Saturday, January 27, 2007

Network Rivalry

NYT - Rivals CNN and Fox News Spar Over Obama Report

Insight - Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background



After reading the NYT article, I began wondering to myself, what would be the most professional way to criticize a competitor on national television?

To give a brief history of what happened between CNN and Fox News:
Fox News reported on something they found from an online, conservative magazine called Insight. The magazine alleged that Sen. Obama had attended a madrassa ( "a school that teaches a radical version of the Muslim faith," according to the NYT article) when he was a child in Indonesia. Insight claimed that researches connected to Sen. Hillary Clinton had discovered the news. The Insight article pits Clinton against Obama and would be a big story, if it were, in fact, true. CNN sent its own reporters over to the school to find that it has no religious affiliation. In addition, Senators Obama and Clinton both rejected the Insight report as false. CNN U.S. Pres. Jon Klein said its report was not a response to Fox. But after its version of the report came out, anchors Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper criticized the journalistic practices of Fox right on air.

No, Fox News did not practice good journalism when they failed to verify the facts from the rumors. They apparently attributed everything they knew to the Insight report. This kind of critical mistake easily can lead to another "Richard Jewell fiasco," but luckily for Sen. Obama, it seems that his bid for the 2008 Presidential election seems to still be in tact.

CNN did a great job of finding out the truth, but was it really necessary to rub the nose of Fox News into the ground? It was very unprofessional of Blitzer and Cooper to have that sort of critical banter about its leading competitor on television. It also undermines the credibility of the network. Why? Because it makes it seem like CNN's report was, indeed, just a way to "get back" at a rival network. It wasn't driven by a search for the truth. Instead, CNN was motivated to prove Fox wrong. Now, while CNN did find out the truth, it doesn't make me feel good as a news consumer that good reporting can only come about when "one-upping" a rival is the motivating factor.

A bit more professional conduct was needed here in this situation. Fox News didn't do its homework before reporting the story. Yet CNN was like a child that tattled to the world, "Fox doesn't know what it's doing. You should watch us instead."

So to answer my initial question, there is no professional way to criticize a competitor in any medium. Sure, call them on it by presenting a full and accurate report of your own; that is more than enough to establish more credibility to your network and to destroy the credibility of another. But it isn't necessary to air your dirty laundry to your audience.

We're professionals, not children. Come on, people.

CY

2 Comments:

At Sunday, January 28, 2007, Anonymous VLD said...

Great post, CY! Fox and CNN often act like two toddlers in a small room with one very cool toy.

Displaying your juvenilia on air is sick, but I even have a problem with how invested (almost) any given news outlet is in out-newsing its competitors.

Do you gals remember the early December Loop office shooting where a patent attorney was killed? I was interning at one of the lower-ranked stations in the city when it broke, and the producers immediately turned to Channel 7. As 7 broke great new information (and we got old facts wrong), our producers sat around and snappishly criticized 7's coverage.

I think journalists ought to take more pride in our own coverage and look to our competitors as models for improvement. Let the station managers worry about ratings.

 
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