See, this is where CNN can really drive you crazy.
The network has produced a perfectly fine and important documentary, “Voters in America: Who Counts,” which — its grammatical problem notwithstanding — looks at efforts to prevent voter fraud in Florida that will have the likely effect of depressing turnout among Democratic constituencies. The film is even-handed, talks to Republican sponsors of these measures, and provides a real history — through people fighting the legislation — of how not so very long ago African-Americans were denied the vote. The centerpiece is LaVon Bracy, a tireless fighter for voter registration in Florida, who was subjected to abuse as a teenager when she integrated a Florida public school.
So far, so good.
But for no particular reason, the project is narrated by “Grey’s Anatomy” co-star Jesse Williams. Now, I don’t doubt Williams’ commitment to the issue for a second, but featuring him — instead of a CNN correspondent — unnecessarily hands over ammunition to critics who will assert this is just another example of a liberal Hollywood star playing dilettante and dabbling in news.
In public-relations terms, it’s what you call an unforced error, one that will distract attention from the hourlong documentary’s serious message and straightforward reporting.
CNN premiered the doc at the American Black Film Festival in Miami, and will air it on the network July 15.
While I appreciate the desire to instill news with a little showbiz pizzazz, there’s a time and place for everything. And the optics in these sort of situations count.
Like I said, for those who would like to see CNN emerge as a respectable source of news — carving out turf between the opinion-based fulminating on Fox News Channel and MSNBC — even in little ways, they can make you kind of crazy.