CNN media reporter Brian Stelter acknowledged his network had shifted to more editorializing in recent years on Monday but defended it as simply being "pro-democracy."
During an appearance by Stelter at Lehigh University, guest lecturer and former "Good Morning America" host Joan Lunden asked him about the shift in journalists at CNN and elsewhere who feel increasingly comfortable wearing their views on their sleeves.
"Now that there are all these attacks on free press, and quite honestly attacks many times on the actual truth, have you had to change your stance in that now you kind of need to take a stance, and give an opinion? … That maybe three, four years ago, you would have said, ‘I’m not going there,'" Lunden said.
Stelter said CNN had changed dating back to 2015, when Donald Trump began his romp to the Republican nomination and eventually the White House.
"Certainly pre-2015, there were times where anchors would speak directly to the camera and take a point of view on certain subjects," Stelter said. "What you see a lot more of since 2015 are these analysis segments, these perspective segments where we are looking straight into the camera, we're talking directly to the viewer, and we are assessing the information out there, trying to tell you what we see is true, what we know to be true, and now also sometimes what we stand for."
Stelter acknowledged CNN had "evolved" due to Trump's political rise.
"When you've got a propagandist, a demagogue running for president, then becoming president, and taking pretty clear anti-democracy positions, I think the idea was understandable that anchors … talked about democracy, talked about truth, talked about decency," Stelter said. "I don't think it's partisan to be pro-democracy, pro-decency, pro-truth.
"I do think there are topics that are essential to America and journalism that must be defended, and I think that's how CNN's evolved where you have anchors like Anderson [Cooper] or Jake Tapper or in my little way, myself, who do take those stands."
CNN closely covered Trump's stunning political rise and became one of his chief antagonists in the press; former White House correspondent Jim Acosta was infamous even with mainstream media colleagues for his grandstanding approach to covering him. Acosta gave one of the monologues Stelter was referring to on Saturday, where the baldly left-wing anchor bemoaned the country's divisions since September 11, 2001.
CNN's editorial stances strongly lean to the left, with Acosta, Cooper, Tapper, Don Lemon, Brianna Keilar, and Chris Cuomo among its most outspoken voices who mix opinion with newscasts. The latter was caught up in his brother as a private adviser to his brother, former New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during his sexual harassment political scandal. CNN also took ridicule for the Cuomos conducting friendly interviews at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tapper this year admitted he had become more opinionated but also framed it as being about defending "decency" rather than shilling for Democrats.
"I see my role as not being particularly opinionated except for things about which I think it’s fine to have an opinion, such as truth and facts and just basic decency," Tapper said. "But I’m not out there saying, this tax bill needs to be this or this particular legislation needs to pass. That’s not my style."
Stelter focuses heavily on hitting conservative media in his coverage and often defends CNN and other mainstream liberal news outlets from criticism. He framed the country's media structure Monday as a battle between the truth-focused mainstream press and a more nefarious right-wing media.
"We have two medias. We have two countries, two medias," he said. "We have a mainstream media, you know all the brands. We're flawed but we're trying. And we have this alternative media structure in the country … We have these two medias in one, and it creates a very, I think, confusing environment for the public."