Interview Ethics: CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Shows Why News Anchors Need Training In Basic Ethics, Not To Mention Journalism Ethics


This morning, as I rush to get my act to together to fly, sick, to Rhode Island where the bar will allow me to teach ethics to its members in the first two of three planned seminars, I made the mistake of checking in on CNN’s New Day to see what trouble Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota could get themselves into. Sure enough, there was Allison interviewing Oklahoma Senator Jim Lankford regarding Republican efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood over the revelations of the surreptitiously taken “sting” videos showing various Planned Parenthood personnel seeming to haggling over the prices for tiny little human organs successfully harvested from embryos whose tiny wittle heads have been crushed juuuust right. These individuals discuss unborn human beings with the sensitivity a normal person bestows on a Jimmy Dean sausage, but Planned Parenthood acknowledges that they need to practice a more pleasant tone in case somebody who cares about these inhuman organ bags is listening.

Is that an unfair characterization?

Let me know why you think so.

But I digress…

Camerota’s questioning demonstrated in multiple ways just how ethically ignorant the highest levels of our broadcast journalism are:

  1. She was obviously emotionally upset by Lankford’s position and took the role of a passionate Planned Parenthood supporter, which she clearly is. Unprofessional and biased. CNN should insist that its journalists, not that Camerota acted like one, are either neutral or capable of behaving that way. This wasn’t journalism, it was advocacy. That made the interview unfair and slanted from the outset: Camerota had a conflict of interest.

2. Camerota argued that the fetal tissue is vital to research, so ending funding for Planned Parenthood’s embryonic organ supplies would endanger life-saving research. She was obligated as a reporter, however, to discuss the issue on Lankford’s terms, and he made it clear that he believes that the aborted fetuses are human lives. From that perspective, Camerota’s position is extreme ends justify the means cant worthy of any horror movie mad scientist. “But don’t  you see? We are sacrificing these children to save thousands of lives!! It’s the greater good! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

3. “Isn’t it better that the tissue and organs be used for crucial resource rather than be disposed of? The women have consented to donating these organs.” wondered Alisyn. Surprise: the Senator believes that the owners of the organs should have some say in what happens to their tissue. “There are two human beings involved in this decision, ” Lankford said. Camerota acted as if he was speaking Norwegian.

4. When Lankford cited two laws that appear to be flouted by the Planned Parenthood employees by the evidence of their statements in the videos, the prohibition on selling organs and Federal law forbidding a deliberate alteration in abortion methods in order to preserve fetal tissue (which, I have to admit, sounds like a really stupid law without a practical objective), Camerota brushed them away by stating as definitive that “Planned Parenthood says that it has violated no laws.” (But is it right, Alisyn?) Oh, well that settles the issue, then. Law-breakers never deny that they have violated the law.

5. Finally, Camerota flashed a poll on the screen showing that over 75% of the public approves of abortion “in some circumstances,” and really seemed to be aghast that this wouldn’t eliminate the Senator’s problem. You know, polls. The majority thinks it’s right, so it must be right, right? And no responsible politician would do what he thinks is right in opposition to polls. Are you mad, Senator? Camerota also never bothered to clarify the polls, for example by noting that the bulk of the “pro-abortion” percentage, 51%, approved of abortion in “some” circumstances, presumably including, and perhaps only, to save the life of the mother. That wouldn’t support her “side,” though objective reporters aren’t supposed to have a side.

Worst of all, perhaps, is that Camerota’s partisan cross-examination of Senator Lankford occurred without CNN supplying the context for the recent attacks on Planned Parenthood and the Republican effort to de-fund it.  Like the other networks, CNN has given minimal coverage to the videos, the fifth of which was released yesterday. I don’t think a frontal attack on Planned Parenthood is the most logical use of the videos for anti-abortion activists, but at least the effort to end Federal funding for the organization forces news organizations to allude to the videos, even if they are refusing to show them.

To be fair, there is limited time on the 24 hour news broadcasts.

Within a few minutes after the interview,  CNN was relaying the announcement that Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog had separated.

40 thoughts on “Interview Ethics: CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Shows Why News Anchors Need Training In Basic Ethics, Not To Mention Journalism Ethics

  1. She was obligated as a reporter, however, to discuss the issue on Lankford’s terms

    In what universe is a journalist obligated to accept an interviewee’s premise? I’m happier when they do challenge people’s positions especially elected officials. If anything, the obligation is to make them answer the other side’s arguments.

    If for some unfathomable reason I want to hear Lankford’s opinions on his own terms then I’m sure he has a website.

