Monday, February 18, 2008

Say What You Will (Requiem for a TV News Career)

Maybe this was always the way it had to be.

When I was 19, I broke into the offices of WVUM -- the radio station at the University of Miami -- live, during an installment of my weekly radio show. I raided a file cabinet and my crew and I proceeded to read the minutes of that week's executive board meeting on the air, paying special attention to a recurring topic of conversation among my apparently exasperated supervisors -- a series of incidents which, collectively, were referred to as "The Chez Situation."

The board as a whole was less-than-pleased with, for example, my insistence on jokingly pointing out to my audience the fact that WVUM's faculty adviser seemed to be waging and winning a valiant war against sobriety, and as such deserved congratulations all-around. There was also my insinuation that one of the station's sponsors, a club which had just opened on South Beach, would likely be closed in two weeks then renamed and reopened two weeks later. (In fact, it took about a month to close.)

I regularly ignored the program director's God-awful musical "suggestions," choosing instead to play whatever I felt like hearing.

I ridiculed the University's decision to replace the garbage cans on campus with new, attractive, and extraordinarily expensive stone receptacles immediately after making an announcement that tuition for the coming year would be skyrocketing.

I poked fun at the frat boys.

I advocated mischievous insurrection.

I occasionally threw out a few low-level swear words on-air.

I was kind of a punk kid, and I admit it.

Yet, despite the all of this, I remained on the air simply because even though my superiors may have been irritated by the fallout from my juvenile antics, they usually found the antics themselves eminently entertaining. I was good at what I did; I had a voice and I wasn't the least bit afraid to use it, consequences be damned -- or not considered at all. Being exactly who I was, for whatever reason, seemed to be more important to me than any other consideration.

When I got into television, I did my best to bury my inner-revolutionary. For 16 years I've been a successful producer and manager of TV news, cranking out creative, occasionally daring content on good days and solid, no-frills material on the days in between. I've won several awards and for the most part can say that I'm proud of what I've done in the business, particularly since I never intended to get into it in the first place; by the time college was over, I was playing steadily in a band and fully believed sleeping on floors and subsisting on beer and Taco Bell to be an entirely noble endeavor. I wound up working at WSVN in Miami only after the band imploded, taking my dreams of rock n' roll glory with it. Since those earliest days, I've come to understand that the libertine, pirate ship mentality I found so seductive during my time in a rock band is pretty much a staple of most newsrooms, particularly at the local level. What's more, it's accompanied by a slightly better paycheck (although often only slightly).

Over the past several years though, something has changed. Drastically. And I'm not sure whether it's me, or television news, or both.

With the exception of the period immediately following 9/11, which saw the best characteristics of television journalism shocked back into focus and the passion of even the most jaded and cynical of its practitioners return like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, the profession I once loved and felt honored to be a part of has lost its way.

I say this with the knowledge of implied complicity: I continued to draw a salary from stations at the local level and national networks long after I had noticed an unsettling trend in which real news was being regularly abandoned in favor of, well, crap. I may not have drank the Kool-aid, but I did take the money. I may have been uncomfortable with a lot of what I was putting on the air, but I was comfortable in the life that it provided me. I just figured, screw it, most people don't like their jobs; shut up and do what you're told, or at least try to. Besides, I told myself, what the hell else do you know how to do?

That attitude began to change in April of 2006 -- when I found out that I had a tumor the size of a pinball inside my head.

I was working for CNN at the time, a job I had been proud to accept three years earlier as CNN was in my mind the gold-standard of television journalism. I readily admit that it was Time-Warner's medical plan that provided me the best care possible for the removal of the tumor and during my subsequent recovery, but following my operation, what had been clawing at my insides for years finally began to come to the surface. TV news wasn't the least bit fulfilling anymore, and I either needed to get out of it once and for all or find an outlet for my nascent iconoclastic tendencies.

So I started a blog.

I did it mostly to pass the time, hone my writing skills, resurrect my voice a little, and keep my mind sharp following the surgery. As is the case with many online journals, not a soul other than myself and a few close friends and family were even aware of what I was doing, much less read my stuff regularly. I thought nothing of returning to work at the end of my medical leave while continuing to write online. Really, who the hell knew who I was? Who cared what I had to say?

As it would turn out, over time, more than a few people.

My admittedly worthless opinions on pop culture, politics, the media and my personal past were quickly linked by sites like Fark, Gawker and Pajiba and I found my readership growing exponentially. During this time, I still didn't consider telling my superiors at CNN what I was doing on the side, simply because, having never been provided with an employee handbook, I hadn't seen a pertinent rule and never signed any agreement stipulating that I wouldn't write on my own time. I hadn't divulged my place of work and wasn't writing about what went on at the office. The views expressed on my blog, Deus Ex Malcontent, were mine and mine alone. I represented no one but myself, and I didn't make a dime doing it.

For 20 months after starting DXM, I continued to work as a producer on American Morning, one of many charged with putting together the show. During that time, I received consistently favorable reviews (while in Atlanta I was told that I was well on my way to becoming an executive producer) and, more importantly, neither my credibility nor objectivity was ever called into question. Like anyone who considers him or herself a respectable news professional, whatever my personal opinions were, they were checked at the door when I walked into work. Having grown up in a household in which the highest ideals of journalism were never more than a conversation away -- my father was an old-school investigative reporter -- I knew full well that you couldn't avoid having opinions and viewpoints, but you never let them get in the way of your journalistic responsibility

As far as CNN knew, I was a valued employee, albeit one with almost no say in the day-to-day editorial decisions on American Morning. This held true even as I began contributing columns to the Huffington Post, giving my writing more exposure than ever before.

