Which network was it that was accused of broadcasting opinion journalism masquerading as news?
On Friday, during the “CNN Newsroom” hour, the network broadcast a story of the White House’s use of Hollywood to promote national service. Your humble Big Hollywood contributor was interviewed for this “news” segment.
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Their conclusion: 1) promoting volunteerism is a pretty benign message, and 2) Presidents throughout history have also promoted volunteerism so this White House Hollywood effort is nothing new.
After coming to these two conclusions, the host Rick Sanchez asked the reporter Brooke Anderson, “What is the threshold then…at what point do we get past that slippery slope when now we’re going to be taking orders from the Commander-in-Chief and we in Hollywood have to be the ones that deliver that order?”
Anderson responded: “Glenn Beck compared it to Mao’s Communist China, so some do feel it has already slid on that slippery slope and gotten past the threshold. But I want to mention Rick that plenty of past American Presidents have encouraged community service and volunteerism.” Anderson then goes on to give examples of both Bush 41 and Bush 43 promoting service.
The reporters, however, failed to highlight key information that I provided which takes this national service campaign out of the “benign” category.
When I was interviewed by CNN, I too made the point that promoting volunteerism is a noble effort that has been undertaken by Presidents throughout history. However, when pressed by the reporter on the “threshold” question, I provided clear examples as to why Big Hollywood was troubled by the White House’s national service campaign.
First, we were concerned that the White House, through the Entertainment Industry Foundation, was asking TV shows to infuse specific issues, including health, energy, and the environment, into their show story plots at a time when these issues are being vehemently debated nationally.
At no time throughout the report did CNN make any mention of the EIF memo encouraging TV shows to “organically” include these issues into their show story plots. The inclusion of these issues within the memo was a very important fact and a big reason why we even decided to discuss our concerns about this volunteerism effort. We even gave CNN the example of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” a show that signed on to the EIF volunteerism campaign, which was an entire episode devoted to advocating for universal health insurance. Not including this policy advocacy example and the issues mentioned in the memo was irresponsible at best.
The second concern that was mentioned during my interview was the partisan nature of the White House’s volunteerism effort. During the interview I mentioned that if you search the term “Republican” on Serve.gov, you receive a paltry 2 pages of opportunities, many of which are Democrat cause opportunities that have the word Republican somewhere in the text. However, if you search “Democrat” you receive 20 pages of opportunities, the maximum number of pages that will display for any search term (meaning there are probably many more than 20 pages). Any balanced reporting on the White House’s volunteerism effort would have shown that egregious disparity.
They also did not include additional information tying the government to this iParticipate campaign.
In the segment, CNN provided an unattributed statement from the White House as follows: “The iParticipate program is being run independently of the administration and isn’t asking Americans to participate in any one activity.”
If iParticipate is run independently of the administration, how does the White House know what it is and is not asking of Americans?
When I was asked by CNN to provide information linking the government to the iParticipate campaign, I gave them no shortage of connections. I provided the video of the First Lady announcing the iParticipate campaign, which they showed, but I also provided a link on Serve.gov (a government site) that has an entire section devoted to how to pitch iParticipate to the media as well as links to press releases (here and here) that indicated that the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency in charge of promoting national service, worked with the EIF on this campaign. The memo itself references President Obama’s call to service in the first sentence and asked the TV networks to address the same issues that the administration highlighted as the primary issues for the recovery effort.
Did CNN follow up with the White House or the EIF, who also denied a collaborative effort, with any of the above evidence that shows the government’s role? If they did, it wasn’t included in the segment.
Yes Mr. Sanchez and Ms. Anderson, promoting volunteerism is a pretty benign message that has been undertaken by Presidents of both parties. But asking the TV networks to infuse specific issues into their show story plots – issues that are being debated vehemently nationally – is not a benign activity. The EIF memo shows this specific encouragement and we have given the links tying this effort to our government. You showed no evidence of a connection between past government themed films that you gave viewers, yet you held them up as if they were the same as this effort. By not providing the above information you did not give the full story to your viewers.
Lately, there has been much discussion of a certain network’s “opinion journalism masquerading as news.” I think it is fair to say that both Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck’s shows are completely in the open with their perspective. The same cannot be said regarding this CNN “Newsroom” report.