    • “In what universe is a journalist obligated to accept an interviewee’s premise?”

      This one. Your lack of understanding is showing. Journalists shouldn’t invite people on to have arguments with them, they ask questions and get answers, and if they want disparate views, they bring those views on, they shouldn’t supply them.

    • Because he’s being interviewed due to his actions and his positions, not as a foil for CNN to make its own ideological points. He’s the newsmaker, not the interviewer. THAT world. It’s called “reporting” and “journalism.” If you don’t want to know what he thinks, then don’t watch the segment. The point, which I didn’t state because I assumed it was obvious, is that Camorata would NOT similarly challenge a Pro-abortion advocate or Planned Parenthood official in similarly personal terms. She would say, “How would you answer critics who say…” Here SHE was playing the critic. Not her job.

      • So, if she were interviewing Pat Roberts and he blamed the latest natural disaster on unwed mothers and homosexuality, she would be obligated to discuss it on his terms? I doubt you would agree with that or would she be obligated to bring on some other talking head to refute Roberts’ stupid claims?

        I think Valkygrrl was objecting more to your sweeping premise. Not all positions deserve equal treatment on the air.

        • We had THAT discussion when we discussed Christiane Amanpour, who said, if not those exact words about all positions, something pretty close to it. Sorry Beth, it was wrong when she said it, and it’s wrong now.

        • Nope, I disagree. I have objected when Tim Russert interviewed David Dukes as if he were Satan. It is not up to journalists to tell viewers what to think by signalling what they think. Ask tough questions. If you can’t be fair, then have someone else do the interview. To most female journalists, an anti-abortion advocate is just a loony as Pat Robertson.

          • It’s also not for journalists to try to set the national agenda by shutting positions out of coverage. Their job is to report the news, not silence those they disagree with by ignoring them.

          • How does this square with your position that journalists should be calling Hillary a liar? Shouldn’t they just let her talk and let viewers make up their own minds?

            • Calling her a liar, or calling her out on provable lies? It’s not the journalist’s role to call names unless writing for the opinion side of things, and even then that should be done VERY sparingly, lest it lose its impact and turn what should be journalism into a mudslinging competition. It IS their role to point up known facts and where they are at odds with a political figure’s talking points. It is DEFINITELY not their role to become mouthpieces for one side or the other.

            • It’s in the delivery: “What do you say to your critics who say” or “isn’t it true that”. It’s the difference between a question and a statement of fact. And how about this novel idea: When you ask a question, you let your interviewee answer. And if you aren’t able to swallow your bias, find someone who can, or don’t invite them.

        • “So, if she were interviewing Pat Roberts and he blamed the latest natural disaster on unwed mothers and homosexuality, she would be obligated to discuss it on his terms?”

          Yes. This is a really weird angle to come at it from, it assumes that journalists don’t know who they’re interviewing before they come into the room. In order to give fair and balanced reporting, Pat Roberts should be joined by someone of the opinion that natural disasters are not caused by demographic proportions, or not invited on at all. Their supposed to report news and interview people, not express an opinion.

          • My view is that not all positions should get equal treatment. I am not referring to abortion, but if I manage to become a popular flat-earther, that doesn’t mean that I should be granted an interview. And a scientist shouldn’t have to patiently explain that the earth is round with me getting equal time to insist that it’s not. That wouldn’t be responsible and ethical journalism — IMO.

            • Flat-earthing and abortion are apples and balloons, Beth, you can do better than that. One is provably fact v. fiction, the other is an issue that is still very much in ethical and moral debate. The journalists don’t get to decide which is which based on their biases, and that’s clearly what happened here.

            • See… There are so many fallacious assumptions here. I think Steve is right in calling the comparison between abortion and flat-earth theory a bad one, but more: In what situation would a discussion with a flat-earther be relevant? If there was some kind of scientific breakthrough that gave credit to flat earth theory, then there might be merit to having you on…. But outside that? Maybe the fact that there’s a popular flat-earther might be newsworthy on its own. This is grasping at straws, even for you.

              • I guess you both missed it when I said that I WASN’T REFERRING TO ABORTION. I put in all caps so you wouldn’t miss it this time. I deliberately used the easiest example ever to show that my premise — NOT ALL ISSUES DESERVE EQUAL TIME — has to be true at least some of the time. After that, it becomes more complicated depending on the issue that is being talked about.

                • Talk about an elephant in the room. “I’m not talking about what you guys are talking about, so talk about what I’m talking about, specifically ignoring the relevant comparison.” Fuck off, Beth.