Then, last Monday afternoon, I got a call from my boss, Ed Litvak.

Ed, seeming to channel Bill Lumbergh from Office Space, informed me of that which I was already very well aware: that my name was "attached to some, uh, 'opinionated' blog posts" circulating around the internet. I casually admitted as much and was then informed of something I didn't know: that I could be fired outright for this offense. 24 hours later, I was. During my final conversation with Ed Litvak and a representative from HR, they hammered home a single line in the CNN employee handbook which states that any writing done for a "non-CNN outlet" must be run through the network's standards and practices department. They asked if I had seen this decree. As a matter of fact I had, but only about a month previously, when I stumbled across a copy of that handbook on someone's desk and thumbed through it. I let them know exactly what I had thought when I read the rule, namely that it was staggeringly vague and couldn't possibly apply to something as innocuous as a blog. (I didn't realize until later that CNN had canned a 29-year-old intern for having the temerity to write about her work experiences -- her positive work experiences -- in a password-protected online journal a year earlier.) I told both my boss and HR representative that a network which prides itself on being so internet savvy -- or promotes itself as such, ad nauseam -- should probably specify blogging and online networking restrictions in its handbook. I said that they can't possibly expect CNN employees, en masse, to not engage in something as popular and timely as blogging if they don't make themselves perfectly clear.

My HR rep's response: "Well, as far as we know, you're the only CNN employee who's blogging under his own name."

It took self-control I didn't know I had to keep from laughing, considering that I could've named five people off the top of my head who blog without hiding their identities.

Uh-huh, as far as you know.

When I asked, just out of curiosity, who came across my blog and/or the columns in the Huffington Post, the woman from HR answered, "We have people within the company whose job is specifically to research this kind of thing in regard to employees."

Jesus, we have a Gestapo?

A few minutes later, I was off the phone and out of a job. No severance. No warning (which would've been a much smarter proposition for CNN as it would've put the ball effectively in my court and forced me to decide between my job or the blog). No nothing. Just, go away.

Right before I hung up, I asked for the "official grounds" for my dismissal, figuring the information might be important later. At first they repeated the line about not writing anything outside of CNN without permission, but HR then made a surprising comment: "It's also, you know, the nature of what you've been writing."

And right there I knew that CNN's concern wasn't so much that I had been writing as what I'd been writing. Whether a respected and loyal CNN producer of four years, like myself, could've gotten off with a warning had I chosen to write about, say, my favorite pasta sauce recipes, who knows. I'm dead sure though that my superiors never concerned themselves with my ability or inability to remain objective at work, given my strong opinions; they worried only about an appearance of bias (specifically, a liberal bias), and apparently they worried about it more than any potential fallout from firing a popular blogger with an audience that was already large and was sure to grow much larger when news of his firing put him in the national spotlight.

It's probably right about now that I should make something perfectly clear: I'm not naive -- I always understood that CNN, like any big company, might be apt to fire whoever it damn well pleases so long as the law remains intact at the end of the day.

Should they have fired me though?

Probably not, and only arrogant myopia would make them think otherwise.

As soon as the official word came down, I picked up the phone and called a friend of mine named Jacki Schechner. CNN junkies will recognize her as a former internet reporter for the network, one who pulled double-duty on American Morning and The Situation Room -- that is until the day she was taken out into the figurative woods without any warning and given the Old Yeller treatment. CNN's willingness to fire someone like Jacki tells you everything you need to know about how backward the network's thinking is when it comes to new media. It pays more lip-service to bloggers and their internet realm than any other mainstream media outlet, but in the end that's really all it is -- lip-service. Jacki was not only popular in internet circles, she had forged personal relationships with most of the big names in the blogosphere and knew her stuff inside and out. Inevitably though, CNN -- particularly American Morning -- chose to wear down and ultimately piss away this asset in favor of an on-air acquisition that fell right in line with the tried-and-true "TV" sententia: Veronica De La Cruz. The network never considered for a minute that new media might behave differently than television -- that the regular rules might not apply.

And that's the problem.

As far as CNN (and to be fair, the mainstream TV press in general) believes, it still sits comfortably at the top of the food chain, unthreatened by any possibility of a major paradigm shift being brought to bear by a horde of little people with laptops and opinions. Although the big networks recognize the need to appeal to bloggers, they don't fear them -- and that means they don't respect them. Corporate-think dictates that the mainstream television press as a monstrous multi-headed hydra is the ultimate news authority and therefore is in possession of the one and only hotline to the ghosts of Murrow and Sevareid. Sure those bloggers are entertaining, but in the end they're really just insects who either feed off the carcasses of news items vetted through various networks or, when they do break stories, want nothing more than to see themselves granted an audience by the kingmakers on television.

This, of course, is horseshit.

