April 18, 2013

CNN gave “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart altogether too much information with which to play. First there was John King’s erroneous report of an arrest in the Boston Marathon bombings. Then there was the way that CNN talent, including Chris Cuomo, Fran Townsend and King himself, tried to analyze away the mistake after it went down. King: “There’s clearly something afoot today.” Cuomo: “We’re getting some conflicting reports about an arrest.” Erin Burnett: “The information has been dribbling and drabbling—there’s obviously been a lot of confusion.” Cuomo: “We don’t know what’s right or not right at this point, and as Anderson always says, you don’t want to go down the road of speculation wrongfully.”

To which Stewart said: “Well, that’s what you were doing! You spent an hour debating the merits of your own fiction. See, we’re accustomed to 24-hour news outlets thriving on conflict. Generally, though, that conflict is between two outside parties—political opponents, pundits. But CNN’s reporters have discovered they can remove the middleman and spend hours of programming fighting among themselves.”

While Stewart’s send-ups of cable news gaffes often tend toward low-hanging-fruit rants, there’s something to this critique. Watching CNN’s report dissolve under the denials of one official organ after another was painful enough. Even more excruciating was watching the aftermath, as various CNN correspondents and anchors chewed over the mess of data. If the pressures of 24/7 news TV created this screwup, then the wasteland of 24/7 news TV—expanses of time to fill, that is—exacerbated it.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.