                  • I’m having a bad week. I don’t know why. My tolerance level is unusually low. I’m sorry. I still think you’re being an idiot, but you didn’t quite deserve that.

                  • If you look back over my posts on this thread, you’ll see that I was being consistent and following up on Valkgrrl’s question as to whether Jack’s premise was a bright line rule or whether it should be more tweaked depending on the situation.

                    Silly me for expecting nuance and debate on this site. Fucking off now — that seems to be your response a lot these days.

                    • Yeah, I’m sorry. I think I need a break, you didn’t deserve that. I think I addressed why you’re wrong outside the comparison, when I wrote “but more: In what situation would a discussion with a flat-earther be relevant? If there was some kind of scientific breakthrough that gave credit to flat earth theory, then there might be merit to having you on…. But outside that? Maybe the fact that there’s a popular flat-earther might be newsworthy on its own.” Which draws the line that if there is something that is relevant and new, then yes it should be given time. But more: I don’t think anyone required EQUAL time. Selection bias is probably the most ethical of the options available to journalists (While still being unethical, especially if it’s deliberate.).

                      Regardless, I think I’m going to log off for a while.

                • DON’T get condescending with me, Beth. Flat earth was a bad example and you know it. The principle that not all issues deserve equal time does not apply to abortion. It does not apply to presidential candidates. It does not apply to most issues that are newsworthy or they wouldn’t BE newsworthy. You really are grasping at straws, and sinking fast. That said, I’m going to bite my tongue and not start another cluster eff-bombing campaign.

            • Well, no, they wouldn’t have to get equal time, or even any time. But, if you are going to put a flat-earther on, I think Jack’s point is that you have to confront the issue on their terms.

              “If the earth is flat, how do you account for this phenomena or that phenomena?”

              It is the difference between arguing with someone’s position and exploring it.


  2. She was nothing more than Sarah Silverman without the profanity, who just got slammed by a masterful tweet by Ben Shapiro asking whether the attitude that this is just leftover tissue and something should be done with it any different than the Nazis using the leftover tissue from the Holocaust. I think her dad must have died of apoplexy reading that.

    • I like Shapiro. He’s constantly an ass, and overly confrontational…. But he usually thinks out his positions well.

    • But Jews aren’t human, and have no rights. The Nazis said so. Ahhh, but you can’t use Nazi analogies…Godwin said so, whoever the hell he is.

      Lankford was extremely professional and measured in the face of Camerota’s open contempt and Planned Parenthood advocacy.

      • In defense of Michael Wayne Godwin: he never said so. He made the observation that many things, too many in fact, were being compared to Nazis. He wanted to reduce the number of Nazi comparisons, especially when such comparisons were hyperbolic and/or stupid. Godwin himself has acknowledged that some Nazi comparisons are right and proper.

        By the way, you should check out this Michael Godwin guy (or Mike, as he prefers to be called). Apparently, he’s an accomplished attorney, and quite the free speech advocate, too.

  3. Yikes: tgt has dropped in on another post, everybody is telling everybody to fuck off, and I have to be on a plane and traveling for five hours or so. Please make sure I don’t return to smoldering carnage….I really didn’t expect a post about another presumptuous CNN talking head to trigger the Apocalypse….

  4. Her citing that poll is just the ultimate in vapid sliminess. If an abortion will save the life of the mother, then it becomes a “choose who will die” 50/50 scenario in which ANYONE, no matter how anti-abortion, would be likely to support it in that exceptional case.

    It’s like saying, “Look! 75% of people would kill a stranger to save their wife’s life! See? Killing people is okay! Why do you have a problem with it?”

  5. Maybe someday Jack can do a post on the ethics of governing, or doing anything, based on polls. Citing polls makes my blood boil.

  6. I’m late into this (as usual) so I’ll only say that Miss Camerota made a mistake when she left as the Saturday hostess of “Fox & Friends” to do some “real” reporting with CNN. This seems to be a classic case of someone who has aspirations above her level of competency. Something like Adam Sandler trying to join the Royal Shakespearean Theater. She had already risen to her ceiling at Fox. To break it, she went over to an inferior network and, to compensate for her obvious lack of talent, decided to make herself into the attack chihuahua for the leftist agenda. It may or may not work for her, but it will still not negate the fact that she’s out of her league. Nor will it help CNN rise out of the ideological and ethical hole that they’ve dug themselves into.

  7. While at Fox, Miss Camerota was known to be not the swiftest swallow in the barn. Her time at CNN has confirmed that. It is unfortunate that an important discussion of journalism and ethics revolves around such an empty vessel.

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