As loud explosions from Russian artillery shells and missiles rattled the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine, unnerved residents of the country’s second-largest city desperately sought shelter. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, scampered and crammed into the safest place they could find: underground in a railway station.
And right there in the middle of it was CNN’s Clarissa Ward, interviewing an anxious mother with her 7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter clinging to her sides.
Meanwhile, approximately 300 miles away, at an airport just outside Kyiv, CNN’s Matthew Chance approached what he believed to be Ukrainian soldiers. As it turns out, they were Russian soldiers, prepared to fight for possession of the airport. With smoke billowing in the background and the sounds of gunfire, Chance and his team soon had to pack up their gear and scramble to safety. In another report, he was nearly caught in the middle of a firefight.
And right there, in those moments aired just minutes apart, CNN showed why it remains television’s gold standard for fast-breaking international news.
Controversy has surrounded CNN for the past couple of months. From the firing of Chris Cuomo to the resignation of president Jeff Zucker, the network has made more news behind the camera than in front of it.
But don’t let that overshadow this fact: CNN once again turned into necessary viewing over the past 36 hours as Russia invaded Ukraine.
To be clear, other networks are providing superb television coverage, but CNN’s powerful reach, experienced journalists and round-the-clock coverage are reasons why those looking for the absolute up-to-the-minute news immediately turn to CNN.
What truly sets CNN apart is the boots-on-the-ground coverage from all over. Chance was in Kyiv. Ward and senior international correspondent Sam Kiley were in Kharkiv. CNN’s international security editor Nick Paton Walsh was in Kherson and senior national security correspondent Alex Marquardt was in Mariupol.
In addition, anchors Erin Burnett, Michael Holmes and chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto all anchored from Lviv, while other reporters were in Moscow and along the Poland-Ukraine border.
That’s not all. CNN continually rolled in expert analysts, not only from within the U.S. government, but their own contributors such as Christiane Amanpour and military analyst Gen. Wesley Clark (Ret.), the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. Such guests provide historical perspective, as well insightful analysis of how we got here, where we are and where we are going.
Again, CNN is hardly alone in its excellent coverage, and I will get into the other outlets and their good work later in the newsletter. But CNN, despite often being accused of being partisan in its coverage, delivers comprehensive and factual programming when it comes to humongous stories like the one we’re witnessing right now.
The New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum and Katie Robertson reported, “The head of CNN International, Mike McCarthy, said in an interview that the network had 75 people in Ukraine, including drivers and local interpreters. The network is using the city of Lviv in western Ukraine as its base, in part to ensure that broadcasts were not interrupted by cyberattacks that may affect Kyiv. He said CNN had ‘six or seven’ backup communications systems in case any failed.”
The effort and resources result in coverage that is nearly impossible to turn away from.
Here is more notable TV coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine …
Ducking for cover
Fox News foreign correspondent Trey Yingst had to pause his report to put on a helmet as Russian jets launched an air assault on a Ukrainian airport.
Speaking of Fox News, national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin, who has always been one of the network’s strongest reporters, has offered superb analysis throughout the early part of the invasion.
Not long after Russia’s initial invasion, Griffin said, “The way in which Putin is describing Ukraine, he is describing it as an existential threat to Russia. This is a figment of his imagination. If you look in his eyes, you see someone who has gone completely mad. What we are seeing tonight is a moment in history, something we have not seen for generations.”
Griffin also has been quick to correct Fox News colleagues whenever they’ve drifted into territory that doesn’t accurately represent how the situation has developed. Griffin has consistently said Russia was on the verge of invading Ukraine.
Griffin, on Thursday, said, “The White House and NATO allies had no illusion they could defer Putin from entering Ukraine without going to war. Now they believe Putin has made the biggest mistake of his presidency. He has ambitions to reestablish the Russian empire, but we know and he knows full well that these kinds of invasions and occupations are well- known as the graveyard of empires.”
Network and other TV coverage
While I praised CNN, it also needs to be pointed out that the major networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — have all provided superb coverage, as well. Here are some of the highlights from that:
- David Muir had a strong interview on “World News Tonight” with the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who told Muir, “Is it a possibility that Putin goes beyond Ukraine? Sure, it’s a possibility. But there’s something standing in the way of that and that’s Article 5 of NATO. That means an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members of NATO. The president has been very clear that we will defend every inch of NATO territory. I think that’s the most powerful deterrent for President Putin going beyond Ukraine.” Blinken also said the same in an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell.
- Lester Holt also interviewed Blinken on the “NBC Nightly News.”
- Quote from O’Donnell as the bombing began: “We may be witnessing now what is the beginning of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.”
- On Thursday’s “CBS Mornings,” Texas Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “We haven’t seen anything like this, really, since Hitler invaded Poland in World War II. I just hope this is not the beginning of World War III.”
- “PBS NewsHour” correspondent Lisa Desjardins had an excellent recap of the sanctions placed on Russia, what effect they could have and what further sanctions could be imposed at a later time.
- Also on “PBS NewsHour,” anchor Judy Woodruff led a strong roundtable discussion with former military and State Department members about the latest in Ukraine. These are the types of lengthy discussions that network newscasts don’t have the time to do, but “PBS NewsHour” does so well.
