More of this, please, CNN

Afghanistan has fallen, and CNN may be risen because of it.

Afghanistan has fallen, and its collapse may resurrect the moribund CNN.

Watch this exchange between Jake Tapper and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Tapper doesn’t give Blinken an inch or an out. When Blinken tries to tell him “this is not Saigon,” or change the subject, Tapper holds his feet firmly in the fire. This is good television news, not simply because it’s well-produced and Tapper is a good interviewer. It’s good television news because it’s relevant and not the one-dish restaurant CNN had become.

Let me put it this way. You could order any meal you wanted at the Cereal Killer Cafe in East London, as long as it was cereal. Unfortunately, the one-dish restaurant closed in 2020 due to COVID-19.

For nearly six years, the mainstream media, including the Godfather of cable news—CNN—only offered one dish. I think you know what it is: A steaming hot pile of Trump. Then, all of a sudden, Trump was gone, and with him all appetite for more talking heads, blockbuster leaks and fan fiction about his impending doom.

CNN’s viewership plummeted, like the number of people willing to brave a coronavirus lockdown to get a bowl of weird cereal.

Then Afghanistan imploded when the Biden administration decided to pull the remaining 2,500 troops all at once, with a deadline. The U.S. had not lost a single troop in combat for over a year, but the Taliban had been biding its time. Why bother killing Americans when we are going to leave? They figured they can win without a single casualty—and they did.

Blinken had made the Sunday network television rounds offering a weak defense of how “surprised” President Biden’s team had been at the speed of the Taliban’s takeover and the weakness of the Afghan government to stand even for a day without some American commitment. Without even a token 2,500-strong U.S. presence, the entire house of cards fell.

But Tapper got straight to the point: “ Secretary Blinken, how did President Biden get this so wrong?”

Blinken tried to blame the withdrawal’s failure on Trump. Normally, this would be catnip for any media. Yeah, let’s blame The Former Guy. Tapper would have none of it.

QUESTION: You cited the May 1st deadline negotiated by the Trump administration.  You did blow back – blow through that deadline.  We did have troops there after May 1st.  But I think, again, the issue here is not just the withdrawal of U.S. forces.  It’s how they were withdrawn – the rapidity, the hastiness.  President Obama’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, he called the way this was done, quote, “a handover to the Taliban,” and, quote, “We have hung them out to dry,” about the Afghan people.  Crocker continued, quote, “I’m left with some grave questions in my mind about Biden’s ability to lead our nation as commander-in-chief to have read this so wrong or, even worse, to have understood what was likely to happen and not care,” unquote. 

Does President Biden not bear the blame for this disastrous exist from Afghanistan?

In his prepared answers (read the transcripts of Blinken’s appearances on This Week with Jonathan Karl on ABC and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd on NBC), the Secretary of State tried to change the focus from how this withdrawal was a poorly planned disaster to how we couldn’t keep troops in Afghanistan forever.

“You keep changing the subject to whether or not we should be there forever, and I’m not talking about that,” Tapper chided Blinken.

I’m talking about whether or not this exit was done properly, taking out all the service members before those Americans and those Afghan translators could get out.  That’s what I’m talking about.  And then you have to send people back in.  That shows – that’s the definition of, oh, we shouldn’t have taken those troops out because now we have to send twice as many back in.

Blinken tried to argue that Biden was prepared “for every contingency.” Yet this is obviously, blindingly, untrue. Wisely, Tapper let that statement hang, for the viewer to decide.

It would be easy for CNN to be Biden’s cheerleader here, and simply buy the story line as offered. It would be tempting for journalists who are used to serving only one dish to blame The Former Guy. It would literally be the path of no resistance to focus on Trump’s call for Biden to “resign in disgrace” while placing the blame on #45.

Tapper did none of that, and perhaps has taught CNN a lesson. With its ratings down 36 percent from four years ago in the primetime demographic, they need to learn that serving just one dish is not enough to keep an audience.

Just as the beginning of a war is news, the end of one, especially the chaotic, mismanaged and bungled end of our nearly two decades in Afghanistan, losing the country to the very enemy we boasted we had defeated in less than a week, is also big news. Trying to make every story into a Biden promo video and blaming it on Trump isn’t very compelling, or accurate news.

CNN needs to take notes on how Jake Tapper handled Anthony Blinken, and continue doing the same. Journalism demands holding authority accountable. The Biden administration must be held accountable for what is happening in Afghanistan, and not simply by the media reporting “Republicans pounce.”

Even Democrat Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, is aghast at the failure of his own party’s administration, calling it a “moral and operational failure.”

It’s the job of the news media to report things accurately, and to assume the role of prosecutor at times with a president and cabinet.

Perhaps CNN will wake up and do more of this given Biden’s complete mishandling and ill-preparedness with his first international crisis—one he created. CNN: More of this, please.


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