Tom Shales, television editor and chief television critic for The Washington Post, reports that CNN’s credibility might be shrinking these days.
“If the fumbling, bumbling and obfuscating continues,” writes Shales, “CNN will find itself being snidely referred to again as ’Chicken Noodle News.’ … People are laughing at it again, and some pointing with alarm.
Shales admits he has a friend at the network who is involved in a contract dispute, but writes “the other events are unrelated and would make me wary even if I knew no one at the network personally.”
It started on CBS, with David Letterman’s “Late Show” clip of George W. Bush making a speech in Orlando.
According to Nikki Finke of the LA Weekly, “During their work week, executive producer Rob Burnett and his octet of writers often begin their morning by wondering, What’s George W. doing today? So they glance through his schedule and look for an interesting presidential public appearance. Then they contact CBS News or the local affiliate for the Bush raw footage and examine it in a process that often induces stupefying boredom. ’We start out having no idea it will yield anything,’ Burnett tells L.A. Weekly. ’We put it on only if it’s funny. It’s not, ’Oh, it’s Wednesday and we need Bush footage.’”
That day, footage yielded Tyler Crotty, son of the county Republican Party chairman.
“Crotty yawned, squirmed, checked his watched, wiggled and wriggled,” writes Shales. “Letterman’s staff edited the reactions into a brief montage and got huge laughs on the Monday night (March 29) show.
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“CNN played the same montage the next morning, identifying it as a Lettermanly prank. “Upon returning from a commercial break,” said Shales, anchor Daryn Kagan said “’We’re being told by the White House that the kid, funny as he was, was edited into that video.’”
“The footage became more than a joke,” the Associated Press reported, “when CNN ran it and reported that the White House was complaining the yawning boy had somehow been digitally inserted into the frame.”
On Letterman’s next show, he “lashed out at the White House, calling their version of events ’an out-andout, 100 percent lie. The kid was absolutely there, and he absolutely was doing everything we pictured via the videotape.’ Then CNN back-tracked and flipflopped: the White House hadn’t called, the first anchor ’misspoke,’ and let’s forget the whole thing.
“Letterman would not forget. On CBS, he called the people of CNN “boneheads” and said CNN had in effect told viewers a lie on instructions from the White House. … By week’s end, Letterman had young Crotty, who had subsequently turned 13, on “Late Show” as a guest. Letterman proudly announced he had received a full-fledged apology from CNN.”
After screening the montage for Crotty, Letterman asked him if he thought it was funny.
“I find it hysterical,” Tyler replied.
Shales calls CNN’s actions “bad journalism and bad manners. And if CNN doesn’t clean up its act, ’Chicken Noodle News’ will be too kind a nickname. ’White House News Bureau’ would be more appropriate.