[There was a video here]
Last night, CNN attempted to cover the contentious events in Ferguson, Mo., including the announcement that police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for killing a black teenager named Michael Brown and the heated protests which followed. What the most trusted brand in American journalism ended up covering, however, was itself.
Throughout Monday evening, CNN’s on-air talent—particularly Don Lemon, Chris Cuomo, and Van Jones—focused less on the grand jury’s decision, or the grievances of those demonstrating in Ferguson, and more on how they, as CNN anchors, personally felt about what was happening around them.
As you can see in the video above, a CNN viewer might wind up thinking that what really mattered was that:
They’re on the tops of roof of cars, and, umm, obviously there’s the smell of marijuana in the air.
We need to invest in a better gas mask, by the way. We’ll put that down on your expense, Anderson.
3. Don Lemon learned that St. Louisans pronounce a particular highway “Farty Four”:
It’s Highway Forty and Forty Four, and people call it Highway Farty and Farty Four, because that’s sort of the St. Louis accent.
4. Don Lemon is extremely sad about the destruction of a Little Caesars pizzeria:
You’re looking at a building that is on fire, and it seems to be a complete loss, an utter loss, if you look at it, and we’re told by our producers and authorities that this is a Little Caesars.
5. Van Jones saw some “social media video bloggers” protesting the grand jury’s decision:
What’s going on now is you have really boiled this thing down to a very small number of hardcore protestors and then social media video bloggers who are now in a kind of standoff with a large number of law enforcement.
6. Don Lemon also saw some “bloggers” and “live streamers”:
Many of them are bloggers, live streamers, who are really sort of in a standoff, a confrontation with police.
7. Yet Van Jones and Don Lemon disagree about what “social bloggers” were doing, exactly:
Jones: The small number of people who were left were either social bloggers and videographers or people who were out there who were trying to start trouble.
Lemon: So the social bloggers and videographers were the people who were looting and burning down buildings?
Jones: Now, Don, don’t do this to me now.
One of the most important stories from last night was obviously: The presence of bloggers and videographers. CNN said so!
Adding to the channel’s flair for great television was Don Lemon’s intense attention to his own attire, including a bulletproof vest (with a scarf tucked into it) and a gas mask (worn as a hat):
Don Lemon getting edgy with the bold scarf-bulletproof vest combo. pic.twitter.com/EuVlNYPJwT
— James Lumalu (@jameslumalu) November 25, 2014
— Loni Love (@LoniLove) November 25, 2014
But the worst component of CNN’s Ferguson coverage—which no video or still can adequately capture—is the fact that, for much of the night, what viewers saw were Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo bantering with each other and other on-scene anchors. This was CNN: Anchors interviewing their colleagues, rather than anyone around them. Amidst a crowd resisting the profound injustice of Michael Brown’s death, you were watching television personalities talking to themselves.
Indeed, the most dramatic moment of CNN’s coverage—Lemon and Cuomo briefly going off-air after someone threw a tear-gas canister thrown in their direction—quickly became an opportunity to highlight not the protestors who were teargassed, but CNN employees:
Shortly after, Lemon returned to the air via a phone call. “My entire crew, Chris Cuomo, Van Jones and I were out standing in front of the police department and several tear gas canisters went off in front of us,” Lemon said. “We were ushered out by our security and members of the Ferguson police department ... the smoke was so thick we could barely move.”
For CNN, this was amazing television: CNN anchors get teargassed! For everyone else in Ferguson, it was just another canister.