There’s a great deal of agreement in TV-crit land about the coverage decisions made by CNN and other cable networks today. While Egypt was working toward an ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, television-news screens were broadcasting technical testimony in the trial of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. A sampling of the commentary:
Egypt is an amazing story right now: real news. But what’s CNN doing? Blathering about a trial, of course.
— Jeff Jarvis (@jeffjarvis) June 30, 2013
Didn’t mean to let MSNBC off the hook. As @davidfolkenflik points put, only ‘news’ net still w/trial as Egypt grabs CNN, Fox attn.
— Staci D Kramer (@sdkstl) July 3, 2013
#CNN stopped televising a military coup in Egypt for the George Zimmerman trial. What has this country come to.
— Dan Roman (@DannRomann) July 3, 2013
Media commentator Jay Rosen said this:
CNN has a sister channel, Headline News, which specializes in lurid or flashpoint trials, but that’s not good enough for its new president, Jeff Zucker. He wants everyone in his company to know what the priorities are: Mini-series in the center, world events off to the side.
— Arik Hesseldahl (@ahess247) July 3, 2013
Egypt Military Coup Pushes Zimmerman (Finally) Off Cable News Nets http://t.co/bOKHp6g5XK
— TheWrap (@TheWrap) July 3, 2013
— Corinne Kovalsky (@kovalskyc) July 3, 2013
What the heck? #MSNBC is covering the Zimmerman trial while there is a COUP underway in Egypt??
— Ani Sangye (@SangyeH) July 3, 2013
— Magnum Serpentine (@MisterrMagnum) July 3, 2013
— JustMe L (@StillMadMom) July 3, 2013
CNN: Coup underway in Egypt, so let’s take you back inside the courtroom and that ridiculous trial in Florida. #DeathOfCableNews
— Seth Rothman (@RothmanHockey) July 3, 2013
As the Huffington Post’s Jack Mirkinson wrote just moments ago, the cable nets switched to all-Egypt coverage as the power turnover
1) Following cable-net coverage patterns is a Twitter specialty. Everyone with a television is per force a media critic. And on cable news, every switchover from one topic to another — whether it’s from a presidential speech to regular programming; from a trial to a power turnover; from a press conference to a congressional hearing — is vesting with massive implications that get dissected on social media. And on days like these, such decisions are either brilliant or simply disgraceful.
3) This is an enormous story. Egypt, that is: Key U.S. ally in pivotal region, Islamist rule, massive protests, military ouster — all the contours of a world-changing event.
4) The George Zimmerman trial is an enormous story, too. Race relations in America, the criminal justice system, firearms, the law, the media: There’s nothing at all insignificant about the case itself or about the issues revolving around it.
5) We’ve been trained to believe live TV court coverage is trivial. The logical underpinnings of the midday backlash against the cable nets are that news from Egypt is important and worth our attention, while trial coverage is not. In this case, though, both Egypt and the Zimmerman trial are watersheds, even if the nets were too slow to move away from today’s dull court proceedings in favor of the masses of people in Egypt setting off fireworks and celebrating the emerging events. Just imagine the daylong agony in cable world if one Rachel Jeantel had taken the stand today!
So why do folks carry an ingrained skepticism of live trial coverage? Any explanation has to begin — and certainly not end — with the case of Jodi Arias.