MAYBE IT IS BRAIN SURGERY

1. It’s Tuesday, June 27, 2017.

2. It’s the birthday of Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo, and Vera Wang.

3. I left CNN nearly three years ago in a mass buyout of veteran employees – they made me a sweet financial offer that was pretty close to perfect. So I left on what was on my part – and I am confident on CNN’s – good terms.

The one person in our newsroom who had trouble believing that I was doing this purely in my personal interest was Lex Haris.

He was managing editor of CNNMoney, and he thought I was reacting to some argument we had over something that I don’t even remember.

Lex couldn’t believe that I – that anyone like him, me and most of the other people in the newsroom – would leave a job like ours on their own volition. For something as pedestrian as money. His thought was that we love it too much.

So when I saw the story last night that Lex and two others resigned because of a story that wasn’t up to CNN’s standards, I wasn’t especially convinced that this was – to use a term Lex would appreciate – according to Hoyle.

I don’t know what happened with the Scaramucci story. CNN doesn’t say it’s wrong – it’s just not up to its standards and wasn’t fully cleared by its legal team. Maybe what management says is what went down.

4. But I can’t believe – I’ll never believe – Lex messed up. This is a man whose standards as an editor were among the highest I’ve seen in 40 years as a professional journalist.

Of course, being Lex, he stood up the way a grownup does. He was the head of the investigative team that produced the story. It’s his team.

“I’ve been with CNN since 2001, and am sure about one thing: This is a news organization that prizes accuracy and fairness above all else,” he said in a statement released by CNN. “I am leaving, but will carry those principles wherever I go.”

So Lex took the hit, sullying his name and reputation because it was the right thing to do. It’s what any manager with a smidgen of integrity – much less the mass that Lex Haris possesses – would do.

Integrity like that is something completely lost on the trolls cheering his downfall, including the cetriolo in the Oval Office.

5. This is a terrible time. The effort to make people doubt institutions they’ve trusted and counted on is insidious and constant.

There’s an effort to sell the ideas that the poor are taking free stuff, young women thrill at the idea of having an abortion and the rich need tax breaks to boost economic growth.

CNN and other news organizations of integrity – no matter how their editorial line slants – can shed a light on whether those things are true or not. That’s a problem for selling a narrative that might not jive with reality.

Because that siege is so intense, CNN can’t misfire. Any mistake gives the assailants something to trumpet. Maybe that explains what happened in the case of this story.

I tell my news editing students that mistakes are awful, and they get an earful – or a page full of notes – when they miss the libelous stuff I plant in their midterms and finals.

But I also tell them that mistakes are part of the job. That if you do 1,999 things in a 10-hour day, it’s really hard to do all 1,999 right – especially the last 247 of them. Be thankful you’re not doing brain surgery.

Just own up to your mistakes. That’s been the most important thing to tell young journalists. There might be mistakes in the history of journalism that have been fatal to someone, but they’re very rare. If a mistake isn’t fatal, and you can make it right, do so.

In the case involving the Scaramucci story, making it right wasn’t enough. In fact, it’s not even clear that it was wrong in the first place, and that wasn’t enough.

For CNN, it gets to hear another round of “fake news” cries, orchestrated directly from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It has to hear criticism from organizations that don’t have 0.00000001% of its credibility. Its people – and I’m biased because I love some of them as much as my own family – have to deal with slingshots from relative invertebrates.

That’s an awful message to send to my students. That you can’t ever, ever mess up without fearing the consequences to yourself or the people around you.

So I’ll change my lesson plan. If the best editor I know takes the rap for something like this, maybe any mistake really is like botching brain surgery.

The chill on this profession is becoming a freeze. My friend Lex Haris paid a high price for it.

I wish him well.

And to anyone looking for a good man to run a first-class newsroom, I can recommend someone really great.

 

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