By Tim Graham
Every one would love a puff piece written about them, and Pete Vernon wrote a very puffy piece on CNN’s Brian Stelter for the Columbia Journalism Review. The article’s theme was established by his wife Jamie Stelter, who cast him as a strictly fact-based objective journalist forced into editorializing by Donald Trump’s war on the facts and truth.
His job has changed in the Trump era,” Stelter’s wife Jamie, a traffic reporter for local station NY1 (they met on Twitter), says. “For so many years, it was: ‘I report the facts; you decide.’ Now that there are attacks on the free press and attacks on the truth, he’s had to come around to the idea of taking a stand for something and giving his reported analysis when the time calls for it. [That’s] something he just wasn’t comfortable with when all of this started.”
Wow, it’s like one of those Apple vs. Banana ads, a perfect CNN infomercial. Vernon virtually makes Stelter into some kind of Captain Truth superhero fighting the right-wing forces who want to “destroy” the media. Stelter says these forces are tiny:
WHAT HE DOES NOW, at least on television, is stake out a position: The media is under threat by forces who want to destroy it. This means he’s on the receiving end of a disproportionate amount of vitriol, most of it from critics on the right. Any tour through Stelter’s Twitter mentions will reveal the reason some journalists use the platform’s quality filter. Sean Hannity has lobbed personal insults along with professional attacks and Alex Jones unleashed a truly deranged tirade accusing Stelter of being “literal demon spawn.”
….Stelter reads the online criticism, but says he doesn’t believe it represents the opinions of a broad population.
Earth to Vernon and Stelter: check the polls about the media’s credibility and objectivity. It’s a pretty broad population.
The pretense is that the only people who are furiously devoted to Donald Trump think the media are in the tank for liberals. There are many voters who are not wild about Trump who are skeptical of the media’s fairness and professionalism.
“Literal demon spawn” are the only quotes of criticism about Stelter in this piece….because they come from a cartoonish blow-hard like Alex Jones, an ideal villain for Stelter’s Captain Truth.
“Stelter’s beat is thankless,” says Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward, who has served as a panelist on Reliable Sources. “But he’s doing it as well as anyone could given the highly polarized, endlessly omphaloskeptic media hellscape we all inhabit.”
Finding a mainstream critic to diss Stelter’s work is difficult. The best Jack Shafer, Politico’s resident curmudgeon, can come up with is that too much of Reliable Sources “repeats the talking head opinionating that we get every weeknight already on CNN.” (Reliable Sources has steadily increased its ratings and finished first in its time slot among adults 25–54 for the past two months. Howard Kurtz’s Media Buzz on Fox News remains the hour’s most-watched cable news show overall).
But Shafer also credits Stelter for being hard working, accurate, and very ambitious. “He’s also a mensch, willing to acknowledge error with a sheepish grin, and that’s not automatically true of all of us,” Shafer says. “David Carr was very high on Stelter from the first moment he arrived at the Times, and I think his judgment has been borne out.”
Then there was the gaggy humble-brag paragraph. He will acknowledge that his “earnest wonkiness” doesn’t play well among the blow-dried smooth-talking anchormen who merely read a TelePrompter:
Stelter knows there are valid criticisms of his television work. Earnest wonkiness doesn’t always play well in a field dominated by smooth-talking anchors. “There were probably weeks early on when I tried to play a TV anchor, and those were terrible weeks,” he says. “I was never going to get very far trying to play someone else. It’s much better to be a media reporter who loves writing, who loves reporting, who cares too much about the impact of media on society, and just do that. That works.”
The headline was “The unavoidable Brian Stelter: CNN’s media wonk doesn’t want to waste a moment.”