During my last couple of years as a television news producer, I watched the networks try to recover from a six year failure to bring truth to power (the political party in power being irrelevant incidentally; the job of the press is to maintain an adversarial relationship with the government at all times) and what's worse, to pretend that they had a backbone all along. I watched my bosses literally stand in the middle of the newsroom and ask, "What can we do to not lead with Iraq?" -- the reason being that Iraq, although an important story, wasn't always a surefire ratings draw. I was asked to complete self-evaluations which pressed me to describe the ways in which I'd "increased shareholder value." (For the record, if you're a rank-and-file member of a newsroom, you should never under any circumstances even hear the word "shareholders," let alone be reminded that you're beholden to them.) I watched the media in general do anything within reason to scare the hell out of the American public -- to convince people that they were about to be infected by the bird flu, poisoned by the food supply, or eaten by sharks. I marveled at our elevation of the death of Anna Nicole Smith to near-mythic status and our willingness to let the airwaves be taken hostage by every permutation of opportunistic degenerate from a crying judge to a Hollywood hanger-on with an emo haircut. I watched qualified, passionate people worked nearly to death while mindless talking heads were coddled. I listened to Lou Dobbs play the loud-mouthed fascist demagogue, Nancy Grace fake ratings-baiting indignation, and Glenn Beck essentially do nightly stand-up -- and that's not even taking into account the 24/7 Vaudeville act over at Fox News. I watched The Daily Show laugh not at our mistakes but at our intentional absurdity.

I mentioned calling Jacki Schechner -- so what did she tell me?

"Think about how frustrated and disillusioned most of the American Morning staff is."

Not simply frustrated and disillusioned, but outright miserable.

And then she reminded me that in the past year-and-a-half, nearly 20 mid to high-level people have left American Morning; many of them quit with no other job to go to -- they just wanted out of the business. That speaks goddamned volumes, not simply about the show but about the state of the entire profession.

CNN fired me, and did it without even a thought to the power that I might wield as an average person with a brain, a computer, and an audience. The mainstream media doesn't believe that new media can embarrass them, hurt them or generally hold them accountable in any way, and they've never been more wrong.

I'm suddenly in a position to do all three, and I know now that this is what I've been working toward the last few years of my career.

Awhile back I was watching a great documentary on the birth of the punk scene, it closed with former Black Flag frontman and current TV host Henry Rollins saying these words: "All it takes is one person to stand up and say 'fuck this.'"

I truly hope so, because I'm finally doing just that.

And I should've done it a long time ago.


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Anonymous said...

Ah Chez...

So wounded. Yeah, the way you were treated sucks, but as someone in the news biz, you had to be 'supplied' an employee handbook so you'd know the rules of engagement?

You never asked for one?

You never considered that your so called 'impartial' media company might object to a news employee attacking even a pin-headed presidential candidate? On the record with that, how could anyone ever believe any contact you had with a story involving that candidate would be fair?

And then, when you did see the rules, you simply assumed it didn't include blogging? Today, blogging is just as much publishing as your local newspaper, as anyone with a website which has been farked knows. Claiming you didn't understand that flies in the face of your obvious intelligence.

What bothers me most is that you bit the hand that fed you even as you took the money. You sold your journalistic soul for a paycheck, as you tell it, and would probably still be doing it if your employer hadn't suddenly supplied you with a set of balls by firing you, and empowering you to tell us how you really feel.

At least Bernie Goldberg quit CBS and attacked from the outside, having put them in his rear-view mirror voluntarily.

There are some class-A assholes in TV news, just like there are in any other business. But there are still a lot of people at all levels who work hard at this and care about it, and labor every day to try to help make sense of the world for people.

Pissing on them is unfair, and feeds the untrue belief promoted my the disaffected that TV news as a whole is crap. Some is. Not all. Just like life.

But Chez, as a former SVN writer who worked with you, I've seen this before. New rant, same old Chez.

Good luck, bud. TV news will stumble on for a few more years without you. Since you never stood up for what you believe at CNN, I guess you were part of the problem, which must mean we're better off without you in the biz.

see los urbanista said...

way to go, chez! i couldn't agree with you more about big media ducking it's head in the sand when it comes to the power & impact of new media. your blog will certainly be one spot along our way to a more enlightened citizenry & truer democracy!

Anonymous said...

Keep the fire... and destroy these MSM bastards in the process ;)

They're starting to be irrelevant, you know.

gary said...

I don't know enough about you to form an opinion on whether your dismissal was appropriate or not. I'm amused by your claims of a punk mindset, mainly because I find this part of your statement to be in marked confusing contrast to such an outlook:

"With the exception of the period immediately following 9/11, which saw the best characteristics of television journalism shocked back into focus and the passion of even the most jaded and cynical of its practitioners return like a shot of adrenaline to the heart, the profession I once loved and felt honored to be a part of has lost its way."

This period, for those of us on the outside of the media, is when the press decided to give the executive branch a blank check. The press ignored all criticism of the president starting immediately on 9/11 and continuing for years, until the mountain of abuses became so high, and the administration's approval rating so low, that it could no longer be ignored.

This was not a period of focus and passion for journalism. It was a long dark period where the Constitution was routinely undermined by an administration run amok, and the press devoted increasing and embarrassing amounts of air time "infotainment" instead of news, like the antics of Paris Hilton, while ignoring serious matters. It was a period where the press participated eagerly in spreading fear, much of known now to be baseless. It was a period when a willing press eagerly forgot about real threats like bin Laden and championed the cause of convenient enemies like Saddam.

