Whether it’s TMZ, Buzzfeed or the National Inquirer, we Americans love celebrity gossip. And in the age of President Donald Trump’s tabloid presidency, it seems only natural that more mainstream news outlets — like CNN — would want in on the game.
That’s why it came as little surprise yesterday when CNN anchor Chris Cuomo spent a significant chunk of his morning show on the channel gossiping about the state of President Trump’s relationship with his wife Melania since a story broke earlier this year about an alleged affair between him and adult film star Stormy Daniels. Along with CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett, Cuomo was discussing possible interpretations of the first lady’s public activities since the scandal broke when he started to laugh out loud.
“We’re looking for clues,” Cuomo said, letting out a snicker. “All I’m saying is, whatever happens with them happens, but we don’t have to hunt for clues.”
Cuomo is probably right to suggest the first couple’s recent public distance reflects private conflict between the two. It’s also hard to blame him for laughing. The story, after all, is overwhelmingly absurd and reflects the political surrealism that’s become an ever-present element of daily life in 2018.
But what’s even more absurd is the fact that the network continues to cover it as if it were real news — and the real journalism its reporters do suffers immensely because of it.
Ever since the president called CNN “fake news” at a January 2017 press conference, the network has boasted the distinction of receiving the brunt of Trump’s tirades against American media. Like it or not, that dynamic makes it vital for CNN to maintain a serious, credible image to the general public. And performances like yesterday morning’s on Cuomo’s show aren’t exactly shining beacons of objective reporting.
There is, of course, the possibility of a real story in the Daniels case. Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, told a story in a February interview with the New York Times that he paid Daniels $130,000 out of his own pocket to stay quiet about the affair. He unconvincingly added that the Trump campaign never reimbursed him.
But that has nothing to do with the drama now between Donald and Melania Trump. In other countries, like France, where the French press largely ignored then-President Francois Hollande’s 2014 affair with an actress, Trump’s infidelity likely wouldn’t even register as a story.
It’s not necessary that every story CNN runs has to feature only the hardest-hitting political journalism or only the hottest, most opinionated takes. But it’s undeniably demoralizing to see the network that’s been thrust to the forefront of the debate surrounding freedom of the press in America choosing to give breathless coverage to stories like socialite Kylie Jenner’s Snapchat return after a brief hiatus.
Cuomo’s on-air laugh was a rarity compared to the serious coverage his program typically does, but that itself isn’t the only thing that made the moment seem unprofessional. If CNN wants to avoid the same problem in the future, it needs to refocus its attention — from the fluff issues to the stuff that truly matters.