CBS Goes Too Far to Showcase Reporter
On Wednesday, Mar. 29 CBS followed its story on Russian meddling in the election by showing an unusually long exchange between Sean Spicer and CBS reporter Major Garrett regarding Rep. Devin Nunes’s meeting in the White House.
“Do you have any information, to live up to the commitment you made here on Monday, to provide more details about how that happened, in a process that you’ve just told us yet again, is above board and totally appropriate?” said Garrett.
“I don’t have anything for you at this time,” said Spicer, who insisted that he did not have answers yet.
“Are you going to continue to look into it?” said Garrett. “And you’ll live up to that obligation that you made to us?”
“The obligation is that I said I would look into it and I will continue to do that,” said Spicer.
Garrett explained afterwards that it should be easy for Spicer to get the information with a simple phone call. He attributed the White House’s “lack of interest” in sharing details as a cause for concern about Nunes’s motives and impartiality.
“[Garrett] uses the term ‘lack of interest,’ which crosses the line,” said Howard Schneider, a former editor at Newsday. “[CBS] used judgmental language unnecessarily.” Schneider pointed out that making judgmental statements can distract the viewer and can lead to unfair assumptions.
Only CBS covered Spicer’s comments separately from the investigation stories, devoting 1:15 to the story.
NBC stated that Spicer was “refusing to reveal who cleared Nunes in.” It followed that with a three-second clip of Spicer saying, “I have asked some preliminary questions but I have not gotten answers yet.”
NBC added that “former White House officials tell NBC that information would have been easy to obtain through visitor logs.” NBC, like CBS, implied that Spicer likely knew the information but was withholding it from the press. The difference is that NBC’s segment with Spicer is shorter and requires more analysis from the audience.
“Once you say it is easy to obtain, you’ve made your point,” said Jim Toedtman, former editor for NY Newsday. “Sometimes less is more.”
ABC touched on Spicer’s comments as part of its larger story on the investigations into the election meddling.
“On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer promised to look into who that source was. Today, he still didn’t know,” said Mary Bruce, ABC congressional correspondent.
ABC then showed eight seconds of the Spicer-Garrett exchange when Spicer said, “I have asked some preliminary questions. I have not gotten answers yet. So no, I don’t have anything further on that.”
ABC’s coverage stopped short of implying that Spicer was purposely withholding information from the press. Only ABC ignored how easy it should be to check the White House visitor logs.
Did CBS go too far to showcase its correspondent?
“CBS overplayed the Spicer-Garrett tiff,” said Toedtman, who felt the exchange was repetitive and too long. Toedtman thought live shots from the press room make reporters look worse because they don’t have a script.
Howard Schneider agreed that CBS went too far in trying to showcase Major Garrett. “It didn’t add anything,” said Schneider. “All it added was it looked like Garrett was trying to be a tough guy.”