It was a period when the press ignored its responsibilities so thoroughly that major institutions were duped into helping get this country into a war that has cost us nearly a Trillion dollars, 29,000 injured soldiers and about 4,000 dead soldiers, thus far. We are spilling our treasure and blood on the sands, and the press attitude born on 9/11 helped get us where we are today.

Frankly I'm just stunned that you think that's journalism's finest hour.

Jonathan said...

It's unfortunate that this kind of thing happens. However, news has been interested in turning a profit for a very long time, it is after all a business.

I don't expect one renegade news reporter with even a large following to make a difference. I understand that some have become fed up with what is put forth as news and have turned to alternative news feeds (such as this blog), but the problem won't disappear because of this. They are producing media with the intent to market it to the largest audience possible in order to optimize profits. Contrary to your belief, this will increase the number of people viewing their crap. The viewers' average intelligence may be less, but their numbers will increase. If producing news in this way didn't have this effect, they obviously wouldn't do it. As long as the masses continue to consume the bread and circuses that are offered to them nothing is going to change.

I'm glad you're providing an alternative for those knowledgeable enough to seek it, but I don't expect this to have any effect on CNN's audience size.

freedomOfSpeach said...

I always knew that these big networks are double standard bigots. While they pretend to cry like hell for causes of Humanity, freedom of Speach etc they them self don't allow it when it comes to their own self interest.

we (in India) have ibnlive ( a associate of CNN which is other name for Media sponsored Blackmail, fake sting operations to benifit individuals or some political parties.

Rosie&James said...

Hey, just wanted to say that I'd never heard of your blog before, but another one I follow led me here to this post. You're right- this decision was really bad for CNN and your fan base IS growing thanks to their choice. I look forward to reading your future posts.

Some Crazy Bear said...

The one thing I realized a while back is that those who think they control the information flow via old media, don't really understand the "internets" and the power that someone like you can unleash against them.

In fact, it's a series of incidents such as happened to you that helped the blogs capture huge audiences who once turned to television and newspapers for their daily information fix.

Because of their heavy-handed and inept attempts to control information, I am not the only one who pours myself a cup of coffee in the morning and reads various news blogs to find out what's going on in the world that day.

I no longer buy newspapers and I use the TV mostly to play a squirrel video to amuse the cat.

Anonymous said...

You see how this business goes these days: even Chez's story is being spun everywhere. People frustrated with CNN, for one reason or another, are writing whatever they please about the case, as if it weren't controversial enough.

First of all: CNN did not fire his producer over blogging -- or even over the contents of his blog alone. It's clear in Chez's post that they would forbid him of writing for another outlet, whichever it came to be. Chez does way more than writing for DXM. So, please, don't make this a scandal about blogging censorship if the terms were "he was not running what he was writing through their vetting system." Get the news and the headlines straight, everybody (but no, not only CNN, but also bloggers want to attract attention and cause a buzz; I hope you're watching this, Chez). I'm being objective here, since I admire pretty much everything I've read by the guy so far. The more I see headlines, the more they read like "Heath Ledger died of an overdose" -- a phallacy.

Second thing: good writers are considered so because they make good choices. If anybody here has read Chez's recent pieces on Oprah and Natalee Holloway, you'll see there was no subtlety involved. Well, there are other ways to put it out. I'm not saying it's wrong that way, I'm saying this way would be safer. The message would still be out there. I won't state this as fact or "the truth", but if a company this size extends a job interview to someone who come to recognize as the person who was screaming on top of a soapbox at the square last week, do you really think they would hire that person? Merits aside, I'm guessing not. That's part of the harsh reality that should be pointed elegantly, not bluntly.

Third thing: congratulations on the huge coverage this case is getting online. Personally, I'm very glad to see this (even if twisted as pointed), as I deeply sympathize with the cause of separating worker and citizen. Professionally, as a journalist myself, I see a company firing an employee who failed to observe their manifest rules (unclear rules, if you want). Should this factoid get that much attention? Please notice that I'm not answering my own question here, I prefer not to. Sure, I may be accused of oversimplification, as if not considering the sides and the actions involved. Now come to think of the story in its essence: it's someone who was fired for not observing the rules. They were there all the time, I'm sorry to say. Yes, I agree a cameraman blogging about his newborn wouldn't get the same treatment. But people are spinning the story even when matters of credibility were raised (CNN's, obviously, not Chez's). Now, who watches the bloggers?

BTW, man, remember to follow the money. I'll bet that open message had something to do with your current situation.

Bruce said...

A great piece, good luck, we both know the change is upon us and its only getting stronger


WS said...

To contribute to a national site like HuffPo under your own name and not expect somebody to notice, not so bright. Takes me back to when I got fired from my afternoon proofreading job when my employers heard me on the air during my graveyard disc-jockey job and realized THAT was why I was nodding off mid-shift. Anyway, as a recent - voluntary - TV-news expat (also Emmy- and Golden Mike-winning), I do admire your blatant honesty regarding having complicitly collected the comfy checks for a few years even after realizing you were getting paid for "work" that was basically pointless, soulless, meaningless. Pretty much how I felt too.

Smack, Cracker, and Punk said...

