Ethics Quiz: Was CNN’s Soledad O’Brien Unethical to Crib From A Liberal Blog, or Just Unlucky To Get Caught?

Conservative media sources are calling CNN’s Soledad O’Brien biased and unobjective (Soledad O’Brien? Biased? Nawwwww!) because a CNN cameraman inadvertently caught her cribbing from the leftward blog “Talking Points Memo” for ammunition as she questioned  Virginia House of Delegates Republican member Barbara Comstock regarding new-GOP Veep nominee Paul Ryan’s budget proposals. The blog post she was reading from was called “The Myth of Paul Ryan The Bipartisan Leader.” At one point, O’Brien claimed to be reading a release from Senator Wyden’s (D-OR) office, but  she was actually reading an excerpt from the blog that included a quote from Wyden. Newsbusters, the conservative counterpart to the Left’s Media Matters, regards this is a real gotcha!, concrete proof of  the unethical coordination between the mainstream media, progressive attack blogs, and the Democratic party.

Your Ethics Quiz for today: Was O’Brien’s use of the Talking Points piece to debate Comstock unethical journalism?

Here is my answer: No.

As I have stated here before, I think O’Brien is one of the worst of the worst, an openly biased reporter who applies a double standard, lobbing friendly softball questions during love-fests with Democrats, while sneering and smirking her way through any interview with Republican or conservative. * I think having a shameless flack for one party as the host of news program without any balancing presence whatsoever ill-serves CNN’s audience. Anderson Cooper, whose place O’Brien was taking when she was caught on camera with Talking Points, is much, much more objective. But whether an interviewer is Anderson or O’Brien, it is good journalism to challenge partisan spokespersons like Comstock, and, let’s face it, network news anchors are not hired for their brilliance, education or policy expertise. If they are going to challenge partisan advocacy, they need help, and if help comes in the form of a Talking Points Memo post, that’s fair and legitimate.

Is it ethical for O’Brien to use the post and not give credit to its author, or tell the CNN audience that she is representing someone else’s arguments as her own? No. That’s deceptive, and CNN needs to stop that practice, if it is common, which I suspect it is. And, of course, because O’Brien virtually never challenges Democrats and liberals the way she did Comstock, it is unethical that she doesn’t similarly employ erudite and well-reasoned conservative blogs to cross-examine them. (Like any knee-jerk partisan of limited intellect, O’Brien probably doesn’t believe there are such things as well-reasoned conservative blogs.) That double standard doesn’t make how she handled Comstock wrong, however. She was doing her job with Comstock, and the Talking Points post helped it do it better. O’Brien’s bias prevents her from doing her job fairly when she has a fellow progressive to interview, but that’s a separate matter.

* I’m sorry to be reminded of this earlier O’Brien post and the incident that inspired it. Now I’m furious all over again.


Facts and graphic: Viral Read

Source: Newsbusters

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

9 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Was CNN’s Soledad O’Brien Unethical to Crib From A Liberal Blog, or Just Unlucky To Get Caught?

  1. Jack,

    I think your post hit the points well but I think your answer to the quiz is wrong. You highlighted the critic qualifier.

    “Is it ethical for O’Brien to use the post and not give credit to its author, or tell the CNN audience that she is representing someone else’s arguments as her own?”
    Even a “some people say” would have been better.
    My answer is yes she used unethical journalism. Taking directly from someone’s work product without credit regardless of how often it occurs is unethical.

    • Well, but think about that. Suppose she bones up on the topic using two sources, or three. Do we expect broadcast journalists to use footnotes? How do we ever know when s journalist is just regurgitating what she’s read? O’Brien is a certified dolt—I assume that if she makes a coherent argument, she got it from someone else.

      • Obviously journalist are going to use sources and will even have preferred sources however I believe that it is assumed that journalist are going to do research on both sides of the argument and be well read on the subject they are presenting. The fact that she got caught demonstrates, even though we have a good idea through her own displayed bias, that she is not intellectually honest as she directly utilizes someone else’s product. Now if she or her staff researched and developed the same questions and responses and she had her or her staffs’ notes it would be different. But to utilize a direct source and not cite it is unethical.

          • Yeah, I have to agree. This is why I titled the post the way I did. I think it looks bad for her to be reading directly from a liberal blog on the air—Lord help her if it was Media Matters or the Daily Kos!—but really, why not? As with a lot of issues, my own knee-jerk reaction didn’t stand ethical scrutiny, hence the post.

            • I know I can be hard to follow at times so let me try to explain further.
              “Now if she or her staff researched and developed the same questions and responses and she had her or her staffs’ notes it would be different. But to utilize a direct source material and not cite it is unethical.”
              I believe even a “bloggers have said” would have met the low journalistic standard when using sources or material.
              It would be if I were to go on TV to discuss the ethics of this case and I took your post and read from that it would be unethical without credit to you. But if I did research that included your post among it and I developed an opinion, or even summarized an opinion it would be ethical. But to take directly without citation or any other representation of the source is unethical.
              I am sure this is going on all the time at all the media outlets, but it does not make it ethical.

              Can you explain where I am wrong on this?

              • I don’t know that you’re wrong. I think its impractical. TV time is precious…there’s no time for constant attribution. I think attribution when one has been persuaded by a source is admirable and exemplary, but I think saying it is ethically required is too much. Let’s say O’Brien’s staff put together a talking point memo of their own for her to use as a crib sheet, using, say, two sources that doesn’t appear on it. Is she unethical to read from it? She’s responsible for her agents, and hence their failure to cite sources.

                There a people on the radio and TV who can make good arguments and have good questions on the spot about a wide range of issues. There aren’t many of them. And the smartest, quickest folks out there aren’t always aesthetically pleasing enough to be talking heads. A typical CNN show is a mile wide and a millimeter deep. I don’t begrudge a slow loris like O’Brien a crib sheet or ten. The important thing is to inform the viewer.

  2. It wouldn’t have been unethical IF she owned to it and gave credit. She lied about it and worse than giving no credit, she gave it to somebody else. Extremely unethical. If she did that to you, I bet you’d be furious.

    But mostly I don’t think the American people care so much whether it’s ethical. Because even if it is ethical, it’s still LAME and illustrates the woeful state of our media and journalists. I think that’s what conservatives are driving at. THE LAMENESS of it. The sheer dishonesty and disingenuity and lack of genuine research. The willingness to become a liberal zombie mouth piece. That’s the real lesson here. Soledad is a liberal zombie marching to the beat set by Barack Obama. Lesson learned.

  3. You are not talking about what O’brien read, just where she read it from.
    She read a direct quote from of Sen. Wyden, and only a direct quote of Sen. Wyden.
    There was no editorial work from TPM or any other writers cited by O’brien.

    So the question should be, Does it matter where you get a direct quote from?

    If you can find it in 2 or more sources, then your golden.
    I found it on Roll Call (
    and the WaPo (
    and many others

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