CNN is riding Chris Cillizza, the longtime former Washington Post politics reporter known for his quick-strike analyses of politics. Since his accession to the 24/7 cable network, Cillizza has begun constructing “The Point,” a franchise not unlike his Washington Post home, “The Fix.” To get the word out about his work, Cillizza on Tuesday participated in a Reddit AMA. Surely the longtime newsman and his top advisers know the folklore of the Reddit AMA and were likely prepared for the tough crowd. Here’s a typical volley:
Journalists such as Wired’s Ashley Feinberg jumped in with their own questions:
However: Regardless of the content of the questions and Cillizza’s replies, the decision to do a Reddit AMA was a fabulous move for CNN as a broadcaster and for Cillizza as an emerging television media personality. Six reasons:
1) Important people do Reddit AMAs: Barack Obama has done an AMA. Steve Wozniak has done an AMA. Ronda Rousey has done an AMA. Jake Tapper has done an AMA. See those names? They are famous people — figures who leave a deep imprint on culture and society in the United States. By jumping in on an AMA as a CNN personality, Cillizza moves to affiliate himself with them. So even as sophisticates may take issue with one or two responses by Cillizza, what really matters is the broader public perception of his standing post-AMA.
2) Timing: Political analysts are always working toward a deadline, and for Cillizza, that’s the 2020 presidential election — something that CNN surely hopes to dominate. While many people in the business may view this pivotal contest as far off on the horizon, a recent edition of “The Point” — the newsletter that Cillizza writes with Saba Hamedy — points out that this pivotal election “draws ever closer.”
3) Taking on all comers shows that Cillizza can handle the heat: Again — regardless of the substance of the digital dialogue on Reddit, Cillizza, merely by agreeing to come on Reddit, showed that he has sufficiently thick skin to stick around in the public square, unlike those he’s entrusted with covering. In the future, Cillizza can cite this occasion when pummeled by critics. That’s a big deal.
Plus, no one will be thinking of the Reddit criticisms of Cillizza next weekend.
4) Journalists like Feinberg are not Cillizza’s home base: The point guard of “The Point” is making an appeal to mainstream news consumers — those are the folks who will drive his future success. Snarky media-elite types aren’t at the heart of his constituency; Cillizza doesn’t need their eyeballs. Plus, people like Feinberg won’t formulate their opinion of Cillizza based on this issue alone.
5) Civility rules. Even in the face of nasty questions, Cillizza responded amiably, even cheerfully. Such civility is precisely the quality we need in our political leaders, as well as in our media leaders. Even if Cillizza was sending out those messages of equanimity through gritted teeth, he managed to further his popular perception as an analyst who can appeal to both sides of the media divide in this country. Perception is often more important than reality, after all.
6) Opportunity. Like President Trump, Cillizza understands moments. This was a moment.
Be careful not to fixate on the objections tossed toward Cillizza in his Reddit AMA. He’s playing a long game to secure fans of “The Point,” and that’s the takeaway here.