Amen to you friend. I am glad to hear that even the people that make our news realize that it is at the least ridiculus, and at the worst, pandering to the government. I have added your blog to my RSS feed and look forward to more of your commentary on the US.

techsoldaten said...

Dear Chez Guevara -

Castro just declined to assume the presidency (or whatever the post is called down there) of Cuba. You should go there and take over.

I am not saying anything about your personal politics here. I just think, you know, you need a job, you have a personal disposition towards adversarial relations, and are switching careers anyways.

I will keep reading your blog for a long time to come and hope that you do land on your feet. But screw journalism, go into politics and build a platform from which to really go after big media.


Eileen said...

I doubt I'm the first person to note that you're in an awesome position to help de-monopolize the monolithic media. GO FOR IT! We need people like you (i.e. famous and smart) to help us take democracy to the airwaves!

Anonymous said...

And to think that CNN was one of the last main stream news channels I respected.

They were the first bit of news I read in the morning, and usually the last at night.

After reading your story, that stops today.

But I do have a new blog on my daily reading list.

Garry Anderson said...

Sometimes people are forced to make a stand. Well articulated. Take care with your health.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with the bit about crap on all of the major news networks. I've sworn off all of them between the Anna Nicole smith coverage and the Brittney Spears worship, I only watch the news hour now.

Jennifer Yarter said...

re: "Any writing done for a "non-CNN outlet" must be run through the network's standards and practices department"

This is so incredibly vague, I bet you would have a case for a lawsuite. What constitutes a "non-CNN outlet"? If I post a bulletin on MySpace complaining about my day at work, is that a non-CNN outlet? If I write an email to my mom on my personal email, is THAT a non-CNN outlet? If I write out my grocery list (milk, eggs, bread, etc), should I send THAT up to the CNN Standards and Practices Office?

Anonymous said...

Chez-- from one fired CNNer to another... good luck! You talked about the low morale at CNN, but it's extremely low in Atlanta, especially at Headline News. If management all of a sudden doesn't like you anymore, they'll put their spies out to get dirt on you. Also, the lack of professionalism by management is appalling! I know when I was fired back in August, management had the audacity to tell the staff that 3 people had been let go... as if they couldn't figure it out. Another thing that shocked me was that HR told me that I couldn't use my CNN co-workers as references. WTF!?!

Anonymous said...

After they replaced Solidad and Miles, I started watching Fox Business Network; nuff' said.

Anonymous said...

The only people following the news are those unindated by the corporate world. Those without a brain to speak for themselves, even think for themselves.

TV/News has lost its power, but it is not willing to step down from its soapbox.

pudge said...

"The 4th estate is now about making money for shareholders?"

Yes, although it is also about making money for its advertisers, and, perhaps most importantly, its staff.

"Well, excuse me for thinking it was to inform and educate the masses."

Wow. So when Chez called Mitt Romney a "witless automoton," which was he doing: informing, or educating? Of course, he was doing neither: he was merely expressing his own uninformed and uneducated views.

"How exactly was Chez 'harming' CNN's ability to make money for their shareholders Obi Wan?"

Are you serious, that you don't understand how this works? The news business works on perceptions. If you don't have an audience that trusts you, then you have nothing. And Chez is putting himself out there in a way that will reduce the trust of many people in that audience. So if people read his opinions and then watch American Morning, now they are less likely to trust what comes out of the show, which harms not just Chez, but everyone who works on that show, and the advertisers, and the shareholders.

And it can be a lot more serious than a simple drop in trust, which is serious enough. What is likely to happen eventually -- especially if he did become an executive producer someday -- is that he would be working on a certain show, and they would make a mistake -- the reason why is irrelevant -- that makes someone look bad on the other side of Chez' political fence, and then people would bring out all the things he's said over the years, and it would create endless headaches for the network, loss in viewership, loss in ad revenue, and so on.

Ever hear of Mary Mapes? A known Bush-hater who produces a segment in which major journalistic principles are dismissed in order to get The Story. CBS still hasn't recovered from that debacle. I don't know Chez well enough to know if he would take the same shortcuts Mapes and Rather did, but it doesn't matter: everyone makes mistakes, and someday he would, and he is setting up the whole network for a fall.

I am not old, but I am old school. I like my newspeople -- which includes everyone on the editorial side of things, including producers -- to either be straight down the middle, or at least act like it, at all times, but especially in public. Many of my journalistic heroes never let on where they stood politically, and a lot of them never even voted, because they took the need for both objectivity, and the public perception of objectivity, so seriously. Chez eschewed at least the latter, if not the former.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this blog from an article on Slashdot. I generally find stories like this amusing because it helps validate my theory of corporate absurdity.

Be mindful in your thoughts of power, as this is only the inevitable road that all media fall victim to. Instead, be happy that you have finally had your vision restored and see things for what they are.

Personally, I gave up watching middle-aged men wearing makeup (regardless of network) years ago.

Now that you're awake, get on with your life.

Anonymous said...

Pudge, so your saying they just want talking heads that can con all the people all of the time?

Isn't that Fox New's bailiwick?

Chez's personal opinion isn't considered 'news'Pudge, sorry to break that to you.

Then you have the audacity to call his pov uneducated and uninformed. Gee, real ego shot there..Same could be said of your 'two cents' you offer up here.

I believe it's entirely possible to hold a personal pov and yet do your job. It's not that hard.

