The Mote in CNN's Mini-Cam

Late last year we saw the New York Times’ Frank Rich refer to Empire State conservatives during the Scozzafava-Hoffman battle as “Stalinists.” I did a Silicon Graffiti video back then on the former theater critic’s theatrical hyperbole, as it seemed worth documenting perhaps the only moment on record someone at the New York Times used the word “Stalinist” as a pejorative. As I mentioned in the video, the Times’ embarrassing 1953 obituary for Stalin reads like it’s public necrophilia for a mass murderer.


Similarly, while a much newer kid on the media block, CNN has had its own love affair with tyrants as well, which we’ll come back to in a moment, but first, check out what Matthew Balan of Newsbusters stumbled over, taking one for the team, by being one of the few people not trapped in an airport departure lounge, to watch CNN:

CNN’s Gary Tuchman blasted Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell on Tuesday’s AC360, suggesting that the Republican was like the leader of a totalitarian regime, after she dared to say that the media should be left out of certain campaign events: “I think, for most Americans, that gives you a little chill. When we go to places like Cuba and Iran and North Korea and China, we’re often kept out.”


An American politician not wanting the minicams at certain event is the equivalent of Cuba, Iran, North Korea and China?

Do you really want to go there? Fair enough; you brought up the countries. Let’s go through how Tuchman’s employers have covered each of those totalitarian nations one by one.

First up, there’s Castro’s Cuba, which as Discover the Networks notes, has long been a favorite of CNN’s founders:

A longtime admirer of Fidel Castro, Turner has called the former Cuban president “one hell of a guy.” In 2001 Turner told a class at Harvard Law School, “You’d like him [Castro]. He has been the leader of Cuba for 40 years. He’s the most senior leader in the world, and most of the people that are still in Cuba like him.”

Castro, in turn, holds Turner in high regard, so much so that the dictator was the inspiration behind the creation of CNN International. As CNN News Chief Executive Eason Jordan told his audience during a 1999 lecture at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism:

“… Let me also thank Fidel Castro. In the earliest days of CNN, when CNN was meant to be seen only in the United States, the enterprising Fidel Castro was pirating and watching CNN in Cuba. Fidel was intrigued by CNN. He wanted to meet the person responsible. So Ted Turner, who at that point had never traveled to a Communist country or knowingly met a Communist, [went to Havana]. It was big deal for Ted and during the discussions Castro suggested that CNN be made available to the entire world. In fact it was that seed, that idea that grew into CNN International.”

Turner generally has been loath to condemn totalitarian tyrants such as Castro, a stark contrast to his frequent and passionate denunciations of President George W. Bush. When asked in 2000 whether he thought Saddam Hussein could accurately be described as evil, Turner said: “I’m not sure that I know enough to be able to answer that question.”


Then there’s Iran, whose most important story last year was transmitted one person at a time via Twitter, because CNN couldn’t be bothered:

For most of Saturday, had no stories about the massive protests on behalf of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who was reported by the Iranian government to have lost to the sitting president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The widespread street clashes–nearly unheard of in the tightly controlled Iran–reflected popular belief that the election had been rigged, a sentiment that was even echoed, to some extent, by the U.S. government Saturday….

Increasingly, Twitter has become the go-to source for breaking news about any kind of notable event, be it an earthquake, terrorist attacks in Mumbai, or post-election riots in Tehran. Yet many Twitter users found CNN’s lack of attention to what could end up being one of the biggest stories in years appalling.

If so, they simply haven’t been paying attention to the network’s long history as Palace Guard Journalists. Which brings us to CNN and North Korea, and this infamous moment featuring Ted Turner and an astonished Wolf Blitzer in 2005:

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In 2005, Turner, who had recently traveled to North Korea, appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, where he was asked whether he believed that North Korean President Kim Jong Il was “one of the worst men on Earth.” Turner replied: “Well, I didn’t get, I didn’t get to meet him, but he didn’t look, in the pictures that I’ve seen of him on CNN, he didn’t look too much different than most other people.” When pressed by Blitzer about the mass starvation in North Korea, and about Kim Jong Il’s documented maltreatment of his countrymen, Turner reflected:

“Well, hey, listen. I saw a lot of people over there. They were thin and they were riding bicycles instead of driving in cars, but ah … I didn’t see any brutality in the capital or out in the, on the DMZ.”

Assessing the implications of a nuclear-armed North Korea, Turner said: “It’s a small place, and we [Americans] do not have to worry about them attacking us.”


(Turner was in his mid-60s when he made the above remarks; I don’t think he can blame them on a college-era fling at bearded Marxism.)

And then there’s China. In 2008, CNN was forced to kowtow to its communist leaders after shoot-from-the-hip Jack Cafferty, in one of his more accurate assessments, dubbed them “bunch of goons and thugs:”

CNN was forced to apologise today after a news commentator called the Chinese as a “bunch of goons and thugs”.

