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Journalists should pay attention to the Project Veritas CNN video

Much has been reported on the video of a CNN producer criticizing the network’s Russia coverage. The video was released by James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, and as to accusations that these videos tend to be taken out of context, CNN has confirmed the veracity of the video, so we know these conversations did take place and that the video accurately portrays CNN producer John Bonifield’s opinions.

Obviously, Bonifield’s quotes about the Russia story have grabbed the most headlines, but I’d like to take a deeper dive and look at some of what Bonifield said about journalism and the media. Some of his quotes are quite jarring, and have implications for journalists in all newsrooms.

First, for those readers who haven’t watched the video, here it is:

Now that you’ve had the opportunity to catch up, here are two of the quotes that stood out to me.

“But, all the nice cutesy little ethics that used to get talked about in journalism school, you’re just like, that’s adorable. That’s adorable. This is a business.”

I’ve heard this basic idea expressed by many journalists once they start dealing more with the editing, production or business side of the industry. Reporters out in the field or at the lower levels tend to be isolated from this, but Bonifield is expressing something that most of us have experienced at some point. News is a business that benefits from ratings, advertising and readership.

That doesn’t mean we should throw out all ethics, but it does mean we need to be a little more open and transparent about when we cover a story involving an advertiser or a business that competes with an advertiser. As far as the ratings game goes, CNN and other networks may get huge ratings in the short term for beating certain stories to death, but if our credibility as an industry keeps taking a hit from our tendency to chase after ratings, we may not have any viewership in the long-term.

“I think there are a lot of liberal CNN viewers who want to see Trump really get scrutinized. And I think if we would have behaved that way with President Obama and scrutinized everything he was doing with as much scrutiny as we applied to Donald Trump, I think our viewers would have been turned off.”

This quote, to me, is actually more striking than Bonifield’s indicating that the Russia investigation at this point may be bullish*t. Here we have a CNN producer admitting that he feels like the network didn’t scrutinize Obama as much as it does Trump. Conservative talk radio has been making the claim that Obama wasn’t properly scrutinized since 2008. To talk radio listeners, this quote is verification of liberal media bias.

I realize that this is Bonifield’s perception and doesn’t necessarily point to actual bias, but it adds much more evidence to this long-standing claim. Donald Trump called the media the opposition party. I’m actually OK with that label. The media should always be the opposition party to the government, whether it is republican-led or democrat-led.

The job of the press is to scrutinize the government. Period. No elected officials should get a pass or be handled with kid-gloves, whether it is the President of The United States or the mayor of Kickapoo, Kansas.

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