I can never forget about Brian Stelter for as long as I’d like to before his name, voice, or melodrama seep into my Twitter feed one way or another. On Wednesday, it was because the CNN host liked a tweet containing a gaslighty Atlantic article with the self-serious quote tweet, “This is a really thoughtful argument.”
Just as the late Michael Kelly once noted that Bill Clinton’s foreign policy team would improve if replaced by a ham and cheese sandwich, this got me thinking. If the anthropomorphic potato head who hosts “Reliable Sources” finds an elementary article about unmasking invulnerable people in the great outdoors to be “really thoughtful,” perhaps an actual potato would be a better host.
Hear me out. Of course, Stelter is probably a better communicator, having spent more than a decade of his 35 years of life anchoring the CNN show. He’s no stranger to the camera and the spotlight. In fact, he loves it, even when he’s just ranting about his feelings or having a meltdown about conservative media paying attention to massive spy scandals.
But if a journalist’s job is to get to the root of a story, then there’s something to be said for a literal spud. Those tubers do a better job of digging deep than Stelter, whose usual journalistic offerings consist of merely covering how Fox is covering the news.
He’s so committed to that bit, he actually channeled his obsession into a book about the right-wing network called “Hoax” (a term Stelter should be familiar with after having peddled the Russia collusion one for years). Say what you will about the broadcast ineptitude of potatoes, but they’re rarely deranged.
You might protest that in order to do cable news, you have to know a little something about cable news, but even there a potato might have Stelter beat. For a chief media correspondent, Stelter sure struggles to grasp the broadcast landscape. He told Vox’s Ezra Klein in a 2019 interview that while Fox News exists to “titillate and terrify” its audience, CNN is just “looking for a variety of voices” when it assembles mega-panels or lets its anchors spout Democrat National Committee talking points.
This blindspot reminds me of when Stelter complained over the summer about right-wing media going after Joe Biden nonstop as if it were their sole mission before asking, with a straight face, “When you see entire media companies essentially exist to tear down Joe Biden, is there an equivalent on the left, tearing down Trump?” Incredibly, his guest replied, “There really isn’t.” When it comes to comprehending the media landscape, Stelter is at a deficit.
STELTER: "When you see entire media companies essentially exist to tear down Joe Biden, is there an equivalent of that on the left, tearing down Trump?"
GUEST: “There really isn’t."pic.twitter.com/wqT6PruGUk
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) August 9, 2020
Journalists have an obligation to tell the truth, and while a potato might not be able to “tell” anything, at least it wouldn’t lie. Just this week, Stelter gaslit audiences with the claim that overly cautious and fearmongering guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are actually the conservative position. Last week, the host probed why “right-wing, anti-Democrat media outlets” are spreading “so many nothing-burger narratives” and “nonstories.”
That’s a rich question coming from Stelter, whose network is the same one that characterized Biden’s first 100 days as “moderate radicalism,” described a brutal murder as an “accident,” said there’s no way to know if a baby is a boy or girl, mocked a Christian lawmaker as “Mr. Bible boy,” staged a fake COVID quarantine emergence, went for a giant-Q-Tip comedy routine instead of inquiry into a deadly scandal during prime time, and even admitted it was running a “propaganda” operation to oust Trump. Instead of running “nothing-burger narratives,” Stelter would prefer if cable news outlets would talk about real stories — you know, like themselves:
No more nonstories, Stelter pleads. No more nothingburgers. Good journalism requires more. Judging by Stelter’s news items of choice, sometimes the most hard-hitting story is an on-air pat on the back for Twitter self-control when some meanie calls you a potato head.
"He wanted me to respond. This was just more B.S. fuel for the culture war. And it does not matter." pic.twitter.com/hUrOYs3WCU
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) February 28, 2021
“There is too much real news going on!” Stelter cried. “There’s no time for potato heads.”
I couldn’t agree more. That is why, when I ask whether an actual potato would be a better live TV host than potato head Brian Stelter, it is rhetorical.