May 29th, 2008
02:21 PM ET

TV news under the microscope

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/05/29/art.yellin.jpg]
Jessica Yellin
Congressional Correspondent

I find myself in an interesting position. Today the blogs lit up with comments I made last night on AC360° and suddenly I’m being reported on.

It's not the most comfortable position for a reporter.

So let me clarify what I said and what I experienced.

First, this involved my time on MSNBC where I worked during the lead up to war. I worked as a segment producer, overnight anchor, field reporter, and briefly covered the White House, the Pentagon, and general Washington stories.

Also, let me say: No, senior corporate leadership never asked me to take out a line in a script or re-write an anchor intro. I did not mean to leave the impression that corporate executives were interfering in my daily work; my interaction was with senior producers. What was clear to me is that many people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time. It was clear to me they wanted their coverage to reflect the mood of the country.

And now I'm going back to work covering the Puerto Rico primary from San Juan.

Editor's Note: Here is an excerpt from last night's discussion:

ANDERSON COOPER: Jessica, McClellan took press to task for not upholding their reputation. He writes: "The National Press Corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The 'liberal media' - in quotes - didn't live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served."

Dan Bartlett, former Bush adviser, called the allegation "total crap."

What is your take? Did the press corps drop the ball?


I think the press corps dropped the ball at the beginning. When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president's high approval ratings.

And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president's approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives - and I was not at this network at the time - but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.

I think, over time...

COOPER: You had pressure from news executives to put on positive stories about the president?

YELLIN: Not in that exact - they wouldn't say it in that way, but they would edit my pieces. They would push me in different directions. They would turn down stories that were more critical and try to put on pieces that were more positive, yes. That was my experience.

Read full transcript...

Filed under: Jessica Yellin
soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. William

    I remember the run up to the war and saying to myself, and anyone who would listen, "why are all the media beating the same war drum as the White House". I think it just goes to show the Bush camp has, or at least had at the time, the very best PR / media spin doctors on the planet. It really appeared nobody in the mainstream media would take them to task at all.

    The Free (paid-off) press failed us when we needed them the most.

    May 29, 2008 at 11:32 pm |
  2. Thomas Fisher

    Corporate media execs selling the war (a distasteful activity) in the name of "giving the reader what they want," is understandable. After all, we want to support our team, our American Team, regardless of the game we're playing. It's no different than supporting our thugs on "our" hockey team. To us these are our aggressive players - when they are on the opposing team, they would be goons.

    Same is true with warfare. Today it's fashionable for one to say he was against the war all along, (which I was and no one wanted to listen to me at home or at work." But now that it's obvious we were thugs for starting this war, thugs throughout the war, and thugs on our way out, we're blaming the media for not telling us the facts and "the truth". And America is just now turning on the goons who fooled us into this fiasco.

    But it wasn't profitable for any corporation or advertiser back in 2003 to point out that our administration was a team of goons with evil - or at least greedy and foolish - intent, and a majority of Americans was cheering for these goons.

    Soon more media talking-heads will be jumping on this new anti-warfare bandwagon with new "facts and truths" to support positions that a majority of viewers have already adopted. The difficulty in this is "how does a media outlet turn around 180 degrees without looking stupid?" Easy: blame a handful of influential liars, and who is more influential and dishonest than the Cheney, Rove, Bush, Rumsfeld cabal?

    May 29, 2008 at 11:21 pm |
  3. Pat M

    While I belive we all see each report, story, each statement in a different light but many of us likely have one thing in common, we like to see or read reports that allign with our opinions and beliefs. When we don't we're likely to cry foul, bias, unfair, unpatriotic, sexist, racist, and the list goes on.

    Well maybe I should just speak for myself, I know this is how I feel and react. I'm human, no perfection here. And I would imagine that some reporters, depending on who they are employed with, might not have much say about what they report. We live in a Media rated world.
    And the race never ends. Numbers do the talking. Whether we like it or not. Much like this Campaign. If your on top of your game you get the attention, if not you get whatever might pass as interesting and not look like indifference. It's the way things are all over the world. I can Rant, roar, and spout profanities to make myself feel better but all the while I know I'm wasting my time. It's just how it is. I know I shouldn't take myr frustrations and anger out on the reporters I depend on for keeping me in the know. But the world today is so vexing I just can't help myself! And I'm sure George Bush and this Campaign has kept Mother Teresa in constant prayer for patience.

