David Rothkopf

The best thing Rick Sanchez ever did was leave

The Drudge Report linked to a story over the weekend in which someone named Sam Rubin condemned CNN for not explicitly firing Rick Sanchez for his anti-Semitism. Rubin, writing a column called "My Truth" on the KTLA website, argues that this demonstrates what is wrong with CNN. In so doing, he mentions but skims over ...

shortyawards/flickr
shortyawards/flickr

The Drudge Report linked to a story over the weekend in which someone named Sam Rubin condemned CNN for not explicitly firing Rick Sanchez for his anti-Semitism. Rubin, writing a column called "My Truth" on the KTLA website, argues that this demonstrates what is wrong with CNN.

In so doing, he mentions but skims over the real reason that CNN should have fired Rick Sanchez, the reason regularly cited by Jon Stewart: the fact that Sanchez was dumb as a box of rocks. In fact, even in Anchorland where a man is no better than his haircut, Sanchez was an embarrassment long before he decided to wear his bigotry like a big ugly soup stain on one of his Brioni ties.

Or, to turn to the ultimate source on such matters, this exchange from the Will Ferrell docu-comedy Anchorman frames the Sanchez situation well:

Ron Burgundy: "I’m not a baby. I’m a man. I’m an anchorman."

Veronica Corningstone: "You are not a man. You are a big fat joke."

Burgundy: "I’m a man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn. That’s what kind of a man I am. You’re just a woman with a small brain. With a brain a third the size of us. It’s science."

Corningstone: "I will have you know that I have more talent and more intelligence in my little finger than you do in your entire body, sir."

Burgundy: "You are a smelly pirate hooker."

Corningstone: "You look like a blueberry."

Burgundy: "Why don’t you go back to your home on Whore Island?"

Corningstone: "Well, you have bad hair."

Burgundy: "What did you say?"

Corningstone: "I said… your hair… looks stupid."

(An atomic bomb mushroom cloud is reflected in Ron’s eyes; a knock-down drag out fight begins.)

The problem with CNN is in fact not that they failed to fire Sanchez more explicitly for his anti-Semitism, nor is it that they did not fire him sooner. The problem with CNN is that they hired him in the first place. Just as it is a problem that they thought it appropriate to hire Eliot Spitzer for his own show when at least 50 percent of the fame they are cashing in on is tied to his predilection for prostitutes. Just as it is a problem that they hired Piers Morgan to replace Larry King. Now admittedly, King was no pillar of journalism. He was not even a molehill of journalism. That being said, he attempted to be no more than he was, a living Smithsonian exhibit about the nature of old time radio. But Morgan, known best to Americans for his appearances as a judge on a show that would embarrass the worst burlesque circuits of the 1920s, "America’s Got Talent," is skimmed from the pond-scum floating atop journalism’s shallowest waters. He is a former editor of Britain’s News of the World and the Daily Mirror, newspapers that make the National Enquirer look like the Paris Review.

If CNN keeps it up, it won’t last five years. It has done the impossible and almost made Fox News look like a better source of journalism — and there is almost no journalism on Fox News.

Note that I say almost. Just when CNN seems beyond redemption and Fox seems nearly credible, along comes a report like that presented by CNN’s Abbie Boudreau called "Right on the Edge." It is a documentary about conservative "documentarian" James O’Keefe, the guy who scammed ACORN and his fellow conservative video activists. While most of the report is really pretty low-grade and not terribly incisive, there is at least the low, sweet comedy provided by O’Keefe as he attempts to embarrass Boudreau with a cheesy seduction which he intended to capture on video tape. Thus, even as it demonstrates both its softball approach to journalism and its attraction to sleaze and stupidity, CNN actually does cast a light on the fact that it may survive because so many of the alternatives out there are so much worse.

As remarkable an achievement that is, when CNN and fellow television "news" producers engage in their self-destructive race to the bottom they accomplish something even more difficult to imagine: They are gradually making newspapers relevant again. As the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others, come to understand new media and adapt technologically, their commitment to actually covering stories and maintaining some sort of ethical standards — admittedly ones open to criticism from time to time — is ensuring that they survive whereas talking hairdos like Sanchez do what they should have done years ago and disappear into the local news swamps inhabited by Ron Burgundy and his friends.

