Is CNN attempting to turn the tables on Fox News?
Yesterday Fox’s Jennifer Griffin reported that Qaddafi forces had used CNN and Reuters journalists as “human shields” to fend off further missile attacks from the British military.
On Sunday night the Libyan Ministry of Information had taken the journalists to the bombed-out compound to display the damage, and British forces later told Fox that they had cut their mission short when they learned of their presence there.
Last night on the Situation Room CNN’s Nic Robertson, one of the journalists who’d gone to the site, reacted strongly to Fox’s report calling the network “outrageous and absolutely hypocritical,” comparing Griffin to Qaddafi and noting that he frequently saw Steve Harrigan, Fox’s correspondent in Libya who’d declined to travel to the site yesterday morning, “more times at breakfast that I see him out on trips with government officials here.”
Cue media jaws dropping everywhere.
But it appears Griffin is standing by her report. She called into Greta Van Susteren last night and repeated her claims:
They felt that the civilians and journalists had effectively been used as human shields and that was frustrating to them…It was a very close call. In fact one official told me that there was a Reuters crew literally on a spot where they were going to drop a missile.”
Later in the show Griffin apologized for reporting earlier in the day that a Fox reporter had gone to the site when in fact he had sent a security guard.
So Fox is not backing down. And if the British military actually did pull out for those reasons there’s arguably no reason she should. Though Fox’s silence on the CNN response is notable in and of itself.
In fact, CNN’s vicious reaction is perhaps the far more fascinating aspect of this story. Here’s why:
It wasn’t immediate. One hour before tearing into Fox on live TV Robertson appeared on Wolf Blitzer with a much calmer version of the same story.
In the earlier report, which aired just after 5pmET, Robertson noted that there had been no compunction on the part of the military to force journalists to go on the trip to the site, people were free to get on and off the bus at any time and that “some journalists, Fox among them, had chose not to go on the trip….[just as] we’d chosen not to go out on a trip earlier in the day.”
He also noted that the group of journalists who did end up going were whisked in and out of the compound and just given enough time to take a few quick pictures and video and then “pushed on the bus” by an official who was “trying to get us out of there.”
Robertson said that he’d been doing this for many years, and was acutely aware of that the “government might try to pull stunts like that” but that that “wasn’t his sense of what was happening.”
And then this:
“My perception is that any journalist who came along on the trip last night would share that experience and see it from the same perspective. If people didn’t go on that journey, as Fox didn’t, then perhaps they would have a different perspective.”
Indeed. Sounds a whole lot different than the report Robertson gave an hour later doesn’t it? In the first report Robertson sounds entirely understand of both Fox’s absence and their “perception” of events.
So what happened in the interim? Robertson’s later report, given just after 6pmET, is so extreme in nature it’s difficult not to wonder whether it was calculated.
Did CNN see an opening following the revelation that there had been no Fox reporter on the scene and, feeling extra confident after weeks of strong ratings, decide to go for the jugular?
How very Fox News of them. Except, actually, I can’t recall Fox News ever attacking the behaviour of a fellow journalist in conditions such as these. Still, the speed with which CNN got an embeddable version of Robertson’s second clip out suggests they knew they had a viral vid on their hands. And they were right!
CNN has long been relegated to third place in the cable ratings, and worse, branded as irrelevant and boring. In that last two months, thanks to a unprecedented news cycle, they have seen their ratings surge and last week beat Fox more than once in prime time. So perhaps instead of hiring polarising talking heads to gin up ratings they’ve opted to let their on-the-ground reporters do the talking. You can’t argue it makes for great television.
Robertson’s first report:
Robertson’s second report:
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