Advertising your ignorance

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Advertising your ignorance

The promotional advertisement for CNN’s “Connect the World” program starts with a montage of host Becky Anderson introducing herself from different datelines.

“From Beirut ...

In New Delhi ...

From Jerusalem ...

In Jordan ...

In Doha ...

In Istanbul ...

In Cairo ...

And here in Abu Dhabi ...”

Next comes a sequence of clips showing Anderson reporting big stories on her turf. Protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. An overseas trip by Pope Francis. “He’s been shaking people’s hands,” she reports with excitement, “He’s been hugging children!”

Finally, she reaches Israel. “This is the Old City of Jerusalem,” she announces portentously, “and this is a melting pot of religion.”

Just one minute, Becky Anderson! If the Old City of Jerusalem is a melting pot of religion, you’ve traveled farther than you realize: to a parallel universe. If the Old City of Jerusalem is a melting pot of religion to CNN, I want to check Fox News to see if climate change has been reversed and Hilary Clinton has been crowned Empress Queen of America.

If the Old City of Jerusalem is a melting pot of religion, Becky, you must put in for a transfer from Abu Dhabi with dispatch. That part of the world isn’t going to produce a speck of news worth reporting.

I am a CNN watcher. I appreciate its serious, fair and unbiased journalism. I know many CNN journalists and I admire their professionalism and hard work.

Reporting live is challenging. It’s no misdemeanor for a correspondent on camera to misspeak.

But this is not a live report. It’s a house ad, a promotion, and someone has selected the scenes to show Anderson in a good light. It’s Becky’s Best.

But they left in a howler.

The current theme of CNN’s branding advertisements is “Go There,” a reminder to viewers that their correspondents put themselves in harm’s way on a regular basis.

Hala Gorani, a London-based correspondent, is featured in a “Go There” ad.

“What does it mean to go there?” she asks in a voice-over. “It doesn’t mean reading about it. It means packing a bag and going there and talking to the people.”

I choose to ignore the snarkiness in, “It doesn’t mean reading about it,” although I haven’t been to Syria or Egypt, I read about those troubled countries a lot and don’t think I should be held in contempt for it.

“Talking to activists in secret, activists risking their lives for speaking to a Western journalist in Damascus,” Gorani continues. “Talking to people on the margins of the story about how they’re affected by the decisions of those much more powerful than them. That is why I go there to get the story firsthand.”

Hold on, Hala. You talk to people on the margins of the story? Not people on the margins of society but people on the margins of a story? Surely CNN tries to get to people at the heart of a story. If not, one would think, you might as well stay at home with me and read about it, saving yourself a lot of grief and airports and missed showers and salads.

Gorani’s “Go There” ad was not cobbled together from pieces of past stories in which she may have misspoken. It was scripted. Someone wrote it, someone edited it and then it was performed and edited again on video. No one at CNN saw the blooper? Not even the cynical, pub-loving, pasty-faced guy behind the camera? He didn’t say, in a disdainful growl, “Bloody Hell! At the margins of the story? Give me a f****** break!” What has journalism come to?

Abu Dhabi-based John Defterios hosts a weekly show about real estate called “One Square Meter.” In his regular promo, he says in an eager-to-be-believed tone:

“Every week on ‘One Square Meter’ we go to every corner of the globe...”

Come on, John.

Working hard, being unbiased and “going there” are very important. Words are very important, too. Viewers and readers are skeptical of today’s journalists, understandably after our inglorious role in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Many say they want “unfiltered” news from the Internet. They distrust the people who do the filtering, the job of a journalist.

When journalists at top news organizations talk dumb, viewers and readers catch it. And their scorn washes over all of us in the profession.

*The author is the editor in chief of the Korea JoongAng Daily.

by Anthony Spaeth

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