    May 29, 2008 at 11:19 pm |
  4. samatha

    Jessica Yellin, watch your back! You know the corporate type.

    May 29, 2008 at 10:44 pm |
  5. R Rogers in SC

    Everyone is acting like Yellin is out of her mind, but there is a pattern here. Remember Ashleigh Banfield.

    The networks obviously want to stay cozy with the White House. So much for the independent press. 1984 is just a few commercials away. . .

    May 29, 2008 at 10:41 pm |
  6. Paula

    Wow..guess now you know what it could be like to run for office.Now you know first hand what it's like for you guys to hound them and twist around every syllable that they speak?

    May 29, 2008 at 10:27 pm |
  7. VictorLaszlo

    "What was clear to me is that many people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time."

    Are you suggesting that selling an unnecessary and illegal war to the American public is "patriotic?"

    Please explain that logic.

    May 29, 2008 at 10:24 pm |
  8. Michele, Oregon

    Thank you for your candor Jessica. Hindsight ...... The press WAS too soft, not providing enough challenge and reason for fear of seeming radical or unpatriotic.
    So many Americans were and still are caught up in the false patriotism mania. Many wanted revenge after 9-11 and the president exploited the worst in us. Millions of protesters worldwide against our invading Iraq and the current administration sent our sons and daughters to die in defiance and pride.
    We should use this as a great lesson about true patriotism and checks and balances.

    May 29, 2008 at 10:20 pm |
  9. Greg

    "Patriotic" means you support the country. There is no definition of the word "Patriotic" that can be construed as lying to the country on behalf of a government that lies to the country to trick everyone into a war of conquest. I would think a Harvard alumnus would be aware of such not-so-subtle nuances. Yellin knowingly sold-out to her corporate masters for a paycheck just like the rest of you so-called "journalists." There is no patriotism or innocence involved in doing that, but there is another name for that on street corners. Yet another reason I get my information from anywhere other than corporate-owned media.

    May 29, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  10. Annie Kate


    Don't sweat it. I remember what it was like and I understood what you were saying. There was never anything explicit said, but there was an expectation that people would be positive about Bush and his war. We all got hoodwinked. I'm just sorry for all the military personnel who has paid the price for our lack of diligence.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    May 29, 2008 at 9:55 pm |
  11. Ruel - Chicago, IL

    RE: Anderson's discussion with reporters about Benedetto's charges that the press was irresponsible during the last couple of years.
    The news media should really take a good look at the medium and how it has changed since being conglomerated. It seems that investigative reporting of serious matters has become scarce and something such as Watergate might not surface today.
    The press have become like sheep reporting on the same stories, prolonging and dwelling on what is easy to report on while ignoring major issues. Issues are being ignored because of political correctness and world news is lightly covered. Does money and politics affect the tone and the airing/printing of stories?
    Maybe someone as unfettered by editors as Anderson, can do an expose on his industry.
    I would also like it to include the personal power of newscasters in the comments they make and special investigative issues that they highlight.
    News has also become blips and blurbs without proper context and history. I have seen the Middle East reported on without a brief background that would contextualize the story for people who know nothing of the culture and history. Without this many Americans might think that the mindset of those being reported about in other cultures are the same as their own.
    And yes, I do not think the media has vetted and informed the public about Mr. Obama's record during all these months. Especially since, in the last decade, it escalated the issues that led to millions of dollars worth of investigations on the Clintons.

    May 29, 2008 at 9:51 pm |
  12. Ruel - Chicago, IL

    There is something to what Ms. Yellin has stated and I commend her for her bravery.
    How else do you explain the labeling of networks as pro Bush administration or anti Bush, etc. Just this evening, Bill O'Reilly label NBC as an anti Bush liberal station. This would mean that there are biases in the industry. The question is: Who influences or determines the bias.
    It s become much like the third-world, but at least in the third-world everyone knows which station stands for whom and know that there is clear if not admitted bias.

