From Ariana Pekary, writing for The Columbia Journalism Review:
THIS MONTH WE WITNESSED A VIOLENT RAMPAGE at the US Capitol. In the middle of the insurrection, CNN decided a political panel was the best means of following the unfolding catastrophe. As members of Congress were on lockdown, Anderson Cooper held court with political analysts Rick Santorum, David Axelrod, and Van Jones. They talked past the danger on the ground, and in doing so, they helped normalize the takeover of a federal institution.
In my experience, panel discussions oversimplify, provoke outrage, and allow unchecked opinion to dominate at the expense of fact-based reporting. But in reporting the issue, I found there are more nuanced and dangerous reasons that the format dominates the airwaves.
“The logic is this,” says Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor who has suggested scrapping the panel setup. “Reporting is difficult and expensive. Talking about the news is easy and cheap. When you have twenty-four hours to fill, you need an inexpensive and always available way to generate programming. The panel format accomplishes that, and allows for a ‘both sides’ treatment when a little conflict is called for.”
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