From time to time, I bet, a cable news anchor has told you what to think about what happened. And I’d wager, too, that the anchor has asked a reporter or correspondent, “You agree, right?”
It’s irritating and profoundly misleading. CNN’s John Roberts did that again this morning during the American Morning program’s 6 a.m. hour. In an exchange with veteran CNN international correspondent Christiane Amanpour regarding events in Iran, Mr. Roberts sought to have her confirm his surmises. Note the use of the guessing word seems. First, he offered an opinion:
Mr. ROBERTS: And, Christiane, President Obama seems to be putting a little bit of distance between the White House and the situation in Iran using very, very diplomatic and some people might say standoffish language to describe the situation there. Here’s what he said to CNBC. Let’s listen. [emphasis added]
Notice the wording. Seems always says to me someone’s guessing. Then some people might say passes for evidence backing his opinion. But it’s not: it is wording of artifice intended to validate his guess.
Next, CNN ran a video clip of the president’s remarks:
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It’s important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, that the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised.
Then Mr. Roberts addressed Ms. Amanpour:
ROBERTS: What’s behind the strategy like that, Christiane, and particularly this idea as well that the president is saying he doesn’t want to be seen to be meddling in Iranian affairs? [emphasis added]
This idea? What idea? Whose idea? Mr. Roberts spins the president’s remarks as an attempt to avoid “meddling in Iranian affairs.” He assumes it’s a “strategy” and asks Ms. Amanpour what’s “behind” a “strategy” that Mr. Roberts has assumed.
She refused and followed with facts and analysis based on them:
AMANPOUR: Well, I think — look, I am not going to get into the House — ahead of the White House or the president. I’m just telling you the facts from the ground that there is actually a difference between Mr. Mousavi and President Ahmadinejad most particularly in domestic policy. And that is why there’s a divided nation on the ground right now. Those huge supporting crowds for President Ahmadinejad and that gathering momentum for reform.
And having experienced Iran for instance over the years of reform under President Hotami and seeing the complete difference in tone and the difference in reaching out to the world in terms of foreign policy and again tone compared to the four years of Ahmadinejad, it’s almost night and day.
The president, on the other hand, is correct about foreign policy. There is foreign policy conducted by Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader. And he is the one who deals with relations with the United States, the military policy, U.S. policy, and other foreign policy. So that is an important distinction.
But Mr. Mousavi had said that he wants to pursue detente with the rest of the world, including the United States. Whereas President Ahmadinejad also said that he does want to move forward but his public stance is much, much more confrontational and belligerent particularly over the all-important nuclear policy.
Now, it’s true that Mr. Mousavi said that our nuclear program is not negotiable. But then there’s a difference in how he said that he would allow the international community to verify and lay their fears at rest regarding their fears of militarization. [emphasis added]
Wouldn’t it be nice if more correspondents would push back against the assumptions and assertions cable-news anchors asked them to confirm?