I attempted to contact Ms. Burnett's public relations official, Neel Khairzada, before the post went up. It was a Friday, and I learned that she was out of the office until the following Monday, so I posted the piece. When she returned, I was able to reach her by phone and email. I sent her what I had written, and asked for her thoughts. In my first email to her, I wrote:
I'm writing as a journalism student, and as such, I'm very interested to learn why producers and journalists make the decisions they make. I'm hoping to speak with someone from CNN about this segment. I'd like to discuss how the piece came together, and whether OutFront stands behind its content and presentation. I'd also like to know if OutFront thinks my analysis is wrong or unfair.I followed this with another email and a phone call. When I reached Ms. Khairzada, she was very polite, and told me she had been busy catching up on other assignments. She said she would review my emails as soon as possible. When she wrote back, however, she stated simply that, "We’re not going to comment." I emailed her again asking for further clarification:
I'm a regular watcher of Ms. Burnett's program. I was surprised to see her report on a very serious story - arguably one of the most serious of the last decade - in a way that I found to be factually incorrect and ethically questionable. I immediately reached out to the program because I am convinced that those who work for OutFront prize the integrity of their work and wish to defend it - and I'm eager to hear and publish the conversation that would come from that defense.Ms. Khairzada did not respond to this email.
Can you tell me why the show isn't going to comment? Is it because my criticism is viewed as baseless? Is it a matter of policy that you don't generally comment on critiques of your work? I'd be very curious to know, especially because I hope to keep engaging CNN in the future.
I would assume that CNN receives many calls for comment on its stories every day. Undoubtedly, it has to pick and choose who to respond to, and I don't think I'm someone deserving of special attention. That said, I think it's disappointing that the show chose not to offer any comment at all on this subject. I believe I raised legitimate concerns concerning the factual accuracy and ethical content of a report Ms. Burnett delivered. If Ms. Burnett and her producers do indeed stand behind the content of that report, I think they should be able to, at the very least, state so publicly when challenged - even if that just means offering a single sentence in defense of their work. Their decision not to comment raises, I believe, questions as to whether or not they stand by that work.
Again, I understand a major market show cannot offer a comment to everyone who contacts them. But I think journalists should make a priority of addressing critiques that challenge their factual accuracy. This is what Glenn Greenwald did not long ago when he publicly acknowledged a factual error in one of his articles which I had brought to his attention. In his response to me, he also entirely disagreed with a second, interpretive point of mine - and I think his argument was correct. That's the kind of public discussion I believe raises the quality of journalism. I would have liked to have had the chance to engage in such a dialogue with Ms. Burnett's team.
I sent this post to Ms. Khairzada, and I'll update it with any response I receive.