But Enough About You, Let’s Talk About Me

CJR Daily often faults cable news shows for not giving viewers enough information — skimping on context, allowing talking points to go unchallenged, simplifying complex issues. Yesterday, however, CNN provided too much information.

They aired their own dirty laundry — literally.

“Live From” anchor Kyra Phillips took viewers yesterday afternoon on an excessively long and detailed tour of CNN’s makeshift New Orleans bureau, pointing out — as the camera zoomed in tight — plastic bags of dirty clothing piled up outside of the RVs where CNN’s Big Easy-based employees are currently living. “This is just a small example of all the laundry that needs to be washed,” Phillips explained. “You can just imagine where it’s been in the past couple of weeks.”

The next stop on the tour was the generator (“The big, uh, green box you see back there…pretty amazing”) followed by the supply center and the snack area (“Everything is canned. Canned tuna fish…a lot of power bars…I’ll tell you one thing we cannot live without and that’s anti-bacterial things for wiping our hands…Dum-dums [holds up a bag of lollipops] and, uh…plastic gloves…Peanuts, soup, canned beans, spam. I didn’t go there.”)

Then, Phillips barged in on startled colleagues in the cramped temporary newsroom — “What are you working on?” she asked one of them — and pointed out for viewers key equipment such as the coffee maker. Next Phillips bantered with Betty Nguyn back in the studio in Atlanta who observed that reporters had to eat “tuna fish day after day after day and, of course, it doesn’t compare to what people have lost but when trying to cover a story it’s so important to make sure you’re well fed.” Phillips concurred — “We have to keep healthy so we can continue to cover all these stories” — after sharing with viewers that “of course we couldn’t take a shower for a long time. We were able to take our first shower a couple of days ago…”

So what prompted the tour? “We’ve been talking so much about the people of New Orleans and getting back into their homes and getting business up and running,” Phillips explained. “We’ve been talking about all the players here with regard to the joint task force, dealing with health issues, security issues, but we haven’t really talked about CNN…”

We’re all for news organizations pulling back the curtain from time to time and showing viewers how the news is made — especially under trying conditions. But CNN “talk[ing] about CNN” for over six minutes — an eternity on TV — qualifies as TMI.

But CNN wasn’t just talking about itself yesterday. It was also talking to itself — in the form of anchor Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room,” interviewing Ted Turner (the man who founded CNN and still sits on the board of CNN’s parent company).” Why? Apparently because he has lots of opinions on the news of the day (or, in Blitzer’s words: “War and peace, uniting nations at the U.N. and the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, all topics in the news right now and all subjects my next guest has some views on.”)

Perhaps the news hook was that Turner announced — almost two weeks ago — that he would donate $1 million to the Red Cross to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina, which Turner reminded us of right out of the gate. Or perhaps Turner’s recent travels to North Korea made him an attractive guest on a day when that country was in the news (Blitzer and Turner locked horns on this topic, with Turner suggesting that Blitzer visit the country “maybe on [his] vacation” before he presumes to talk about it). And although Turner did plug CNN once — at one point he noted that the victims of the hurricane that hit Galveston, Texas in 1900 “didn’t have nearly as good a communication system…they didn’t have CNN” — even he eventually tired of talking about the news channel that he created, as evidenced by his somewhat testy answer to Blitzer’s final softball.

Blitzer:: “When you created CNN in 1980, did you think of CNN doing the kind of work that we’ve been doing?”

Turner: Of course.

Blitzer: Was that part of your vision?

Turner: Of course. I mean, what were we going to do if we’re on 24 hours a day? We were going to follow big stories until people lost interest in them.

Which, if the “big story” is CNN, was several minutes prior.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.