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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 06:21 PM ET, 08/30/2012

CNN nuts incident and 15,000 useless reporters

CNN, they say, is cable’s leader in breaking news stories. Except, perhaps, when such stories fall right into its lap.

Scroll back to Tuesday night, when reports circulated that a black CNN camera operator sustained a humiliating attack at the Republican National Convention. A couple of convention attendees reportedly threw nuts at her and said, “This is what we feed animals.”

The story burst onto the Internet complete with a statement from the Republican National Committee:

Two attendees tonight exhibited deplorable behavior. Their conduct was inexcusable and unacceptable. This kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

That’s what you expect of a PR-sensitive political organization. It’s not going to share too much information about an embarrassing incident, even though there was some confusion over what had gone down.

Yet CNN, a NEWS organization, distinguished itself with its conformity to a political party’s info-quashing predilections. Here’s the CNN statement:

CNN can confirm there was an incident directed at an employee inside the Tampa Bay Times Forum earlier this afternoon. CNN worked with convention officials to address this matter and will have no further comment.

It didn’t even mention the nuts. The network did burp out a stingy-with-details-and-atmospherics Web story and a Wolf Blitzer segment about the nuts-throwing outrage. Trouble with the Blitzer report was the boundaries: He appeared straitjacketed in issuing precisely no more information than had already been disclosed.

There’s an obvious brief for CNN here. What happened to the camera operator is technically a workplace matter — she was insulted and degraded while on the job. Layer on the racial dimension of the incident, and there’s compelling grounds for stepping lightly, at least for a time.

Yet while CNN has been fastidious in not giving its viewers as much detail as it could possibly dispense, the camera operator has given a fuller account to . . . a reporter in Alexandria. Today Richard Prince, a columnist for Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and writer of the Web column Journal-isms, published a post naming the very person that Blitzer, on CNN no less, declined to identify the night before.

Her name is Patricia Carroll and, according to the Journal-isms Web site, she says this: “I hate that it happened, but I’m not surprised at all.” More from the 34-year-old African American who comes from Alabama:

“This is Florida, and I’m from the Deep South,” she said. “You come to places like this, you can count the black people on your hand. They see us doing things they don’t think I should do.”

And she tells Journal-isms some details about the incident:

She alerted fellow camera operators, producers and CNN security. The head of the delegation — she was not certain of the state — told her the perpetrators must have been alternates, not delegates.

Props to Prince for nailing the interview, which he snared through a contact that trusted him, he told me earlier today. He didn’t travel to the convention. But a couple of points here:

1) It’s great that CNN didn’t browbeat Carroll to tell her story on air, on the record. Such an approach would have been coercive and ugly. What wouldn’t have been coercive and ugly would have been to tell her: We understand if you don’t want to be named in this incident, but if you do, we’d ask that you do it via CNN. Because we’d like our viewers and/or Web users to get the more complete story first.

2) Whatever the issues relating to releasing her identity, CNN could easily have proceeded with a full-on segment plumbing the incident without mentioning Carroll’s name. Instead, it gave us the half-a-loaf Blitzer disappointment. News organizations like CNN handle similar situations all the time — protecting the identity of someone involved in the news while serving its audience essential details.

Enough on CNN. Its shortcomings here pale in contrast to those of the press corps at-large.

Fifteen thousand reporters are in Tampa for this event. As I’ve bounced back and forth among the Republican National Committee, the Tampa Police Department, the Hillsborough Country Sheriff’s Department and the Secret Service, I’ve come to two conclusions. No one wants to discuss this thing and few reporters are pressing for details. (A big exception to that generality is TPM.). When asked how many other reporters had pushed for stuff on this incident, one law enforcement official replied: Just this blog and a couple of local outlets.

That so few reporters are following the trail of nuts attests to the wonders of programming. The 15,000 journalists are doing a great job of commenting on every twist and inflection of the Paul Ryan speech, not such a great job of figuring out what happened when the party veered off script.

By  |  06:21 PM ET, 08/30/2012

 
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