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Ed Driscoll

Can CNN Be Saved From Itself?

April 5th, 2010 - 6:16 pm

If you watched Roger Ailes’ recent interview with Peter Robinson, you have a pretty good idea of what makes Fox News tick, and why it’s the number one cable news channel in America. In sharp contrast, Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff recently dubbed the epic fail of 24-hour cable news pioneer CNN on American TV as “a kind of loss leader for its international operation.”

Ross Douthat explores CNN’s myriad woes (in a paper with a myriad of woes of its own) and proposes a solution that CNN itself discarded before even trying:

CNN overreacted to Jon Stewart’s jeremiad, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. The show was years removed from its Michael Kinsley/Pat Buchanan glory days, and its liberal hosts at the time, Begala and James Carville, really were Democratic Party hacks. (The conservatives, Carlson and Robert Novak, were much more independent-minded, but the constant need to rebut partisan talking points took its toll on them as well.)

What cable news needs, instead, is something more like what Stewart himself has been doing on “The Daily Show.” Instead of bringing in the strategists, consultants and professional outrage artists who predominate on other networks, he ushers conservative commentators into his studio for conversations that are lengthy, respectful and often riveting. Stewart’s series of debates on torture and interrogation policy, in particular — featuring John Yoo and Marc Thiessen, among others — have been more substantive than anything on Fox or MSNBC.

Even the thrust-and-parry sessions of “The Daily Show,” though, are limited by the left-right binary that divides and dulls our politics. They’re better than the competition, but they don’t give free rein to eccentricity and unpredictability, or generate arguments that finish somewhere wildly different than where you’d expect them to end up. This is what you find in the riveting television debates of the past: William F. Buckley versus Gore Vidal, Vidal versus Norman Mailer, anything involving Ross Perot. And it’s what you get from the mad, compulsively watchable Glenn Beck, who’s an extremist without being a knee-jerk partisan: You know he’s way out there on the right somewhere, but you don’t know what he’s going to say next.

Stewart, Buckley, Beck … none of these are exactly the models that you’d expect “the most trusted name in news” to look to for inspiration. And some CNN suits have probably never even heard of Gore Vidal.

Why, if only CNN had hired Beck in the first place. They could have given him his start on their farm team channel of Headline News, and then eventually brought him over to CNN, and given him free reign to do his thing in primetime, thereby bringing in the sort of audience diversity that CNN lacks, and stealing Fox’s lunch in the process, at least for one hour.

Man, a firebrand and ratings magnet like that, they’d never let go!

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