You don't give CNN's audience any credit for being able to reason and separate a personal opinion on a blog, from the company line do you?

I guess when journalists go on talk shows and they give their pov on various issues and people, that is harming their networks too? Please..If that were true no one would be allowed on Comedy Central, Letterman or any of the others.

Ivy said...

What a raw deal, but good for you. I'm fairly new to this business as well and it didn't take long for me to jaded to all that was happening behind the scenes. It's time to stand up and fight to get this business back to what it was truly meant to be!

I'm behind you 100 percent!

pudge said...

"Pudge, so your saying they just want talking heads that can con all the people all of the time?"

I have no idea what you are referring to, but no, I am not saying that.

"Chez's personal opinion isn't considered 'news'"

I never said or implied that it was. Sorry to break that to you. I said it can adversely affect the reporting of the news.

"You don't give CNN's audience any credit for being able to reason and separate a personal opinion on a blog, from the company line do you?"

So you are denying that Mary Mapes' known dislike of Bush affected the severity of the blowback of "Rathergate" at every level of CBS, from editorial to advertiser? Or maybe you think Katie Couric's known leftward leanings don't negatively affect her ratings?

"I guess when journalists go on talk shows and they give their pov on various issues and people, that is harming their networks too?"

It depends on who they are. Most of the time, the people on those shows either are not news reporters or producers, they are pundits and columnists, and when straight news people do appear (like Bob Woodward), they play it straight, politically. If such straight news people do appear politically biased, then yes, it often does hurt their networks.

Sometimes the harm caused may be determined less than the benefit gained: for example, when Keith Olbermann is picked to do straight news, such as election night coverage. MSNBC already knows it is not going to lose much of its potential conservative audience, so it can make that move.

I hate Fox News (not because of its perceived and real biases as much as its very low journalistic standards), and I would watch NBC News more if not for Olbermann. But I imagine I am probably in the minority here. So I end up watching CNN for breaking news coverage (plus, it's the only one of the three I get in HD ...).

But if Lou Dobbs happens to be on, then *click*. That guy is even worse than most of what is on Fox News: not even a pretense of fairness or obejctivity. He is as biased and unobjective as O'Reilly or Olbermann, except he FRAMES his show as straight news. Lou Dobbs has perhaps the worst news show on TV, because it is inherently deceptive.

CNN has much less wiggle room, because it has much more of a reputation to protect and a much broader audience to cater to. Lou Dobbs is the one exception to the normal CNN rule, because he has such a huge audience, so he can do whatever he wants to. That sort of thing is a much greater demonstration of the problem than firing a guy like Chez.

"Please..If that were true no one would be allowed on Comedy Central, Letterman or any of the others."

No, sorry, that, in fact, makes no sense. When Brian Williams goes on SNL or Leno he doesn't betray his political leanings. It's a completely different thing.

Evan said...

The irony of corporate decisions. I'd never have stumbled across your blog, read your opinions or read your take on any number of things had CNN not fired you. Will this do them more harm than good? Would it have hurt them and their image to keep you on board and allowed you to keep your blog? Hard to say. There are countless numbers of individuals who are now much better off for having read what you had to say about the network and their practices.

Anonymous said...

It depends on who they are. Most of the time, the people on those shows either are not news reporters or producers-Pudge, Tom Brokaw just went on The Daily SHow to push his new book. I see news people giving their pov on the issues of our time..all the time.

A book of his personal pov on different subjects that were newsworthy when they happened.

Your splitting hairs here.

When Brian Williams goes on SNL or Leno he doesn't betray his political leanings. It's a completely different thing.-I am not talking about SNL..and Leno is puff too. Nice examples, but they aren't the ones I singled out.

pudge said...

Ummmmm. Tom Brokaw is RETIRED. Any careful observer will note that he has become far more free with his opinions since leaving the news business.

And Wow. Just WOW. You think Leno is puff, and The Daily Show isn't. WOW. I wish you weren't anonymous so I would know to ignore you from now on.

Anonymous said...

Pudge, Tom Brokaw is still working in the business pal. Hate to break it to you. Saw him recently on one of MSNBC's election night coverage shows.

He retired from the nightly news.

Don't worry about ignoring me..I will be more than happy to ignore you from here on out. You can't address anything without being a pompous ass about it.

You don't want a dialog you want to act superior.

pudge said...

No, you're just wrong. He retired as a reporter/anchor. He now does just analysis/commentary. It's a completely different role, and subject to completely different rules.

I don't want to "act superior." But you are saying silly and incorrect things. The result is that I come off looking superior. I can't do much about that fact.

Technology slice said...

Good on you. Don't let them win.

Alan said...

We got your back, Chez. Good luck.

Value for shareholders? It's not "fuck that", it's FUCK THEM.


Geir said...

Don't you ever give up on this. No company anywhere anytime can own the private life or the right of speech of any person.
This is what America is about, democracy, civilization etc.
I hope this case gives you a lifelong and worthwile career in writing.

Captain Steve said...

Congratulations on your baby and your firing! I've been reading your blog for a couple years now. I found it through Pajiba, and I greatly enjoy the snarky/angry stabbing criticisms of the world. That makes you a big damn hero, sir. Congrats again.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if your firing is any way related to your support of Anonymous's Feb 10th protest of Scientology and the critical article on Huffington Post. This would be something that would fall under the CO$ policy of "Fair Game"...I would not put it past those evil, crazy crooks.

