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Brian Stelter Scrutinizes the Media: Are We Guilty of Making Democracy Seem Like a Reality Show?

CNN’s chief media correspondent questioned whether the press is guilty of making spectacle out of weighty political and existential topics

CNN’s Brian Stelter critiqued the media for its role in contributing to political theater and spectacle, invoking President Joe Biden’s censure of the press in his White House Correspondents Dinner speech, in which he adamantly stated, “American democracy is not a reality show.”

During the introduction of Sunday’s “Reliable Sources,” Stelter reflected on the “reality TV vibe” of the yearly gala held Saturday night, pointing out the attendance of Hollywood “It” couple Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson, who were invited as guests of ABC News.

Taking on a more sober tone, however, he shifted to President Biden’s words at the event, in which he called on the Fourth Estate — a term that refers to the watchdog role of the press and its importance in a functioning democracy — to better approach weighty topics concerning ideals of democracy and freedom.

“The first amendment grants the free press extraordinary protection,” Biden said in a clip from the dinner. “But with it comes, as many of you know, a very heavy obligation to seek the truth as best you can — not to inflame or entertain, but to illuminate and educate. I know it’s tough, and I’m not being solicitous. The industry is changing significantly. There’s an incredible pressure on you all to deliver heat, instead of shed light because the technology is changing so much. The system is changing, but it matters. No kidding, it matters. Truth matters. American democracy is not a reality show. It’s not a reality show.”

Stelter emphasized the last point, as he repeated Biden’s words. “American democracy is not a reality show, but is the media guilty of making it seem that way?” Stelter questioned.

In his panel discussion on the matter, he was joined by TheGrio’s April Ryan and CNN media analyst David Zurawik, whom he prompted about the seriousness of the subject within the context of U.S. and international politics.

“To me, it felt different than in past years — pre-COVID, pre-Trump even. To me, it felt like this was President Biden trying to talk about democracy versus autocracy, which is, David, one of his favorite themes,” Stelter said.

Zurawik voiced his agreement, adding that the talking point is one of Biden’s “keenest insights,” which the journalist said he has held steadfast to from his candidacy to now.

“People kind of ignored it — now we see what’s going on. The key phrase you had up there was ‘Democracy is not a reality show.’ That’s what’s wrong with the culture,” Zurawik said.

Stelter pressed on, asking, “But don’t we [the media] treat it like that? Aren’t we part of the problem?”

“I try not to, and I think you try not to on this show,” Zurawik replied. “A lot of us do, but a lot of people don’t. That’s the problem.”

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