CNN is supposed to be a serious news outlet. To see its penchant for outrageous self-calls, one need look no further than its slogan, “the worldwide leader in news.” Of course, it’s not, and never has been. If BBC and Al Jazeera are Hemingway, CNN is R.L. Stine (though CNN International, and specifically Fareed Zakaria, are pretty good). But CNN.com, the website component of CNN, makes the television network look like The Sun Also Rises.
Its hard-hitting news stories, with titles like “Zsa Zsa Gabor to be a mother at 94?,” and a section between the “Opinion” and “Travel sections called “The Royal Wedding,” have led me to check my pre-conceived notions about the worldwide leader and take it with a grain of salt. But something I read today was truly pathetic. CNN has re-posted an article from Vice magazine, a hipster bible, with the following caption:
The staff at CNN.com has been intrigued by the journalism of Vice, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. Motherboard.tv is Vice’s site devoted to the overlap between culture and technology. The reports, which are being produced solely by Vice, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique approach is worthy of sharing with our CNN.com readers.
For one thing, I can’t stand hipsters. But that is an aside. The article is titled “Inside the Criminal World of Ghana’s Email Scam Gangs.” It details the rise of internet scamming in West Africa, and Ghana in particular. The authors – in a hip, “I care about shit, but I don’t give a fuck” kind of way – talk about something called Sakawa, which is a specific Internet scam:
In the same way that hip-hop went from a music style into a descriptor for everything from pants to dancing to potato chips, Sakawa (which originally referred to a specific credit card scam) now means pretty much anything involving money — if you wear a bunch of flashy brand-name clothes you’re dressing “Sakawa,” if you’ve got a nice car it’s a “Sakawa” car — all of which makes sense considering internet scamming is the only way most Ghanaians can afford this.
Right now Sakawa is in its salad days. The Sakawa Boys movie franchise has made it up to “Sakawa Boys 8,” Juju priests are making a killing enchanting e-mails, Christian preachers are making a killing complaining about enchanted e-mails, and Ghanaians of all ages and interests (but mostly “young” and “not being poor”) are packed into internet cafes finding more and more ingenious ways of ripping off Westerners.
I have never heard the word Sakawa, or heard of anything like Sakawa. It is true that a lot of Internet scammers come from West Africa, Ghana included. But reading this article would have you believe that the entire country is one big criminal den. This is a terrible piece of journalism. The last sentence implies that everyone – yes, everyone – in Ghana is chomping at the bit to run to an Internet cafe and run an Internet scam on the West. It seems to be based on the experience of two “journalists” with a guide showing them around Nima, the slum in Accra where the majority of the scammers come from. And, according to the article, the only people who can afford nice cars in Ghana are these Internet scammers, as opposed to enterprising businessmen and women (honest or not) who have managed to capitalize on the fact that the country has a pretty strong value proposition as a trade hub for West Africa.. Not to mention, as someone who values the art of the written word, it is a cringe-worthy article.
The first paragraph begins with this:
Ghana is doing extremely well by African standards. Of course “by African standards” means there are dirt roads leading past the brand-new, gold-columned presidential palace, and it seems 1 percent of the country is blowing their country’s GDP at bars with $50 cover charges while the other 99 is selling bags of water at stop lights.
Wow. For an article that “reflects a very transparent approach to journalism,” this is a joke. It is is a sloppy and dishonest piece of journalism. It could be from a high school newspaper. For CNN to highlight it on the website is either lazy, sensationalist, or something else that I don’t understand. To post an article this poorly written and lazily presented, CNN should be stripped of its self-ascribed moniker “the most trusted name in news.”
I found this article because a Ghanaian friend posted it on Facebook, saying, “Organized institutions like the CNN is still guilty of painting a bad image of Africa and Ghana.” He’s right, and CNN should take the article down and take a hard look at itself. Because, right now, it is largely confirming my opinion of it as one big joke.