We've known for years that the news media is part and parcel of the entertainment industry. What else is new? It thus comes as no big surprise that in this season's House of Cards, CNN's John King and Wolf Blitzer play cameo roles in "covering" President Underwood's continuing shenanigans. Still, my wife and I were surprised to find Gwen Ifill of the PBS Newshour appearing in the show as well.
In a time when the media have come under more attacks than ever, especially given Donald Trump's scandalous contempt for the media, one would think that serious newscasters would have the sense to avoid anything that would put them in a dubious light. Apparently not!
In watching House of Cards, my wife and I speculated on the assumptions that John King, Wolf Blitzer, and Gwen Ifill might have made, both consciously and unconsciously, in agreeing to appear on such a show. (Yes, my wife and I are hooked on House of Cards as much as anyone.) The assumption that most readily comes to mind is that their agents said "appearing on the show is good for your career; it keeps you in the public eye."
One of the most critical assumptions is that appearing on House of Cards will not damage their credibility as "serious newscasters." Another is that viewers will both accept and can separate newscasters when they are playing dramatic roles from their formal roles as real newscasters.
But did they ever consider what if any of the assumptions were false? I doubt it, or at least not seriously enough to prevent them from taking such an "assignment."
As someone who has worked in the field of crisis management for over 30 years, one of the surest ways that individuals, organizations, and whole societies get into crises is by not raising up to the surface and challenging critical, taken-for-granted assumptions.
Yes, we will continue to watch CNN and the PBS Newshour, but with much more cynicism. In times when all established institutions are under attack, we and they need to do more to support them, not work against them.