The media today: CNN’s Santorum ‘controversy’ shows the worst of cable news

The dumbest controversy of the week began Sunday, when former Pennsylvania Senator and CNN contributor Rick Santorum responded to Saturday’s national gun control demonstrations. “How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that,” Santorum said on CNN’s State of the Union.

This comment, patently ridiculous on its face, wouldn’t be worth mentioning if not for the fact that it, and the response to it, crystallizes one of the worst things about cable news. With the 24-hour news cycle demanding a constant stream of content, Santorum’s comment warranted a write-up on CNN’s website. The next day, the network invited David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland shooting who has become one of the most visible advocates of gun control, and his sister Lauren on air to rebut Santorum’s suggestion. The content mill churned on.

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Santorum’s initial comments received immediate pushback on State of the Union, and The Washington Post rounded up commentary from doctors arguing against his suggestion. Santorum also earned opprobrium from CNN’s own journalists, with White House Reporter Kaitlin Collins writing simply, “I cannot get over how stupid this is.” The Hollywood Reporter’s Jeremy Barr pointed out the way CNN milked the comments for content, tweeting Monday, “CNN now having commentators discussing the dumbass comments made by a contributor yesterday. A virtuous content circle.”

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CNN isn’t alone in its willingness to give airtime to contributors making asinine suggestions, but, perhaps because the network casts itself as the serious voice above the partisan fray, comments made on its shows garner outsized anger. When people get frustrated by the shallowness of cable news, this is the sort of thing they’re talking about: a “controversy” sparked by a network contributor, numerous segments discussing said controversy, and two days of content to feed the beast.

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Below, more on the reaction to Santorum’s comments and the state of cable news.

 

Other notable stories

  • Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera goes in on Alden Global Capital’s mismanagement of newspapers that the hedge fund has purchased. Focusing on Alden Global President Heath Freeman, Nocera writes: “In this view, his papers are intended not so much to inform the public or hold officialdom to account, but to supply cash for Freeman to use elsewhere. His layoffs aren’t just painful. They are savage.”
  • Liberia’s decision to ban female genital cutting was a triumph for local journalism. For CJR, Mae Azango and Prue Clarke describe their efforts to focus the country’s attention on the issue, and the threats they received in taking on powerful forces in traditional society.
  • The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reports the strange decision by American Media Inc., the company run by Trump friend David Pecker, to publish a glossy, ad-free magazine celebrating Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis say they don’t know anything about it, and AMI insists that it received “no outside editorial or financial assistance, from the Trump administration or otherwise.”
  • Politico’s Michael Calderone reports that Tanzina Vega, formerly of The New York Times and CNN, will be the new host of The Takeaway. She takes over the nationally syndicated radio show following the dismissal of John Hockenberry, who was accused last year of sexual harassment.
  • Facebook has had privacy scandals before, but BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel says the Cambridge Analytica revelations are different. “It’s a moment that forces us, collectively, to step back and think about what we sacrificed for a more convenient and connected world,” he writes.
  • Great piece by the San Jose Mercury-News’s Daniel Brown: What’s it like when your competition is also your wife? Brown’s spouse Susan Slusser is the legendary Oakland A’s beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, and he sums up their rivalry with an example from competing stories on a Johnny Damon trade several years ago: “His: ‘Damon could not be reached for comment.’ Hers: ‘Damon, speaking by phone from Hawaii where he is on vacation, said he was excited to come to Oakland.’”

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.