CNN fails viewers

CNN now ends every news story covering Afghani civilian deaths and hardships caused by American bombing with a disclaimer: It is the Taliban’s fault and America’s actions are justified.

According to Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz, a memo sent to all international correspondents by CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson said it “seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” He went on to instruct reporters covering civilian deaths not to “forget it is that country’s leaders who are responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in.” CNN provided example endings that reporters should use, including the following: “We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this from Taliban-controlled areas, that these U.S. military actions are in response to a terrorist attack that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the U.S.” The memo also instructed reporters, “Even though it may start sounding rote, it is important that we make this point each time.”

Implicit in the memo is the importance CNN places on propagating pro-government sentiment during every broadcast. By sending the memo, CNN executives effectively directed the organization to transition from an information source to a U.S. government lackey. Notably, only domestic CNN – which is aired in the United States – runs the pro-government ending; CNN International does not. This distinction clearly illustrates CNN’s sacrifice of thorough, veracious journalism in favor of encouraging some sort of canned patriotism.

Americans who were alive on Sept. 11 will never forget the horrifying and tragic terrorist attacks. Yet CNN ostensibly feels broadcasting this superfluous tagline is necessary every time they tell of Afghan hardships and death. It seems almost as if the network is attempting to sway viewer opinion or, more disturbingly, taint their presentation of facts with an ending more palatable to government officials. For instance, after showing a video last week of the damages in Kandahar and commenting on civilian casualties, CNN quickly cut to a shot of the World Trade Center rubble. The anchor then reminded viewers that about 5,000 people died whose “biggest crime was going to work and getting there on time.” CNN is arranging their content in a way designed to elicit a wanted response in viewers. By editorializing under the pretensions of news reporting, CNN not only commits a journalistic blunder but jeopardizes the viewer’s ability to make his or her own decisions. If CNN chooses to editorialize, they must tell their viewers they are doing so.

Americans need to decide for themselves how to feel about the war. CNN should not allow itself to taint facts in the name of eliciting patriotism. Practicing yellow journalism in a time when Americans most need a responsible free press is an egregious failure.