Max J. Littman

What I learned from listening to CNN executives

Last week while I was in Atlanta with USY (United Synagogue Youth) for the organization’s International Convention, I decided to attend a now infamous session (due to what occurred) with two CNN employees, Richard Davis (Executive Vice President of News Standards and Practices for CNN) and Etan Horowitz (a CNN Mobile Editor).  For about 90 minutes in the session, 30 of my fellow USY’ers and I were fed what I am positive was standard CNN talking points.  We were told that CNN was absolutely not biased and that they tried their very best to have fair and honest reporting.  Despite this, it was not hard to see past their lies.

Over the summer, time and time again I turned on the TV to see the latest news updates involving a situation I cared deeply about: Operation Protective Edge.  Most of those times I found myself subconsciously switching channels to CNN, and as the Operation progressed, my goal was no longer to listen to informative news on the network, but rather to see what they could possibly do to become even more anti-Israel.  It seemed every time I changed the channel to CNN, another anchor was stating the enormous death count from the conflict, or one more was standing in Gaza City recounting the ‘horrendous Israeli airstrikes,’ or an Israeli official was speaking on the network and being split-screened with pictures of dead children.  All of those instances are unacceptable; all of them show bias.

As the session progressed it became clear that the only thing I could possibly learn by listening to the CNN executives was that I would not be learning anything. Excuses were fed to us again and again and again. We were told that the reasons for the glaring journalistic errors in the Har Nof massacre were very small errors, that the mosque was mentioned in original reports because of a Syrian mosque also in the news, and that the headline about Palestinians killed by police was just another small misstep in a large journalistic world. I’ve seen similar reports too many times to buy into their excuses. At some point, all the inaccuracies become more than just a mistake.

At one point in the session a fellow USY’er stood up and read part of a CNN article about Israeli attacks on Gaza, an article that showed blatant anti-Israel bias and was written during Operation Protective Edge. Mr. Davis quickly shot her down after he asked several times for more proof, for more instances, and for context. There are some instances when an article is so biased that the context doesn’t matter, and that article was one of those instances. From then on no one dared to ask Mr. Davis a question regarding CNN’s journalistic integrity because we all knew full well that if we did, Mr. Davis would just demand sources and context, and even if we could provide those, he would not listen to us.

Later on we were told that our pro-Israel views were simply an opinion that a minority of his network’s viewers share. I do not believe that the pro-Israel beliefs of myself and my peers are opinions. They are something much more than that, and they are something that Mr. Davis will never understand. As the session continued on I asked myself why I was even there. I had known beforehand what was going to happen and sadly, I was right. As we sat there I knew that my prior thoughts that this would not be an open discussion and that there would be no deviation from the CNN employees’ initial opinions. Coming into this session, I had grand visions of standing up to the CNN executives and of calling them out on their lies, but I did not. Standing up and stating what I know is right would not have helped me because they would not be listening. They believed strongly that their network was near perfect and nothing I, a measly teenager, could say would change that. That’s why I’m writing here. I’m writing to show people that you have to dig deeper past what a network like CNN says. You have to know that whatever they can claim because they are a high-powered network does not make them right; it makes them a high-powered network.

After Mr. Davis and Mr. Horowitz were done speaking to the group I decided to go up and listen to anything further they had to say. I was so shocked with everything that I had heard that I felt I could not possibly go to eat my lunch. I had to know how they could possibly justify themselves into thinking their network was not biased. I had to know how many more excuses they would spew and attempt to justify. I was there as I heard them call one of my fellow USY’ers “brain dead” and I was shocked. As they finished speaking to us, I slowly walked out of the room. I couldn’t comprehend everything I had just heard. Yes, I had just heard them call a fellow USY’er and Israel advocate “brain dead.” Yes I had heard them spew even more lies.

Although I wrote earlier that I didn’t learn anything during this session I was not entirely accurate. I did learn a few valuable things, like what CNN really cares about: money.  They do not care what they are viewed as or how badly they portray Israel, but if they make money, they are happy. There is another side to this, however, and that is how ratings matter deeply to them, and coincidentally, ratings are the one thing that the public can affect.  I urge you not to turn on CNN and give them the benefit of that extra advertiser money.  I have promised myself that never again will I give CNN the satisfaction of having their network playing in my house. It may not make any difference at all, but at least their biased news coverage will not be heard in my house.

The last thing I learned during this session was how to influence change at CNN. Not only does turning off their network cut ratings, but posting on social media hurts their image.  Mr. Davis mentioned that the network fears the effects of social media.  I know that I, knowing this, will continue to tweet, post on Facebook, and blog about CNN’s biases and inaccuracies and I encourage all of you to do the same.  Separately we are just individuals fighting for a change, but together, we are a movement working towards a common dream.  Zion, stand up.

About the Author
Max J. Littman is a student, writer, and Israel advocate from Worthington, Ohio.