Monday, September 19, 2011

CNN's Abysmal Coverage of 9/11 Memorial

CNN's coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 looked pretty incompetent. Ten years ago CNN was live on the air showing the events as they unfolded. It was unscripted television. Live, on the air, the second plane hit the building. All of it was made to order for CNN's style: point and shoot. I remember when the first tower collapsed. It wasn't clear in their shot. It was just a lot of smoke. CNN didn't quickly report that it had collapsed. I was looking at the top, blue sky. Still, it felt like I needed some kind of confirmation of such a huge event. I think I remember them talking about explosions and smoke. Then it came. I had seen what I thought were people jumping earlier without CNN telling me. It's very easy to forgive mistakes in coverage of something fluid. "It appears to be..." is appropriate and verification is obviously important.

 The first words from CNN at the beginning of the ceremony are incorrect, "Let's listen in as the haunting sound of bagpipers go by the reflecting pool..." says Anderson Cooper as the who knows where they are from bagpipers play a drum march. No bagpipes. Reading the side of the base drums are the only clue we get. Yet "they" are referenced walking past the memorial. No bagpipes being played, just drums. The ceremony is announced that will include "some entertainment" like "eggo ma (?) will be here" and the names read. I never saw this guys name in print but he seemed like a classical sort of guy by his name. Apparently we will see "some politicians" but not with "political remarks." But didn't I just see the President and maybe a former President walk by? Who knows? If I'm tuning in late, I am completely lost lost by now. "The bagpipers" later play their bagpipes along with their drums but they are never announced. That little bar at the bottom does it's work every now and then. Rudolph Guliani? is not announced, you hopefully, just know. President Obama is not announced, Mayor Bloomberg does make the blue bar at the bottom of the screen in the last 6 words of his comments. No name readers are ever credited as they read off the names of the dead. No research is done for any of this. Nothing is set up so that they can display the family member's names. A mysterious cellist plays in the background, perhaps that "eggo" guy. I didn't really catch his name back when he was one of the "entertainment."

Then the reading of the names is turned down in volume and the viewer hears "So you have watched until the beginning of the reading of then names and, eh eh eh, and Anderson, it's hard to say you love this part of it..." Love this part??? This lady who we must know by her voice, is clearly as unprepared as is Anderson Cooper. They weave words together on the spot, and rely on interviews with others who actually made the effort to be prepared about what they are going to say like Drew Griffin from CNN, with a special on CNN to pitch, who actually made the blue bar. I'm not saying this needs to be scripted like a Thanksgiving Parade, just competently researched.Then the viewer is back to the names for a moment of silence. So far the silences are ironically handled the best. A camera flashes around and I think I see President Bush in the blur. Yes, that is the voice of Bush. We are watching the monument or buildings or long shots. But finally he appears on the screen too quickly for the blue bar guy. The pool cameras seem to know what they are doing finding Peter Negron's name on the monument as his boy speaks just before CNN can find the boy's name for the blue bar. You can imagine CNN's director saying, wait, what was that guy's name, how do you spell it? And then I wonder if the anchors just missed Bush and Obama because the only announcement of them was of "some politicians." I guess "some politicians" need no introduction.

Wolf Blitzer is stationed at the Pentagon with statistics with lots of numbers and dutifully announces all of the politicians who will be there. Wolf is used to reporting like this: blunt, deadpan, but he gets the facts right. Then we go back to New York, the blue bar awakens for a moment to introduce who is speaking "Ari Fleischer" and then "John Miller"  and Mary Matlin. Did someone get to the blue bar guy and give him a good shake? Here we find out there is a way to do a spit screen to show us more than one thing at a time. A general discussion takes place that could be done any day, on any show. I really could go on, but I know you would prefer me not to.

James Taylor sings and we barely get a 5 10 second glimpse of him at tbe beginning of the song. The camera's appear to be covering the action in the scene of panning across the skyline of New York. Odd views of people standing are patched together. When Paul Simon sings later, instead of showing the emotion in his eyes as he sings "Sounds of Silence" probably for the first time on his own, I don't know. We see a few seconds of him here and there. The blue bar guy is awake enough to introduce him and we get treated to a collage of pool feed shots designed to make this appear as a music video. The power of Pual Simon's song was amazing when I later viewed it on a Facebook feed from an international channel. CNN likes to show the skyline.

I admit I saw this abysmal coverage coming early on before the official ceremony began when the President and the first lady, and the former President and first lady stood at the monument in silence. They turned and to shake hands with people that were lined up behind them. There was surely some way to get advance notification of events and people but CNN covered it there was a pregnant moment of silence as the two Presidents coming down the line shaking hands with the unknown people before us: "I... I'm assuming, Anderson, that what we are looking are the two, one former President and the current President, greeting some of the family members that have been involved, and a lot of them have been, in putting, not only..uh..just this day, but this site back together again and that balance you talked about earlier." Anderson interrupts: "that's -intelligible- Lee Ioppi(?) one of the fathers of the firefighters lost..." Thankfully Anderson Cooper recognizes someone and we don't have to work totally on assumptions. This was a planned ceremony, that went off beautifully. CNN's hack job made it appear amateurish.
I'm saddened because I really would like CNN to be the news organization it thinks it is, but it is lazy. With the alternative for viewers being Fox News (who showed pretty much every moment of Paul Simon's emotional song, albeit on a split screen) I really really don't want CNN to be lazy but they have been from the beginning. This was a giant ratings day and they couldn't even do it competently. They had forever to prepare, forever to get the details they needed to do a good broadcast. Possibly the director of the show was having a mental breakdown, but I doubt it.

CNN has pretty much always been a point and shoot network, and if they want to be anything else, they need to fire the director who liked to see the skyline of New York over events actually happening and get someone competant. They probably need to hire a few real newscasters who get what's happening in front of them. Soon I will have a Television Blog and show some CNN stuff that will help in an understanding of where CNN was pre-Gulf War as opposed to where it is now. News lost, personalities won.

I guess my dissapointment with CNN comes from a lot of different angles. CNN developed the idea of covering an event unedited, live. It was fresh but seemed to only work when there was actually a live event to cover. So they changed. Fox News came later claiming CNN had lost this live stuff somewhere along the way and came on blazing (with very little money, like CNN in the early days) and showed things unedited and live. I remember it as being refreshing having two channels to choose from. CNN had gone for less news in favor of nightly segments of opinion or Larry King. When an event was large, these shows would still air but they would have them change format to fit the event. Fox used the slogan "We report, you decide" to describe their new way of doing things, actually CNN's old way. They wouldn't provide commentary like CNN and would just report the news. Yes this is completely ironic and I was surprised to know they still use that slogan once in a while. It's more like "We decide what the news is, comment on it, and you follow."

CNN is much different. They are as incompetant as they ever were. One very obvious veteran news anchor reported the news at some morning hour. It was actual news. When I finally find the video I'm thinking of, you will see (if you follow my TV blog when I get time to do this) how he clashed with the new idea of pretty faces and news as entertainment. He was old and ugly, demanded verification, thrrew fits in the newsroom, and wanting to be the journalist he had always been. He did not fit into the world of news on the cheap, designed for maximum ratings at minimum cost. Entertainment. Of course Fox's short skirted women are the epitome of this, but CNN was the first to go the way of the local news smiley faces. They blazed the trail that Fox followed as it did less news and more right wing opinion.

There are a lot of right wingnut types where I live and they often call CNN the "Communist News Network." Actually, they are too incompetant to hold an agenda. In the spirit of how we percieve Communists as been inefficient and covering up things with gloss, I must agree.