January 27th, 2014
01:34 PM ET

Andrea Mitchell on Bieber coverage video clip: "Luck of the draw"

Opinions about last Thursday's cable news coverage of Justin Bieber's arrest were crystallized by these 26 seconds on MSNBC.

In the video clip, MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell, who doubles as the chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News, interrupts a conversation with former congresswoman Jane Harman about government surveillance programs in order to show viewers live video of Bieber's arraignment hearing. Once the clip was uploaded to YouTube, bloggers and commentators took turns mocking it.

  • Mediaite: "MSNBC Cuts Away From Some Silly NSA Thing to Breaking Bieber News"

  • Slate: "Watch MSNBC Interrupt a Former Congresswoman For BREAKING Bieber News"

  • Yahoo: "Who's responsible for the tabloid-ification of America?"

Since Thursday, the video clip has been viewed 5.2 million times - nearly ten times as many people who actually watched "Andrea Mitchell Reports" in real time that day. I included it in a montage on "Reliable Sources" as well.

"We would LOVE to know what was going on in Andrea Mitchell's head," The Huffington Post's summation of the video clip stated.

So I called her up and asked.

"I have more foreign policy coverage five days a week on my program than any other program on television," Mitchell told me Saturday, "so you can imagine that this was unusual."

And maybe a little uncomfortable for her, judging from the sound of her voice.

"It was obviously awkward and unplanned," she said of the sudden toss to a Florida courtroom. "All I can say is, so be it. It's the luck of the draw." She called this "a virtue of cable news" — never knowing when one news story will suddenly interrupt another.

In this case, she said, she began her 1 p.m. newscast knowing that the Bieber arraignment would probably take place at some point in her hour.

"We had no idea what time the arraignment would actually hit," she said. "I was trying to get as much news on as I could, both about Syria and the report of the government's privacy panel." Harman was on to discuss the privacy panel's report.

If Mitchell has any qualms about her producers' decision to cut away to the Bieber video, she isn't saying.

"I got back to the interview with Harman as soon as we could," she said.

Mitchell also pointed out that CNN devoted more time to Bieber coverage than MSNBC — "it is CNN leading the saturation coverage," she said — while "we were on it for minutes."

Separately, I interviewed CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker on stage at a television industry conference on Monday morning, and he said he was "incredibly comfortable with the way CNN covered the Justin Bieber story."

Filed under: Reliable Sources
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  31. Christian Merritt

    It's doesn't speak well for our country that a cable news producer would think themajority of the American people would be more interested in hearing about Justin Bieber's arraignment than they would be in listening to a former Congresswoman discuss the NSA. Sadly, the producer was probably right.

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  33. Harry Allen

    Andrea Mitchell had no control over timing of the switch to Bieber and possibly little involvement at all in the decision. She's being loyal to her company which is fighting a continual battle in the live event / exclusive arena. In this case the "breaking event" was rather pathetic and although it didn't warrant a switch in news / information terms it has had the effect of associating CNN with a youth / showbiz demographic and generated social media "buzz" – mission accomplished!

    January 27, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Reply

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