Anonymous said...

Being in the business myself I'm proud of your post.

You've now got an opportunity to go work for a new media company that matters.

CNN's bullshit approach to online news is cut agreements with local affiliates to pull their stories to their sites. And no stories that actually matter end up on You get the local tabloid affair and it reads like garbage. For instance:
The top 3 stories in the Midwest section of as of 5:45 on Feb. 22:
1. Wife Killer Sentencing Set For Wednesday
2. Van driver charged in fatal bus crash
3. Man admits killing woman with ax

Note: Not one of those headlines reads like that on the local affiliate's page.

You're better off. I wish you the best of luck. You're a smart guy, and will own these suckers one day.

Tim Harris said...

Some of us live our lives in secret, venting to the obscure. While others sit in silence, waiting and watching. As Tsung Tzu would say, "If ten times the enemy's strength, surround them; if five times, attack them; if double, divide them; if equal, be able to fight them; if fewer, be able to evade them; if weaker, be able to avoid them."

This is the time of Empire, a moment in history where mankind was ultimately given a single choice under the oppression of the elite. It will be written that on this day, humanity will have decided whether or not they had chosen to evolve.

Our fate is contingent upon the nation as a whole. The acts of one individual just do not matter anymore. I call the internet the military's first and only social experiment of the late 21st century. It is their way of controlling mass discontent without "change," as Obama puts it, spilling out into the streets. What is the first thing China does to control unrest, while hopefully preventing their entire country from igniting into civil war(which China is on the border line of doing JUST LIKE Iraq)?

...China simply mimics the masters of propaganda, the United States, by installing an internet, installing a middle-class, and installing fast food chains. All this to do what ?

Is Empire's motive to have us watch crappy news and be afraid of the country with the most nukes ? Perhaps I'm supposed to feel as if the system works and always will work. I haven't a clue. I just know that whatever "they," whoever they are, are feeding me is not being eaten.

Once upon a time artisans and writers such as you and I, amassed together and conceived an idea known as "liberty." It took some doing, but ultimately this game "rich men play" caught on.

You played this game and continue to play it. You will write a book, make a blog off of the book, do a few book tours, and before you know it, will be interviewed on your competitors networks. The media will suck everything they can off you until you become as irrelevant as their upper-middle managment are. Your ideas will become tabloid gossip until they fizzle away into the endless void that you helped to create. Why continue the cycle ? Why help FEED the machine ?

We are the poor.

Anonymous said...

I salute you, sir!

Anonymous said...

CNN, like any other corporate tool, once they've gotten too big to be responsive and caves in to being cautious, has its head up its ass.

Assuming you're correct Chez, they fired you for being too LIBERAL???

Give me a fucking break.

Your politics can be liberal, and we've discussed how your theology (or lack thereof) might not go over well in the heartland. But you are no dyed-in-the-wool liberal, not be a real longshot.

The problem, Chez, is that you're a freethinker. THAT is what scared them.

"Who knows what that radical Pazienza might do? Look at his blog. Crazy fool does not follow conventional wisdom!! He pisses on icons (cf. Oprah for a crowning example). Hell, WE'RE an icon! Maybe he'll start pissing on us!!"

And I've seen you piss on traditional liberal icons as well. THAT'S why I read your stuff. You're an equal opportunity pisser. THAT is what scared CNN.

And you're way better off without them.

Anthony Palmer said...

Wow, what an incredible story. I am truly sorry to hear about your experience, but I guess it worked out in the end. The established old media types are going to have to figure out what to do with the new media types eventually because blogging and podcasts are here to stay, and rules regarding participation in either domain (either past or present) should be more clearly spelled out from the get-go. I too hope to be able to work for CNN or MSNBC someday, but your story makes me wonder if my own political blog will get me in trouble. And I'm not even a partisan.

Thanks for writing such a thoughtful and informative post. I will add you to my blogroll and check back in with the site to see how things are going in your new life. Congratulations on at least realizing what you really want in life and now having a new shot at achieving that.

Best wishes.

Daraio said...

I love your Blog, sorry it got you fired. CNN never did have much imagination, you have way too much "out of the box" thought going on for their comfort. Keep writing, producing, and making the powers that be nervous.

All the best,
Bob Daraio

Matt said...

Excellent post. Completely. All I can say is, give 'em hell. You certainly have my backing.

Chris said...

This is going to be fun to watch... and thanks to blogging, I've got a front row seat.

Go get 'em!

Laurie Kendrick said...

I said "fuck this" when the last radio corporation for which I worked, told me to "fuck off".

I[m a 25 year veteran of both TV and radio and after having given two left tits to a career that took far more than it gave, I've decided to try my hand at the one thing that's never left me--my love of the written word.

You're delightfully jaded and because I too, stand in the same tarnished afterglow, I understand completely.

This is my first time to your blog. You're a gifted and talented writer. Your angst only fuels your prolix. That's to our benefit.

I'll be back.

Laurie Kendrick

Anonymous said...

A shame. the big medias have troubles with the open liberty of speach.

i like your blog and ill be still reading my flolk.

Anonymous said...

