CNN's profile of Kellyanne Conway gets social media blowback
By DAVID BAUDER | Fri, March 22, 2019 03:38 EDT
NEW YORK (AP) — CNN's Dana Bash is learning the perils of doing personality profiles in a political city that's always on a war footing.
She's received a social media roasting this week for featuring White House adviser Kellyanne Conway as part of her ongoing feature series, "Badass Women of Washington." It was first distributed online late Wednesday, and it's unclear how much of it has been shown on the television networks.
Philippe Reines, a longtime communications adviser to Hillary Clinton, urged Bash on Twitter to "stop, just stop" and compared Conway to Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister for Nazi Germany.
Bash's series was born two years ago, when she and co-workers wondered what Clinton's loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election would mean for women working in Washington. Other profile subjects have included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican National Committee head Ronna Romney McDaniel, California Sen. Diane Feinstein and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Some of Bash's online critics likened the Conway profile to "putting lipstick on a pig" and said Bash was shameless for posting a soft profile on a week that Conway's boss, President Donald Trump, has been aggressively criticizing Conway's husband. When Maggie Haberman, White House reporter for The New York Times, retweeted it as a timely story "from the great Dana Bash," she was attacked online, too.
Bash declined comment and a CNN spokeswoman would not immediately make anyone else available at the network to talk about it. Only Reines' comment drew a response from the CNN Washington correspondent on social media.
"I was ignoring your rants until you brought in the Holocaust," Bash wrote. "As the granddaughter of those who barely escaped the Nazis I implore you to take a deep breath."
Replied Reines: "I know your background, Dana. Invoking it won't shame me or spare you."
It must have felt a little familiar to Bash, whose Pelosi profile last November followed a similar outline: an interview about what it was like for a woman to work in Washington combined with a visit to where they spent their formative years.
She trailed Pelosi to Baltimore's Little Italy, buying chocolate ice cream in one of the speaker's favorite shops; Conway showed her a childhood home in working class southern New Jersey, where she was "Blueberry Princess" one year.
She was attacked for the Pelosi piece, too, only from a different side of the Internet.
The conservative web site Red State wrote that the Pelosi "puff piece" signaled that CNN was preparing to do what it could to help Democrats advance their agenda. Similarly, the Media Research Center's NewsBusters site wrote that CNN was gushing over Pelosi.
"In 2019, Americans should be ready for the tough, speak-truth-to-power CNN journalists to turn into kittens as Democrats take power in the House," wrote Scott Whitlock for NewsBusters.
It's worth wondering whether the idea of journalists trying to show a human side of easy-to-caricature public figures is outdated in today's anger-fueled climate.
"In-depth pieces, profile pieces are a helpful and insightful part of covering people in power," said veteran television executive Kate O'Brian. "However, the current era is so polarized and dealing with social media makes it more challenging to do these kind of pieces. It doesn't make it any less important for them to be done."
The timing of Bash's Conway piece was awkward, since it didn't allow for a direct response to the president's current attacks on her husband. Some consider her an unworthy subject given her job defending an administration known for making false statements. The CNN story described Conway as "relentlessly on message." Bash said "people love to love you and people love to hate you."
Only a week ago, CNN's Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon revisited on the air a subject that continually vexes them: whether Conway deserves to be on the network at all. Lemon said that it's "beneath the dignity of this network" to interview Conway.
Cuomo said the public deserves the chance to hear from the person that the president puts forth to defend his interests.
"If you are going to limit who you have on the show to people who only answer the questions and are truthful, you are going to be alone a lot of the time," Cuomo said.
Erik Wemple, media critic for The Washington Post, in effect took Lemon's side in arguing that Bash's piece on Conway was a misfire. You can do inspiring stories about the rises to power of everyone else profiled on "Badass Women of Washington," he wrote.
"You cannot do likewise for Conway," he wrote, "because there's nothing inspiring about her role in defending presidential racism, misogyny and dishonesty. The old rules of balance, both-siderism and bipartisanship don't work with this crew, a lesson that CNN has been slow to grasp."
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