Jack Cafferty made the comments on April 9 on CNN’s political programme, The Situation Room, in which he also described Chinese products as “junk”.

In a statement, CNN said: “It was not Mr. Cafferty’s nor CNN’s intent to cause offence to the Chinese people, and we would apologise to anyone who has interpreted the comments in this way.

Cafferty was offering his “strongly held” opinion of the Chinese Government, not China’s people, the company said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry had yesterday demanded an apology, saying that Cafferty’s comments reflected his “ignorance and hostility toward China”.

Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign office, said: “We are shocked by and strongly condemn the malicious attacks on the Chinese people by CNN’s Cafferty. We demand CNN and Cafferty himself take back his vile remarks and apologise to all the Chinese people.”

Naturally, CNN, never having met a tyrant it didn’t admire — including of course the now happily deceased Saddam Hussein, whose bidding the network did eagerly, was quick to do so.

And remember, this is a network that still deludes itself from time to time as being “objective,” staying alive by thinking of itself as centrist(!), attempting, on paper at least, to triangulate between MSNBC on the far left, and Fox on the center-right. But dopey remarks such as Tuchman’s only dredge up the network’s slide over the last decade into irrelevance, at least in the American market.


But then, as Mark Hemingway writes at the Washington Examiner, it’s hard out there for those increasingly few journalists and their publishers and broadcasters left who wish to maintain that pose:

The media landscape in this country is quite asymmetric. Yes, CBS News isn’t as overt about their politics as, say, The Nation, but things still skew undeniably liberal. But while nearly all the media outlets tilt left, this is a center-right country. Hence Charles Krauthammer’s famous observation about FOX News: “The genius of Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes was to have discovered a niche market in American broadcasting — half the American people.”

For the overwhelming number of liberal-leaning media outlets, maintaining at least an pretense of objectivity in theory still provides a some reason for half the country not to dismiss you out of hand. FOX News can actually afford to overtly skew to the right because they have no competition. The Times does not have that luxury — the more it surrenders mainstream appeal, the more it will be cannibalized by ideological media outlets such as the Huffington Post. (Newsweek is a pretty instructive cautionary tale here.)

Making sure the Times remains an influential voice in politics is probably to liberals’ advantage. So in that sense, claiming that the paper’s Achilles heel is acknowledging opposing arguments is manifest nonsense.

If it was as easy to determine the validity of political and policy arguments as it is to determine that 2+2=5 is incorrect, then yes, a newspaper really would be holding itself back by dwelling on things that are not true. In the real world, shades of gray often show up. Arguments are often dependent on unpredictable future events or questions with subjective answers. (Examples: What will Obamacare do to insurance premiums? Will the next cut in capital gains taxes cause revenues to go up or down? Are Americans overtaxed or undertaxed?) There are very few public policy debates in which the objective soundness of one view  is as easily demonstrable or self-evident as Benen suggests.

And so what remains is a business calculation. If you’d like to embrace an ideological worldview that colors your reporting, you start the Huffington Post or work as an opinion journalist elsewhere. If you want to give time to plausible opposing arguments, you’re following the traditional model.

For decades, The New York Times has fallen somewhere in between — a liberal news organ with comprehensive coverage of the facts. Unfortunately for them, this business model is not faring so well amid the current marketplace in which more options are available:

The New York Times Company just issued a disappointing outlook for Q3.

None of the news is good, but the worst part is that the company’s circulation revenue, which held the ship together through the bust, is starting to break down.

Here are the highlights:

* Total revenues to decrease approximately 2 to 3 percent;
* Print advertising revenues to decrease approximately 5 percent;
* Digital advertising revenues to increase approximately 14 percent;
* Circulation revenues to decrease approximately 5 percent; and
* Operating costs to increase approximately 1 to 2 percent.

But by all means, encourage the paper to abandon objectivity. Once the Times is no longer yoked by that whole attracting-readers-outside-the-Upper-West-Side business plan, we’ll see whether their math still adds up.


It isn’t adding up in television news in general

The ratings are in the for just-completed 2009-2010 network evening news season. And when compared to 2008-2009 season, “NBC Nightly News” ABC’s “World News” and the “CBS Evening News” have lost a combined 739,000 Total Viewers and a combined 338,000 A25-54 viewers.

“Nightly News with Brian Williams,” which finishes at #1 for the 14th season in a row, lost the least: -138K Total Viewers (8.698M in 08-09 v. 8.560M in 09-10), while Katie Couric‘s CBS program, lost the most: -343K (6.053M in 08-09 v 5.710M in 09-10). “World News” which saw Charles Gibson anchor the first few months of the season, and Diane Sawyer picking up in December, lost the most younger viewers: -221K (2.351M in 08-09 v. 2.130 in 09-10).

…And in particular at CNN.

I wonder why?

Related: The Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell has some common-sense advice for the Palace Guard media:

Tell the truth? That’s so old school, it just might work!


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