You are and EXCELLENT writer. Way to give a recent college grad in the "biz" some inspiration. This might have been just the confirmation I needed to follow through on a career change. Good Luck & God Bless

Anonymous said...

Kroger co. attempted to fire me for blogging as well. I fought it, however, and won! Don't back down!

Lisa Kenney said...

Congratulations and kudos to you. I look forward to hearing more from "little people with laptops" who happen to be credible journalists with powerful voices.

Anonymous said...

North of the border, the Canadian cable companies dropped CNN Headline News and replaced it with BBC World a couple of years ago. That was after CNN Headline News stopped being a headline service and began screaming at the audience. And those cable companies are in business to make a profit and know what they are doing.

By the way, it was the CBC Teamakers blog that linked to this one....

Anonymous can be effective --and safer. It's been going since 2005.

In the end it is so sad to see CNN to fall so far. Once Chicken Noodle News when it began, then an eye on the world, it is now nothing more than chicken shit.

JPM said...

I am currently studying at an european university, getting my masters degree in journalism. This post is an inspiration to everyone. Keep me posted.

Jeff said...

I once went through something similar with the "major" shopping network Shop At Home (now defunct), only I was fired for "violating the company email policy" by (jokingly) suggesting in an internal email that I was declaring my candidacy for employee of the month. I was terminated because "it did not pertain to company business". What fucking company did they think I wanted to be Employee of the Month of?

Turns out that they were moving the headquarters to another city and were eliminating as many employees as they could so as not to have to pay moving or termination bonuses.

Not quite relevent to your story but I do see parallels.

I have linked your story to our blog at:

Anonymous said...

Your story is a hard lesson and example for all the other bloggers out there.

Here in Australia it is sad to see the news media closely following in the footsteps of the US media. Most of what is reported is trash. A classic example of this is the story of the suburban teenager Corey Delaney who has been made into a celebrity from his stupid antics.

I don't know how a lot of those news personalities can sleep at night let alone show their faces in public for dishing up the trash they do night after night. Do they think we are all stupid?

I find myself turning off time and time again. My preference these days is for the ad-free genre based music selections on Foxtel.

Good luck with the future.


Chris said...

Stand up (or stay seated, what do I care?) and let CNN know that the screwed up by sending your own personalised "Fuck You" to the Morning Show with
CNN's handy form.

robbi said...

This is one of the most read blog entries here in Belfast, Ireland! We love you!!!! And not just that, we're all behind you!!!

Anonymous said...

Why is this even a story that matters? People get fired all the time for improper corporate behaviour.

The narcissistic vulgarity of Chez's protestations speak volumes. I'm just a regular guy who was done in by CNN's 'Gestapo'. What media corporation would keep such an individual?

CNN took the right action. End of story.

Anonymous said...

Way to go mate!
I am also sick of the mass media in America. Mass Media in general really.
Keep it up, you have a bigger and louder voice than most of us, so shout as loud as you can.

michigan scribe said...

I just found out about this blog through another blog "Reflections on the Snow Covered Hills" out of the NWT's in Canada! As a former print journalist, I feel your pain. I am emailing this blog to everyone I know. TV news, whether network or cable, doesn't have a clue. I hope you get a job soon as I'm sure you need the health insurance, another thing that the powers that be don't understand. Media honchos and politicians--so out of touch.

Gordon said...

There's a certain sense of irony in a news organization firing one of its employees for blogging when that same news organization's website has links to blog entries about the topics of their stories, isn't there?

Michael's Money Madness said...

Love your writing!

The days of the "Program Director" dictating what pablum the American Public should endure are DEAD.

With the internet, I HAVE CHOICES.
This applies to all forms of the media. I can now do pretty much what ever I need at the moment from YOUTUBE.
I can video my house for sale and put in on YOUTUBE (and at no advertising cost)(take that eBay!).
I can learn a new skill from a Youtube Video. I can get entertainment from Youtube.
And God knows, I can get my NEWS from anywhere at anytime now.
IS CNN still on the Air? Oh, it is!
Really! Haven't needed it or watched it in years!

I can just hear it now from my grandson..."Daddy, What's a CNN?"

Michael Adams, MCSE
Santa Clarita, CA 91351

Anonymous said...

I was fired today for a blog I had (and took down when my dedication to my job was questioned). It was called The Sassy Server and had two posts about what it's like to work in a restaurant. Apparently people were offended and the company believed it was extremely bad PR.

I never mentioned any names, where I worked, and for all they know, the stories were fabricated. Nevertheless, I was fired just 4 days after starting it.

So much for freedom of speech--I never thought it would be such an issue. Now what?

toputop said...

Reputation is very important for the careers success.

buy youtube views said...

As a soon-to-be-former employee, I know your post is dead-on. Something I hear almost constantly is: "You have to give the people what they want." The reality is that a privately-held company will always seek to increase revenue for its shareholders and corporate owners, and that goal is diametrically opposed to journalism's noblest aim -- to inform the public and encourage popular debate.

L888 said...

Now you can tell us how you really feel. I 'stumbled upon' this post. I enjoyed reading about your experience. I am one of those 'non-news' types, who hates watching the news because it terrifies me. My husband I watches Fox news pretty much non-stop so that is where I get my news from. I have a conservative bent, so if I choose to watch, this channel suits me.
You seem to be an unusually talented writer. This too shall pass. I wish you all the best.

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