Rodenbaugh: No, CNN executive John Bonifield, journalism ethics aren’t ‘adorable,’ they’re our last line of defense against fake news

Mikaela Rodenbaugh

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

As a graduate student with a journalism background, recent revelations from John Bonifield and Van Jones that the constant narrative surrounding the Russia investigations on air at CNN were a ploy for better ratings did not surprise me. They did however anger me.


It is not hard to see how ratings have often gotten in the way of the truth on TV network titans like CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

There is a tendency on these network news shows to fixate on a particular story, even when there are countless other stories that journalists should have a duty to report. This problem is perpetuated by the idea that certain stories are ‘sexier’ and may garner more views rather than based on the merit and newsworthiness of the story itself.

As a reporter, I am someone who works to find the facts as opposed to someone sitting in a cushy studio reading off a sheet into the camera. When I want to communicate my feelings about a particular story, I write columns that clearly denote the difference between my opinion and the facts.

From my perspective, calling many of the people who sit before a camera on these mammoth networks journalists is an insult to the profession.

There is a vast difference between the jobs done by executives and anchors at CNN, and the job of reporters at local papers, or even national publications. What separates them? Largely, ethics.

That’s why it is particularly frustrating to see executives like John Bonifield patronize journalists who abide by a code of ethics everyday.

A code of ethics which he remarks on in the video: ““All the nice cutesy little ethics that used to get talked about in journalism school, you’re just like, that’s adorable,” Bonifield said. “That’s adorable. This is a business.”

This is infuriating to my sensibilities, and should be infuriating to anyone who has ever put their trust into TV news.

The ongoing struggle towards accuracy in reporting that honest journalists go through every single day is also why it’s particularly demoralizing to see Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders turn around and use this same footage to justify why all journalists should be ashamed of ourselves for perpetuating fake news.

In reality, journalistic ethics are meant to protect the public from false narratives and corruption in the press. That’s why as one journalist in the White House press briefing pointed out, journalists are accountable and replaceable the moment they make a critical mistake, whereas elected officials like Sanders, and massive corporations like CNN don’t always have to answer for their lies.


This is an outrage. Greater accountability must come to pass for massive companies like CNN who continue to treat the news as only a business, rather than a public service.

I understand the need to balance business matters with the news as I–just like any other journalist–want to be able to make a living. But part of the problem with these ratings based systems is the awkward convergence between business and the news where business practices may not align with what is ethical. A healthy balance hasn’t been struck yet, and it’s really taken away from the public’s ability to put their trust in the media.

Rightfully so. If these recordings can teach viewers anything, it should teach them to view the news with healthy skepticism. However the responsibility cannot fall entirely on the shoulders of viewers and readers.

CNN and networks like it need to re-evaluate their business motivated practices to coexist with journalistic ethics. If they cannot abide by the rules honest working reporters abide by every day, then they do not deserve the trust of the public, let alone their slogan: ‘the most trusted name in news.’

If CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and other companies like it cannot distinguish between the honest reporting and ratings, then it is time for the public to bring their so-called business somewhere else.

Mikaela Rodenbaugh can be reached at or online at @mikarodenbaugh