase a computer. The program is expected to open in 60 days, but first the FCC has to sign up broadband providers to participate in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
In summing up our work and careers today, only Winston Churchill comes to mind: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Businesses of all sizes have been in distress due to the pandemic, the economic outlook is bleak and everyone, it seems, is spoiling for a fight. How to get back to business, restore reputations, and rebuild? Master communicators break it down: Abbey Collins oversees communications for the largest regional public transportation provider in the Western Hemisphere. Jennefer Witter and her firm are nationally recognized for knowing how to create a buzz. Katherine Heaviside is president of Epoch 5 Public Relations and a noted expert in crisis management. Moderated by Diane Masciale, Vice President & General Manager,WLIW21/WLIW-FM & Co-Executive in Charge, ALL ARTS, WNET. (Fair Media Council’s The News Conference: Real & Powerful 2021)