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Ed Driscoll

Twilight Of The Gods: CNN’s Current, Pitiful State

April 7th, 2010 - 3:35 pm

While New York magazine is naturally sympathetic to CNN’s leftwing tone, their recent article on the network helps to highlight how revolutionary the concept behind it was, when the channel first launched in 1980:

It’s easy to forget that CNN was once revolutionary. Founded in 1980, back when the idea of watching a channel other than ABC, NBC, or CBS seemed exotic (Fox would not start for another six years; Fox News not till 1996), it was, in terms of cultural impact, the Google of its day. Its gonzo “fluid news” style, low-cost methods, and disdain for the woolly orthodoxies of traditional TV news- gathering terrified the big three, and attracted their most forward-thinking journos. And the internal contradictions in Turner’s vision (public service versus profit growth) were for years obfuscated by the extraordinary cash-spewing awesomeness of the cable business. By 2000, CNN was making $300 million, causing Jerry Levin, the CEO of Time Warner, to rank CNN alongside Time magazine as the “crown jewels” of his empire.

It’s hard to see the fervor of early CNN in today’s product, with chummy King cozying up to out-of-date celebrities and the resolutely humorless Wolf Blitzer stumbling through banter with Jack Cafferty. As with USA Today, CNN’s best work and workers (Sanjay Gupta, Christiane Amanpour, Fareed Zakaria) [If you say so -- Ed] strain to break through a stultifying smog of midmarket general-interestness, neither high-toned enough to feed into upmarket affectations nor downmarket enough to be … fun.

The news of CNN’s decline prompted a flurry of free advice, from bringing back Crossfire to NYU media prof Jay Rosen’s idea of having a show produced by liberals about conservatives, and vice versa. But it’s always easy to pontificate when you’re not weighed down by decades of process, staff, relationships, and cash flow. Would you want to tell Larry King it’s time to retire?

Sure. Where do I sign? (Maybe CNN could farm Larry out to Dan Rather’s on-air retirement home.)

New York’s article is titled, “Don’t Cry for CNN: Thirty years ago, CNN, now in decline, was as revolutionary as Google. It had a pretty good run.”

Are CNN’s woes fatal? The past tense of that last sentence of that subhead suggests it. If so, then a blogger at Wizbang does a great job of highlighting the network’s long slow ride into the abyss, beginning with his title: “From Crossfire To Tea Bagging Jokes: How Jonathan Klein Destroyed CNN:”

The Politico pretends that there is a fix for CNN. There isn’t.

In an attempt to breathe life into the corpse, Michael Calderone starts with a false premise:

Jon Klein, the network president, has consistently defended the network’s down-the-middle news strategy despite the increasingly large ratings leads opened up by MSNBC and particularly Fox, with their ideological slants and big personalities.

Let’s begin with this. There is no “down-the-middle” news strategy at CNN. The fact that Jon Klein asserts this is ludicrous given his foot in mouth disease that gave birth to the name PJ Media during his defense of Dan Rather during Rathergate. But that liberals cannot recognize the slant of the news that is fed them (unless it leans right, which Fox does) is an indication of a larger problem. As the saying goes, if you don’t know who the sucker is at the table, you’re the sucker. Or rather, if television news were a poker tournament CNN viewers (and MSNBC’s) would be the sucker. The extraordinary element in this mini drama is that CNN could have seen their demise coming if they were paying attention.

Since the early 1980′s media critics have been complaining about the bias of mainstream media outlets. Reed Irvine at Accuracy in Media was a pioneer in this effort, taking on the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post and Bob Woodward. Brent Bozell and the Media Research Center were also what might be described as early adaptors to ctrical analysis of the big media companies. What Irvine and Bozell began as a cottage industry that focused on media bias has transformed into a media monolith that dwarfs the audiences of the cable outlets. (It should also be noted that Irvine and Bozell did it on shoe string budgets, unlike the multi millions heaped on Media Matters and other Soros funded mouthpieces that sprout up when the Fox News’ and Rush Limbaughs gained traction) Without local programming, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune the network news outlets would find themselves in the same situation as CNN and MSNBC.