- A little thing done well: Early in the day, Fox News’ Bill Hemmer stood at a map of Ukraine and showed where the various attacks and explosions had been heard and seen. It gave viewers a better sense of what Russia is trying to do, and how much of Ukraine is being impacted. Again, it’s a little thing, but it’s valuable to viewers.
- Rachel Maddow, who is supposed to be on hiatus from her prime-time MSNBC show, was called back in to work Thursday night. Maddow also will return on Monday to host her show ahead of Tuesday’s State of the Union. Then on Tuesday, she will join Joy Reid and Nicolle Wallace to lead MSNBC’s special coverage of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.
- Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will join MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” this morning to talk about the latest from Ukraine.
Other Ukraine coverage
Of course, TV isn’t the only outlet covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The New York Times’ live coverage is stunningly good, even starting with another simple, but effective tool. At the top of the page, it says what time it is right now in Kyiv, Moscow and Washington. The Times also has maps that are tracking the invasion.
Here are some other notable pieces worth your time:
- New York Times’ Paris bureau chief Roger Cohen with “Beyond Ukraine, the Target Is What Putin Calls America’s ‘Empire of Lies.’”
- The Washington Post’s Craig Timberg and Drew Harwell with “Social media fuels new type of ‘fog of war’ in Ukraine conflict.”
- Two pieces from my Poynter colleague Al Tompkins: “How to spot video and photo fakes as Russia invades Ukraine” and “Ethical considerations for journalists as a Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolds.”
- The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum with “Calamity Again.”
- PolitiFact’s Jon Greenberg and Louis Jacobson with “Putin’s one-sided history of Ukraine’s relationship with Russia.”
- A powerful cover from Time magazine.
Calling out Carlson and Murdoch
In a new column published Thursday, Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan called out Fox News’ Tucker Carlson for what sure sounds like a pro-Putin stance on his prime-time show. And Sullivan not only went after Carlson, but his bosses — most notably the Murdoch family.
Sullivan wrote, “Carlson is dangerous because he has a cult-like following who believe his nightly rants. I would love to see the Murdochs put decency above dollars and remove him from the airwaves. But it’s important to remember what Carlson is: nothing more than an outrage machine. What he offers is not political commentary. It’s Fox-approved nonsense meant to juice ratings — and it works.”
Sullivan goes on to say that Carlson has a right to say whatever he wants and that even Fox News lawyers once argued that viewers shouldn’t always take everything he says as fact.
Sullivan writes, “The millions who tune into Carlson every night to get their outrage on should remember what their favorite host traffics in: bloviation, demagoguery and unrighteous indignation. And they should remember what he isn’t obligated to deal in: The truth.
Also in The Washington Post, media reporter Jeremy Barr has a story with the headline, “Some conservative media hosts ridiculed Biden’s warnings of a Russian attack. Now they say it’s his fault.”
Barr wrote, “Across the right-wing media spectrum, the crisis in Europe proved an opportunity for talking heads to compare leaders — sometimes concluding that Putin is the more impressive.”
That includes former New York City mayor-turned-Trumper Rudy Giuliani, who went on Newsmax and said, “They have a president, and we don’t. Putin is prepared for this. Our incompetent (president) isn’t prepared for it.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times put this headline on a Katie Robertson and Michael M. Grynbaum story: “Fox News hosts play down Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”
Robertson and Grynbaum wrote, “As Mr. Putin mounts an offensive against Ukraine, despite diplomatic efforts by the United Nations and sanctions by the United States and other nations, the comments from some of Fox News’s biggest stars stood in contrast to the reporting from the network’s own journalists.”
Here’s today’s front page of USA Today’s special section on Ukraine:
Here’s a roundup of other media news from Thursday …
- Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds with “Revenues are still declining, but Gannett insists it is meeting its digital goals.” Edmonds wrote, “Gannett reported its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2021 Thursday. It was a decidedly mixed bag. Digital-only subscriptions had grown to 1.6 million by the end of the year, and roughly a third of its revenues came from various digital ventures. On the other hand, total revenue for the quarter was $827 million, down from $875 million during the same period in 2020, a 5.5% decline. Print advertising was off by more than 10%, but circulation revenue fell, too. That indicates that print subscription revenue is falling away faster than the new revenue generated from digital-only subscriptions.”
- At CPAC in Orlando, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz called White House press secretary Jen Psaki “Peppermint Patty.” She was not offended. Here’s her comeback.
- Amy Hollyfield, a senior deputy editor at the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times, is on the move. On Thursday, Hollyfield was named managing editor of The Dallas Morning News. Hollyfield, who will oversee the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, replaces Keith Campbell, who retired from the Morning News in December after 31 years. On a personal note, I worked with Hollyfield for several years at the Times and can’t say enough good things about her. The Morning News is getting a good one. The Morning News’ Maria Halkias has more.
- This is what happens when you’re doing a live news report and your mom drives by.
- Esquire’s Ryan D’Agostino with “Ben Stiller Sees the World Differently Now.”
- ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach and Tom VanHaaren with “Inside how Phil Mickelson’s challenge of the PGA Tour backfired so quickly and what comes next.”
- A new season of my favorite all-time show “Law & Order” debuted Thursday night on NBC. The Ringer’s Mara Reinstein with “The 50 Best Episodes of ‘Law & Order’”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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