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CNN's Early Start (Credit: CNN via TPM, screenshot)

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart slammed CNN for a segment of its new morning news program, Early Start, Talking Points Memo reported.   The Early Start program, hosted by Ashleigh Banfield and Zoraida Sambolin, premiered Jan. 2, according to a CNN press release.

As Talking Points Memo described it, the show is “a 5 a.m. news show that specializes in crank calling people in the early morning hours.”  Stewart highlighted two calls by the hosts – one to Kerry Kennedy asking about “going through these [political] campaigns” and one intended for a comedian but was a wrong number. In the call, Banfield identified herself as the FBI.  What happened to identifying oneself as a reporter, iMediaEthics wonders?

Stewart singled out this question from Banfield “You were eight years old when [your father] was killed… Do you still have haunting memories of every campaign?”  iMediaEthics notes that Banfield also called Kennedy “sweetie pie” and Sambolin commented “she has a rather sexy voice,” according to the transcript on Newsbusters’ website.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics calls for journalists to “show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage” and “be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy.” Cold-calling Kerry Kennedy early in the morning to ask about her father’s assassination 44 years ago seemingly fails to follow both of those standards.

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The calls are intended to “wake some poor soul up, somebody who really connected to news in some way but really has no idea that we’re” going to call, Banfield said on air.  How is this journalism? Entertainment, perhaps, but even that claim is dubious. Certainly, Turner Broadcasting System, which owns CNN, has another broadcast outlet for entertainment on which these phone calls could be aired, if they must be.

Banfield addressed Stewart’s criticism in a Jan. 11 segment in which she said she was “devastated that [Stewart] ripped on us” and suggested that she should call him up in a future segment. Concerning Stewart’s criticism, Banfield also commented that “I need thicker skin,” Mediaite reported. Perhaps because Stewart makes his living as a comedian, Banfield simply does not comprehend the essential seriousness of his criticism of her show.

We have written to CNN for comment and will update with any response.

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What is Journalistic Purpose of CNN News Show’s Crank Calls?

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