At the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday, CNN President Jeff Zucker defended the network’s decision to have S.E. Cupp, who works for both The Blaze and CNN, to interview The Blaze founder Glenn Beck while she was guest-hosting for Piers Morgan in December.
Cupp works out of The Blaze’s office in Washington, but joined CNN from MSNBC in June, where she became part of CNN’s efforts to resurrect its once-flagship program Crossfire. Zucker said that Cupp had extended the invitation to Beck to appear on Piers Morgan Live, and he had accepted.
“We wanted we’ve wanted to have Glenn as a guest on CNN, and she felt that she could do an honest brokered interview with him,” Zucker said. “He was willing to do it with her.” Zucker declined to explain whether or not Beck had been approached by other CNN reporters, whether the network discussed having another journalist conduct the interview with Beck after Cupp made the invitation and Beck accepted, or whether Beck would only appear on CNN if Cupp was the journalist interviewing him.
Zucker said that he thought the network had done the necessary disclosure (though in promoting the piece, it wasn’t always clear that Cupp works for Beck as well as for CNN).
“We completely revealed the relationship between the two,” Zucker said. “We’re very up front about it and felt that he was a very interesting person to interview and had no issues having her do it as long as you know, I think it’s in all these things I think if you’re transparent with the audience and you tell them up front that ‘I work for him, and yes, I’m interviewing him,’ I think that, you know, in most of those circumstances, you can do it as long as you’re up front and honest with the audience.”
I suppose you can do that. But I’m not sure why the ethical bother for CNN was worth the interview, though it aired on December 20, and the lapse appears to have largely sunk below the holiday waters.
I wonder if part of the reason CNN allowed Cupp to do the interview was that the network believes that Beck is largely a fringe figure, not worth a serious conversation. If that’s the case, it points to a rather more serious miscalculation about what constitutes news. Beck may not be working in mainstream media anymore, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t still command considerable political influence. Media Matters For America’s Ben Dimiero put together a list of good, probing questions that Cupp — or another CNN journalist — could have asked Beck about his political evolution and how his rhetoric affects his credibility on certain issues.
And even if you discount Beck’s political influence, The Blaze and Beck’s assorted media properties still represent a remarkable achievement in monetizing new media. It’s easy to focus on mainstream journalists who are building publications around their personal brands, like Bill Simmons and Nate Silver, who came to ESPN to build Grantland and 538, or Ezra Klein, who may leave the Washington Post to found a general-interest publication. But Beck’s trajectory since leaving Fox News has demonstrated how it’s possible to thrive outside of a conventional media and venture capital ecosystem, and how to make a paywall work — Glenn Beck TV made $40 million in subscriptions in its first year before the Dish Network picked up The Blaze TV. I would love to see a deep and probing interview of Beck by a journalist who covers media, perhaps one like CNN’s own Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter.
It may be sexy to get Beck to call New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a “fat nightmare” on air and to profess his love of Sen. Ted Cruz. But if Zucker wants us to take him seriously when he says “We as we CNN is not and never will abandon our first and fundamental brand equity, which is news and breaking news and covering today’s news and putting today’s news in context,” he might think more carefully about how CNN could have done the Beck interview differently.