The Drudge Report linked to a story over the weekend in which someone named Sam Rubin condemned CNN for not explicitly firing Rick Sanchez for his anti-Semitism. Rubin, writing a column called "My Truth" on the KTLA website, argues that this demonstrates what is wrong with CNN.

In so doing, he mentions but skims over the real reason that CNN should have fired Rick Sanchez, the reason regularly cited by Jon Stewart: the fact that Sanchez was dumb as a box of rocks. In fact, even in Anchorland where a man is no better than his haircut, Sanchez was an embarrassment long before he decided to wear his bigotry like a big ugly soup stain on one of his Brioni ties.

Or, to turn to the ultimate source on such matters, this exchange from the Will Ferrell docu-comedy Anchorman frames the Sanchez situation well:

Ron Burgundy: "I’m not a baby. I’m a man. I’m an anchorman."

Veronica Corningstone: "You are not a man. You are a big fat joke."

Burgundy: "I’m a man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn. That’s what kind of a man I am. You’re just a woman with a small brain. With a brain a third the size of us. It’s science."

Corningstone: "I will have you know that I have more talent and more intelligence in my little finger than you do in your entire body, sir."

Burgundy: "You are a smelly pirate hooker."

Corningstone: "You look like a blueberry."

Burgundy: "Why don’t you go back to your home on Whore Island?"

Corningstone: "Well, you have bad hair."

Burgundy: "What did you say?"

Corningstone: "I said… your hair… looks stupid."

(An atomic bomb mushroom cloud is reflected in Ron’s eyes; a knock-down drag out fight begins.)

The problem with CNN is in fact not that they failed to fire Sanchez more explicitly for his anti-Semitism, nor is it that they did not fire him sooner. The problem with CNN is that they hired him in the first place. Just as it is a problem that they thought it appropriate to hire Eliot Spitzer for his own show when at least 50 percent of the fame they are cashing in on is tied to his predilection for prostitutes. Just as it is a problem that they hired Piers Morgan to replace Larry King. Now admittedly, King was no pillar of journalism. He was not even a molehill of journalism. That being said, he attempted to be no more than he was, a living Smithsonian exhibit about the nature of old time radio. But Morgan, known best to Americans for his appearances as a judge on a show that would embarrass the worst burlesque circuits of the 1920s, "America’s Got Talent," is skimmed from the pond-scum floating atop journalism’s shallowest waters. He is a former editor of Britain’s News of the World and the Daily Mirror, newspapers that make the National Enquirer look like the Paris Review.

If CNN keeps it up, it won’t last five years. It has done the impossible and almost made Fox News look like a better source of journalism — and there is almost no journalism on Fox News.

Note that I say almost. Just when CNN seems beyond redemption and Fox seems nearly credible, along comes a report like that presented by CNN’s Abbie Boudreau called "Right on the Edge." It is a documentary about conservative "documentarian" James O’Keefe, the guy who scammed ACORN and his fellow conservative video activists. While most of the report is really pretty low-grade and not terribly incisive, there is at least the low, sweet comedy provided by O’Keefe as he attempts to embarrass Boudreau with a cheesy seduction which he intended to capture on video tape. Thus, even as it demonstrates both its softball approach to journalism and its attraction to sleaze and stupidity, CNN actually does cast a light on the fact that it may survive because so many of the alternatives out there are so much worse.

As remarkable an achievement that is, when CNN and fellow television "news" producers engage in their self-destructive race to the bottom they accomplish something even more difficult to imagine: They are gradually making newspapers relevant again. As the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among others, come to understand new media and adapt technologically, their commitment to actually covering stories and maintaining some sort of ethical standards — admittedly ones open to criticism from time to time — is ensuring that they survive whereas talking hairdos like Sanchez do what they should have done years ago and disappear into the local news swamps inhabited by Ron Burgundy and his friends.

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf
Tag: Media

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