Not surprisingly, I would argue that this moment was the key bellwether for CNN, when since-departed (for good reason, in retrospect) network head Eason Jordan came clean about his network shilling for Saddam Hussein simply so that it could have a live feed from Hussein’s Baghdad. In essence, Jordan was arguing that on-camera visuals were everything, far more important than actually delivering anything approaching accurate news.

And speaking of visuals, back in the States, during the initial period of the Iraq War, CNN didn’t meet a political protest it didn’t like. That all changed last year:

YouTube Preview Image

And certainly, CNN’s shameful gaming of the Republican “YouTube Debate” in 2007 was a predecessor of sorts to Anderson’s Cooper’s oddly homophobic “It’s hard to talk when you’re tea-bagging” quips. And near concurrently, would-be CNN host D. L. Hughley comparing Republicans to Nazis, in his attempt to coin a one-of-a-kind, never heard before metaphor.

Having lost “almost half their viewers in a year” in prime time, the otherwise CNN-sympathetic New York Times was forced to note recently, CNN has begun to tape the equivalent of vinyl patch onto the hull of the Titanic. CNN correspondent Shannon Davis, “embedded” with the Tea Partiers, as nascent Washington Post addition Dave Weigel describes him, is now attempting to backpedal on his network’s initial tone:

[H]ere’s what you don’t often see in the coverage of Tea Party rallies: Patriotic signs professing a love for country; mothers and fathers with their children; African-Americans proudly participating; and senior citizens bopping to a hip-hop rapper. … It is important to show the colorful anger Americans might have against elected leaders and Washington. But people should also see the orange-vested Tea Party hospitality handlers who welcome you with colorful smiles.There were a few signs that could be seen as offensive to African-Americans. But by and large, no one I spoke with or I heard from on stage said anything that was approaching racist.

Almost everyone I met was welcoming to this African-American television news producer.

Michelle Malkin writes that it’s a case of too little, too late:

They’re more than a year late and a dollar short. After incessant mockery, vulgar epithets, and condescension, desperate, ratings-starved CNN is now sending me e-mails touting the fact that one of their producers is saying nice things about Tea Party activists. From CNN’s publicity department:

Hi there,

I thought this might be an interesting post for you– a behind-the-scenes piece about the Tea Party and how the stereotypes don’t tell the full story. Let me know if you need anything else!

Reporter’s notebook: What really happens at Tea Party rallies

“Let me know if you need anything else!”

Yeah, In need an airsickness bag.

Don’t bother clicking on the link. The last place anyone should go to find out “what really happens at Tea Party rallies” is the network that sent out hysterical Susan Roesgen out last April to sneer at Tea Party activists in Chicago.

From the late 1960s, when the New Left replaced the New Deal-era Democrats in both Congress and in media boardrooms, until the launch of Fox News in 1996, you could argue that American TV networks were simply ignoring conservatives because they disagreed with their ideology and didn’t understand it. But CNN’s coverage of the Tea Parties last year was proof that they were  laughing on-air at half their potential audience.  For a network that has admitted that it prizes visuals above all else, this was a case of viewer perception definitely understanding the reality of CNN’s worldview, and tuning out accordingly:

And now, with the self-generated meme that the Tea Parties are a hotbed of racism no longer viable, and Republicans poised to make big gains in the House in November (possibly recapturing control), CNN makes its first, pitiful effort at publicly addressing what is clearly a poisoned internal atmosphere. It isn’t Davis’s fault that not everyone at CNN got his memo; the problems at his network go far beyond one man, with the exception of the aforementioned Jonathan Klein, who, as his official bio highlights, sets his company’s tone:

Jonathan Klein is president of CNN/U.S., responsible for management oversight of all programming, editorial tone and strategic direction of the network. He reports to Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide.

Finally, regarding the latter conglomerate, Power Line’s Paul Hinderaker recently wrote that he views CNN America as “a kind of loss leader for its international operation.”

I was about to write, “Let’s hope that CNN’s overseas divisions have more respect for its foreign audience than its domestic viewers,” but Jordan’s mea culpa in 2003 is proof that that’s not likely to be true, either.

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