CNN's weapon of mass obstruction.

CNN's weapon of mass obstruction.

CNN's weapon of mass obstruction.

Military analysis.
Jan. 22 2002 9:02 PM

Arrogant Brown

He doesn't report. He decides. You lose.

Since the first Tomahawk missile was launched into Afghanistan, journalists have been bitching about how little information they get from the Pentagon. Typical was this complaint from CNN's Aaron Brown: "Gen. Tommy Franks told one persistent reporter, 'When all else fails, perhaps I'll just tell you the truth.' It was a joke. But laughs aside, reporters have some real concerns—complaints, not complaints that we're being lied to, but that we're not told enough, not getting enough access." But wait a second—if there's anybody who could give the Pentagon a run for its money in the science of low information flow, it's … Aaron Brown! Most TV news folks take too much time to say too little, but the Charlie Rose Memorial Bloviation Award for Afghanistan Coverage has got to go to Brown.

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Here's Brown asking an expert if Osama Bin Laden anticipated the post-9/11 chain of events: "Do you think that he anticipated, given what we saw on the tape last week that he knew in advance and all of the rest, do you think he anticipated what has happened in Afghanistan, that the Americans would come in the way they came in and all the rest?" Here's how Brown introduces CNN's White House reporter: "Yesterday the president made news when he appeared—OK, he more than appeared—to threaten Iraq. Today, wonder why the media spent so much time on that, a senior official did, and not, let's say, on the financial side of the war on terrorism. Sometimes you just have to smile at what people say in Washington. The president rattles the saber and it's news. With a war going on, it's big news. It certainly was at the White House today, like it or not. Senior White House correspondent John King has been working the story. John, good evening."

Let's face it—next to this guy, Rear Adm. Stufflebeam is Mr. Pithy.

Brown's problem isn't just that he salts his ceaseless patter with references to his many, many years of experience as a reporter (which were mainly spent not in New York, Washington, or Tokyo, but in Seattle, where he was known behind his back as "Arrogant Brown") and to his deep knowledge of the inner workings of journalism. He also just doesn't understand that he himself doesn't have any fresh information and that his sole reason for existence is to cue people who do.

Brown can't ask a military expert if the United States can find Bin Laden without mentioning that "I swear I think I asked you this question back in September honestly, maybe early October." When he interviews Gen. Tommy Franks, he has to gratuitously throw in a quote from Sun Tzu that "I read … a long time ago. A really long time ago." (Way back in the makeup chair?) And once he veered wildly from the topic of post-9/11 civil liberties into a reminiscence about that weekend in 1969 when he was walking down a street in Boston wearing his military uniform "when a VW bug pulled up alongside me and the people inside leaned out the window and shouted, 'Baby killer.' " Any hope for a point utterly disintegrated when Brown added that he was in the Coast Guard Reserve.

This might be funny if it didn't come in a major new one-hour-a-night vehicle for covering something television has long given short shrift to: world news. Yet Brown squanders the opportunity with his persistent flights of megalomania. On the one-month anniversary of 9/11, Brown stated: "I took one moment today, about 9:30 this morning, just to remember that day a month ago. If I had five hours here I couldn't possibly tell you all that I feel about it. The horror I saw and described, the sorrow I felt and feel." That's because, as Brown finally explained to viewers one night, "[T]his tragedy has been somewhat more consuming to me than most people."

Scott Shuger is a Slate senior writer who spent five years in the U.S. Navy and served overseas as an intelligence officer.