A cruise ship with electrical and plumbing problems made its way back to shore Thursday, and CNN was there to broadcast every dirty detail.
The news network, in the midst of a revamp headed up by new boss Jeff Zucker, spent much of the day and night reporting on the Carnival Triumph, which caught fire off the coast of Mexico and, after days floating as a wounded vessel, finally docked in Alabama late Thursday night. CNN's Erin Burnett broadcast live from the ship terminal in Alabama, and the network had five reporters there, some descending on passengers as they disembarked from the ship, which had no working plumbing or electricity for days. The coverage continued well into Friday morning.
Online, the network has posted no fewer than 14 stories and videos about the cruise ship to its website, running the gamut from video of passenger interviews to articles about how to handle the PR disaster to follow and exposes on the dark secrets of the consumer cruise industry.
CNN's obsession with the fecal-filled freighter made a splash -- and drew plenty of blowback.
Jon Stewart opened Thursday night's Daily Show with a takedown of the comprehensive attention, calling it "wall-to-shit-covered-wall coverage, treating a stalled cruise ship like it's the Shackleton Expedition," giving a wink to all of his fans with an interest in Antarctic exploration.
He juxtaposed CNN's cruise programming with a British newscast that covered a massive meeting of Islamic heads of state. "Interesting, but are they shitting in bags? If they're not..." he teased, not-so-gently suggesting skewed news judgment.
Other reporters and media critics chimed in as well.
Mediaite's Tommy Christopher wrote, "The live coverage of Triumph’s arrival yielded moments that were the complete opposite of riveting," while Slate's Dave Weigel tweeted, "The 'stranded cruise ships' coverage must be driving CNN's surge to the top of the ratings." Joked Eric Stangel, executive producer of Late Show With David Letterman: "I think there should be live coverage of every cruise ship disembarking. This is compelling TV." Putting the cruise problems in perspective, The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof tweeted, "The nightmare on the US cruise ship for the last few days -- that's what roughly 1 billion people endure every day."
On the other hand, the Times' media reporter, Brian Stelter, painted the coverage as a business decision straight from the network's new boss.
"The coverage had all the hallmarks of Jeff Zucker, the former Today show producer and NBC chief executive who took over CNN Worldwide last month," he wrote. "Mr. Zucker has been trying to take advantage of CNN’s news resources as he attempts to revitalize the low-rated channel. The cruise ship story was a no-brainer to him: From a producer’s standpoint, it has high stakes, human drama and a logical beginning, middle and end."