"#CNNfail" is the search-friendly hashtag users of the microblogging service have given to the scandal (as they see it) of the 24-hour news channel's failure to provide wall-to-wall coverage of this weekend's momentous events in Iran as they unfolded. Ironically, it was CNN's most avid Twitterer, afternoon anchor Rick Sanchez, who became the unwilling face of #CNNfail when he appeared at the 140 Characters Conference in Manhattan.
Sanchez was one of several television personalities invited to participate in a panel discussion about the use of Twitter as a newsgathering tool. Its moderator, blogger Robert Scoble, wrote a scorching post on Sunday about how Twitter trumped CNN as a conduit for news out of Iran. (Twitter has also played a role in the resistance as Iranians who dispute the election use it to organize protests.)
"First of all, " began Sanchez, "let me say that it's a compliment that everyone looked to us at CNN" when, he said, its competitors were providing equally scant updates on Iran. "NBC wasn't running video of the protests. Neither was MSNBC and neither was Fox. But the expectation of CNN is 'You're the guys who say you're going to be covering the news 24 hours a day. Why weren't you there?'"
In fact, claimed Sanchez, CNN was there. Sort of.
"I can tell you we did cover it every hour of the day on Saturday," he said. "At no time did we drop the ball on the story itself, and I can tell you we were in constant contact, and in Twitter contact, with Christiane Amanpour, who was on the ground in Tehran getting tear gas in her face."
Twitter users are angry, said Sanchez, because they feel like the network isn't reporting everything it could be reporting. But in some cases, he said, the absence of news is journalistic caution, not laziness.
"The social media at Twitter has been pushing us at CNN to drive the story as to whether this election was legit or not," he said. "I have read on Twitter countless reports indicating that it wasn't, but I have checked with our sources on the ground there and not a single one of them was able to confirm an impropriety... There's no smoking gun."
Sanchez said Twitterers and viewers will always have to accept some level of frustration with CNN as long as cable news continues to be a ratings-driven business.
"Let me come clean with you guys, and let's not pretend we're talking to children here," he said. "If today Britney Spears is caught shoplifting topless... and if we don't do the story and Fox does, I guarantee they beat us. They beat us normally, but they will have a million viewers to our 20,000 if they do it and we do Darfur."