By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
11:50 AM EDT, July 17, 2013
Once again, as he did with the BP oil spill, Anderson Cooper rises to the top on a big story.
And, man, is the actual journalism he's been doing at CNN this week needed now, in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, as MSNBC and Fox sink deeper into their ideological swamps.
Early Sunday morning as I hip shot a post on the immediate coverage following the late Saturday-night verdict, I was depressed by the polarizing onscreen tableau I had been seeing of MSNBC's Al Sharpton on one side calling the verdict an "atrocity" and Fox's Geraldo Rivera on the other saying essentially that Zimmerman should never have been tried for the death of Trayvon Martin.
What a sad cable TV spectacle. I refrained from wondering online what effect it might have on the emotions of some viewers. Media had already done enough to stir rather than try to calm the waters.
And all week, while MSNBC and Fox have been relentlessly stirring the emotional pot, CNN and Cooper have been gathering some actual news and information and bringing it to the public.
It seems as if everyone has seen or heard and parsed and critiqued Cooper's exclusive interview with one of the jurors Monday night, a woman identified as B37. He did a great job of giving viewers a glimpse into her thinking and what she describes as the thinking of some of her mates during their deliberations -- a great job. And he followed it up with an informed "town hall" Tuesday night.
I wondered as I watched Chris Matthews' "Hardball" Tuesday night on MSNBC, for example, if the host realized how much of a journalistic jackal he was, feeding off the remains of an interview that a real journalist had gained.
Check out the video of his portentous introduction to Tuesday's show, and note how he doesn't mention until more than two minutes into it that the interview he is talking about took place on CNN.
In that sense, Matthews is not alone -- far from it. That is what virtually all the folks at MSNBC and some of the hosts at Fox News now do. That's the definition today of advocacy and ideological cable TV "news." Forget the "lean forward" motto. The MSNBC motto should be: We don't spend the money or make the effort to gather real news and information. We sit on our butts and gas bag about it, whether we know or not.
Fox is just as bad. But let's save that critique for another post later this week. This one is already getting too long for our mosquito-brain attention span in this fabulous era of 140-character media criticism and cultural critique.
One last thing I do have to note is the hustle and effort put out by CNN's Piers Morgan and his producers in gaining an interview with George Zimmerman's brother. It aired Saturday night right after the verdict.
And then, Morgan came back Monday night with Rachel Jeantel, the young woman Martin was talking to on the phone shortly before he was killed. Among the many media jackals feeding off the Jeantel interview Tuesday was radio's Rush Limbaugh.
Say what you will about Morgan's style of interviewing, he's the guy who got the two interviews.
I am one of the folks who have said since the day CNN hired him that I didn't think Morgan was the best choice. But he looks like a very good choice for the job now, based on the way he and his producers hit the ground running on this story -- and kept going.
Good for them, good for CNN and good for its viewers who are getting information instead of advocacy, spin and propaganda when there is news that matters.
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