[Update and Correction: When I wrote this post, the designated Dunces were identified as Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan, the new kids on the CNN block. I thought I verified that on CNN’s site, but a helpful reader told me that Cuomo and Bolduan haven’t debuted yet. Which CNN anchors it was who egged on the egger were in doubt, so on June 11, I changed the post, discussing the issue but only referring to “CNN anchors.” I also apologized to Chris and Kate, and put out a call for the right names. And promptly forgot about it: with everything else going on, this was neither a major ethics issue nor a two-day story. Then, today, June 13, Joe Concha of Mediate posted a full-fledged smackdown of me, Ethics Alarms and my research skills, and helpfully provided the correct identification in the process
I’m grateful to Joe, who also preserves my original correction, which this replaces. Once again, I apologize to CNN, Chris Cuomo and Kate Bolduan, and also to my readers for mucking up this one so thoroughly. ]
“It’s about time,” snickered CNN early morning male anchor John Berman, as his partner Christine Romans smiled and nodded. They were approving of a man being assaulted live on TV while doing his job, a job he performs better and more profitably than anyone else in the world.
The man is Simon Cowell, late of “American Idol,” and an angry musician from the studio orchestra seized the opportunity to run onstage during the finale of “Britain’s Got Talent” and hurl five eggs at Cowell from the stage. The woman, Natalie Holt, had been a contestant in the past, and the assault was part revenge for her own group’s harsh treatment on the show last year, part vainglorious stunt to punish Cowell, she claimed, for his “influence,” and part stupidity. After the show, Holt apologized to the two finalists whose performance she marred, but not to her victim, saying: “I want to apologize to Richard and Adam for overshadowing their performance. I’ve never done anything like this before and in hindsight I have realized it was a silly thing to do.”
But to listen to the CNN pair, what Holt did wasn’t silly, but hilarious, and justified. Many contestants appearing before Cowell through the years wanted to do the same thing, they said (without any proof of this whatsoever), and it was clear that they thought Holt’s actions were laudable, even though it is a crime by any standard. Why? Oh, because Simon Cowell is mean, you see. He tells aspiring singers and other contestants that they sound terrible and are deluded when they in fact do sound terrible and are deluded. His bluntness and lack of sympathy for amateur performers seeking to inflict themselves on a popular culture already choking on dubious professional talents has spawned many imitators on reality TV, man of whom really are just mean, and who have nothing to offer but entertaining (to some) nastiness. That, however, is not Cowell’s fault. Any more than it is Walter Cronkite’s fault that CNN is stuffed with awful news anchors from dawn til dusk.
Simon Cowell, except for some inevitable lapses which I have often flagged, is not mean. What is mean, in fact cruel, is to encourage talentless exhibitionists who reach these televised contests because tin-eared friends and relatives have deceived them for years by telling them how wonderful they are. Better that their hopes be definitively shattered by an industry pro telling them that the sound like a cat being tortured than to have them waste years in pursuit of a career they are unqualified for in every way, as they rupture eardrums of the innocent in the process. Mild and “kind” judging is also boring—witness judge Mariah Carey’s mealy-mouthed platitudes that passed for critiques on the miserable season of the Cowell-less “American Idol” this season—and it doesn’t do the job: without sharp and pointed criticism, these performer and panel shows fail to separate the truly talented from the hacks. Cowell, unlike any CNN morning anchor for about a decade, is very good at his job.
I understand why Cowell, who knows good publicity opportunities when he sees them, isn’t pressing charges against Holt, but it is still a mistake. She will undoubtedly manage to cash in on her misconduct, and thanks to fools like Berman and Romans, others will see an opportunity for cheap celebrity, and take their chances attacking real celebrities on live shows, hoping that they too are praised for it. Except that the next generation of Holts may have rocks, bowling balls or flame throwers instead of eggs, and somebody will get hurt.
The Romans and Berman aren’t the only culprits here: read the account in Entertainment Weekly, for example. Nonetheless, I might be tempted to silently cheer if a nauseated viewer slipped through CNN security and egged them on camera. It would be wrong, but at least they would be slimed for being incompetent at their jobs, in stark contrast with Simon Cowell.