    May 29, 2008 at 9:45 pm |
  13. Stacy

    @Thomas Fisher–Excellent points.

    @Ollie Maccarthy–I think you mean Helen Thomas.

    May 29, 2008 at 9:12 pm |
  14. Kathie,Ontario.Canada


    Doesn't look like anyone learned their leasson does it ?

    May 29, 2008 at 9:09 pm |
  15. Mitchell Jancic

    As much as I appreciate Mr. Fisher's insights, I'm afraid that I must respectfully disagree. It's all about viewership, isn't it? Talk about stupid – the rise and fall of Britney Spears was the most reported single story in all of 2007. I don't know that coproate sponsers were too concerned about the placement of their ads. Just saw a story on CNN about another of Obama's preachers (pahleeze – LIG) followed by a comercial for Cialis – don't think they will mind being sandwiched in between boring. I guess I just wish that there was more high quality, risk-taking, investigative reporting being done and then shared with the public. Stories like "Planet in Peril" and the one about the Mexican smuggling trade were powerful and moving. AC boasts of "keeping them honest." Well, do it? Where is all of our money for the war really going? What are the affects the home front? What is it really costing Jane Q. Public? Why can't we call them liars if it's the truth? Why did someone decide to no longer compare American student's math and science test scores with the rest of the world? What are the affects of the factories just over the border on the women and children of Mexico and how does it affect us? What ever happened to the electric car built by GM in the 60s? What's the matter with boys today? Why not discuss the affects of toxins, estrogen in particular, on the mutation of fish populations in our rivers and streams? Isn't it incumbent on the media to flesh out the details and affect popular opinion in such a fashion so that even if the electorate votes against their best interests (see What's the Matter With Kansas?) at least they've been warned week after week. This is not about liberal and conservative – a term which probably should be cast in the mold of a four-letter word and hammered and hammered and hammered some more for all of the harm those true believers done to our culture as a result of profit – as much as it's about American values. We may need to be reminded that we once valued integrity.

    May 29, 2008 at 9:02 pm |
  16. aba23

    You write today:

    "No, senior corporate leadership never asked me to take out a line in a script or re-write an anchor intro. I did not mean to leave the impression that corporate executives were interfering in my daily work; my interaction was with senior producers .... [M]any people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time."

    You had said, "And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives ... to put on positive stories about the president."

    Whatever you experienced is a VERY important news story. Might I suggest that you do some actual reporting on it from your unique perspective. Perhaps this could be tied to the Pentagon's ex-generals-for-hire program as well–another tragically underreported news story.

    To this point, you have been involved at least with the "journalism" of whatever original stories you referred to in your post as well as with your comments on Anderson 360. It's time to provide what your profession promises to deliver: facts, analysis, and utter forthrightness.

    May 29, 2008 at 8:54 pm |
  17. mike dougherty

    The media talking heads(so-called reporters) are gutless morons and paid mouth pieces with no morals. Just like most Americans. Yellin did some fast backtracking from the truth, what a coward. Blood on your hands you bunch of war criminals

    May 29, 2008 at 8:30 pm |
  18. Whippy

    "What was clear to me is that many people running the broadcasts wanted coverage that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the country at the time."

    The mood at the time could be described as feverish, but it certainly wasn't in any meaningful sense patriotic. Nationalistic, maybe, but not patriotic.

    May 29, 2008 at 8:19 pm |
  19. Aimee G

    I find it appalling that the news media is so defensive about these allegations. Why aren't you taking a harder look at what McClellon is saying. There are important historical lessons that we need to learn from what happened. Jessica's experience is not unique. Dan Rather and others (on 60 Minutes for example) have described similar influences and pressures from their bosses.
    It is common knowledge that there were too few pockets of indepth investigative reporting going on during that time period between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Knight-Ryder stands out os one of few news outlets that was willing to dig beneath the daily white house spin and report the underlying story. Mainstream and cable networks should be taking a very hard look at themselves and their complicity in selling propaganda to the American people, in the name of patriotism. I feel that American newsmedia failed to do their job and as it continues to respond defensively to these issues, it continues to lose credibility in my eyes..

    May 29, 2008 at 8:17 pm |
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