It’s difficult for me to understand how Brian Stelter’s CNN show is called “Reliable Sources.” It’s less of a title and more an act of effrontery.
I’m going to talk to my editors and see if I can start calling my columns “Brief, Tepid Liberal Musings about Current Events.” No, it doesn’t have the catchy two-word title based on a phrase that’s already in public circulation going for it — in fact, it’s pretty unwieldy. In terms of describing the content therein, however, it’s just as accurate.
I’m not going to go through a list of Stelterian perfidies to prove how embarrassing the show is to its parent network. Just watch for five minutes and see how the very reliable source hosting it starts every episode off with a doom-laden screed about the wretched, authoritarian political climate under President Donald Trump. Or perhaps you could look at this very important fact-check from Stelter’s most recent show.
The president conducted a Super Bowl interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity that was previewed with a clip during the week — a clip that was very obviously a joke about Democratic presidential candidate and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his, ahem, modest stature.
Asked what he thought of Bloomberg, Trump said, “Very little. I just think of little.
“You know, now he wants a box for the debates, to stand on. OK, it’s OK, there’s nothing wrong, you can be short, why should he get a box to stand on? OK? He wants a box for the debates, why should he be entitled to that? Really. Does that mean that everybody else gets a box?”
If you were one of the people who thought the former New York mayor truly wanted a box during the debates (it’d be kind of hard to hide a box behind those podiums, don’t you think?), don’t worry — your favorite reliable source is to the rescue.
“Despite Trump’s claim, there is no evidence that Bloomberg is trying to get a box to stand on for Dem debates,” declared a CNN chyron, with attribution to Stelter’s Twitter handle.
James Earl Jones hasn’t done one of those “This … is CNN” station idents in a while, right? Because I can just picture him laughing all the way through it, and that’s not really the image you want to project.
Anyhow, the chyron got picked up by conservative Twitter, which predictably had some fun with it:
Trump wins again pic.twitter.com/tE1skbiTb3
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) February 2, 2020
Brian Stelter coming to the aid of Mike Bloomberg: pic.twitter.com/ND1sAtlFLp
— Sam Valley (@SamValley) February 2, 2020
I mean, they’re doing the work for him. Four years, and they still haven’t caught on. https://t.co/qALiFUYxo4
— It’s still 2016 apparently (@jtLOL) February 2, 2020
I’m not an opinion-slinger of Stelter’s profile, but I know what it’s like to put something this stupid out there. It happens. (It happens a lot to Stelter and he doesn’t consider it stupid, but we won’t go there.)
Here’s what you do, in my experience: You lay low for a few days. If it’s not contrafactual and just imbecilic, pretend it never happened. If you can’t, issue a correction and own up to it, then move on as quickly as possible. Avoid your editors for a little while if at all possible. Go home and binge watch “Parks and Rec” for a night and then order a pizza. When everyone’s forgotten in a day or two, stop sulking, put on your big boy pants and go back to doing your job right. That’s what you do.
Here’s what you don’t do:
so, you’re AGAINST reporting what the president says and does? just checking.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) February 2, 2020
Well now. Maybe he just doesn’t like “Parks and Rec?” Ron Swanson a bit too libertarian for his tastes?
In all seriousness, I’ve been thinking for about, oh, an hour now about plausibly worse ways Stelter could have handled this. I’m not talking, like, Alex Jones ripping his shirt off stuff, because that’s clearly not going to happen. Within the range of normal Stelterian behavior, how could this have gone worse?
If you have a legitimate answer, please contact me via the author feedback form. I honestly can’t come up with a more disastrous way to deal with the minor embarrassment of “fact-checking” an obvious Trump joke than to angrily respond to a Twitterer with “so, you’re AGAINST reporting what the president says and does? just checking.”
By the way, lest I give you the wrong impression, Stelter wasn’t the only journalist thinking this way. There was, for instance, The New York Times’ Jonathan Martin, who made his thoughts on a “Fox & Friends” piece about the clip sound a bit more respectable but no less tone-deaf:
The commentary after really makes it…
This clip also captures why impeachment has been a hiatus for hill Rs in one important way: they made everything in recent months about impeachment threshold, faced few Qs about Trump’s more-routine bombast https://t.co/qbcujBrbOH
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) February 2, 2020
A joke is “bombast” that the Republicans don’t want to deal with, which is why impeachment has been a boon for them because they don’t have to answer to the sobering, consequential issue of Trump’s japery involving a box.
So whatever. We all now know Bloomberg doesn’t want a box to stand on thanks to the brave, heroic reporting of at least two members of the news media. They might not be in the employ of The Washington Post, but they’ve helped assure democracy won’t die in darkness. And don’t suggest otherwise, or Brian Stelter might snap at you on Twitter.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.