CNN's dogged on-the-ground Haiti reporting has won many cheers. Admirers cite CNN's work as proof that mainstream TV news can still be about
news rather than petty partisan debate. More importantly, the network's coverage
has galvanized viewers and helped drive donations. The network even raised $8 million
for aid with a massive, celebrity-filled fundraiser during Larry King's show. One loud cheerleader for CNN is, of course, CNN
itself. The network regularly reports on itself as a leading
player in Haiti relief work, and it's easy to see why. In addition to King's fundraiser, CNN's Sanjay Gupta performed surgery on a 12-year-old Haitian and CNN's Anderson Cooper pulled a child away from violent looters.
But since performing those good deeds, CNN has allowed more self-congratulation to seep into its coverage. This morning, two top stories were the money raised by CNN's Larry King and the child operated on by CNN's Sanjay Gupta. A CNN viewer could be forgiven for believing CNN was the primary relief agency in Haiti and not knowing that the U.S. military, for example, has 10,000 relief workers in Haiti, that the UN World Food Program is distributing 16 million meals, and that Doctors Without Borders has performed 500 surgeries to Sanjay Gupta's one surgery. When does a news network cross the line from doing good to doing promotion?
- Compassion vs Self-Congratulation The New York Times's Alessandra Stanley explores the tension inherent in TV disaster coverage. "In a disaster this huge, television reporters are the heralds of the fund-raising effort. News organizations repeatedly let people know how and where to donate money for Haiti, and those reminders allow Americans to feel that they can do something useful. They also help television news organizations by reminding viewers -- and earthquake victims -- that journalists serve as a pillar of the rescue mission, on the scene to do more than just gather information," she writes. "The line between compassion and self-congratulation is thin on television; in a calamity this vast and acute, many viewers flinch at any sign of reportorial showboating."
- Does CNN 'Go Too Far'? America Magazine's James Martin thinks so. "CNN has had the best coverage by far of the Haitian earthquake," he writes. "But there are times when I wonder whether CNN, the other major networks and television journalists in general, go too far. When does coverage become exploitation?" He asks difficult questions: "[W]hen does the responsibility to help trump the need to report?" And, "How is human dignity best respected? By filming or by not filming?"
- Don't Blame Reporters For Over-Promotion True/Slant's MP Nunan explains, referencing the oft-repeated clips of Gupta performing surgery, "[T]he apparent repetition of that segment isn't coming from Sanjay Gupta, it's coming from CNN producers in a control room somewhere in the US." She also cites an episode during Hurricane Katrina when Anderson Cooper produced a taped segment of him tearing up during coverage. "[I]t wasn't live. Cooper had the opportunity to re-shoot that piece-to-camera - without crying - but the calculated, cynical decision made by him or by CNN was to run the one in which he got a little weepy."