Joyless Monomania Kills

Hot off the heels of Time-Warner-CNN-HBO’s Joe Klein saying that CNN has “Gone in the toilet,” Mike Ross writes at the Boston Globe that “CNN has jumped the shark,”  and either Ross or the Globe are too feckless to use that as their headline, going instead with the much milder, “CNN turns to sensationalism.” As with CNN itself, the Globe is asking its readers to tune out Ross’ column, as he attacks a cog, like the Globe, in the state-run media:


When, on March 8, Malaysian Flight 370 vanished into the ocean, CNN chose to become a one-story news network, engaging in six weeks of nonstop coverage of the event, even when there was absolutely nothing to report. With the endless splash of “Breaking News” banners across the screen, a flight-simulator crew on lockdown, and plastic airplane models held by news anchors, the coverage bordered on the absurd. In its final days CNN was no less bullish, going as far as to invoke the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic to eke out a few additional days of coverage.

I decided to take a closer look to determine just how much time CNN allocated to this event, even as it was coming to an end. I compiled an entire day of CNN transcripts from Monday, April 14, 37 days after the flight first went missing. The transcripts, all available on CNN’s website, amounted to 320 single-spaced pages of type. Of the 189,400 words used to report an entire day’s worth of news, CNN dedicated 75,929 of them, or more than 40 percent, to the Malaysian plane.

There were, of course, other major news stories that were breaking that day. The two most covered were the takeover by Ukrainian separatists of government buildings, and a Passover eve shooting rampage by a white supremacist in Kansas that left three people dead outside of two Jewish facilities. Combined, those stories garnered only one third of CNN’s total coverage. If we were talking in terms of sharing a pizza, Flight 370 got more than three slices, while Ukraine and the shootings shared around two-and-a-half. All other programming shared just over two remaining slices.

CNN has staked out a position as being, “the most trusted name in news” — a sort of New York Times for cable. What’s more, the surrounding cable-news ecosystem has cooperated, with Fox News owning the right and MSNBC the left. Thus, CNN’s decision to ignore proportion and surrender to a single event meant that many other serious issues got short shrift or were left out of the mix altogether.


As James Lileks has written, “Monomania is one thing; joylessness is another; joyless monomania is death,” whenever a blog, newspaper, or TV news network gets obsessed with one topic and joylessly pile drives it into the ground.

To be fair, CNN is going for more variety: last night, during the hour I was at the gym, I saw Don Lemon obsess on Flight #370, then the racism of Donald Sterling, then the racism of Paul Ryan. Rinse and repeat, until the drain is first circled, and then like the famous shot in Barton Fink, the camera zooms into the drain and down the pipe.

As Ross writes, CNN has seen a boost in the ratings from their joylessness Flight #370 monomania, hence their obsession. (The poor sods trapped in airport departure lounges waiting for the red eye flight most love watching this stuff.) On the other hand, Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that when it comes to its late show, it’s given up on ratings, and much like AMC’s little-watched shows such as Mad Men, is going for buzz instead:

Okay, so let’s go to Les Moonves now, the CEO of the CBS Tiffany Network empire.  This was yesterday in Los Angeles at the Milken Institute Global Conference.  I have appeared. This is Michael Milken’s thing. I’ve been there one time. I was there with Willie Brown and Harold Ford.  Anyway, the Milken Institute Global Conference is at the Beverly Hilton.  It’s that ugly white hotel as you’re heading into Beverly Hills.  It’s either the Beverly Wilshire or the Beverly Hilton.  I can’t remember.  It’s where Whitney Houston passed away.  Merv Griffin used to own it.  May still for all I know.

Anyway, that’s where it is.  The ballroom’s okay.  Once you’re in the ballroom you don’t know that you’re in a white elephant.  Anyway, so Moonves is on a panel entitled, “Entertainment:  The Big Picture.”  The co-president of Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter, Janice Min, speaking with Les Moonves about late-night TV. And she said, “Can you talk about the economics of late-night and why they matter still?”  Remember what you just heard me say.

MOONVES:  Late night is not what it used to be.  During the days of Johnny Carson, even the early days of David Letterman, it was much more of a profit center for all of us.  The last few years it’s been more about bragging rights, and clearly we’re at a point where there’s a real generational change. … Late night is a very important part of our culture.  It is not as economically profitable as it used to be.  So they make a lot about the ratings, you know, and that really doesn’t affect the bottom line. So I’d rather have the best guy, maybe, that doesn’t quite have the ratings of the other guy.

RUSH:  Well, folks!  I mean there you have it!  This is the guy that hired Colbert. (summarized) “The ratings don’t matter.  It’s not nearly the profit center for us it used.  This is about bragging rights.  This is about who appears the smart executive picking the best guy.”

* * * * * * * *

If the ratings are not how you’re going to pitch advertisers…  I mean, you still need advertisers, but if the ratings are not how you’re gonna pitch advertisers, what are you gonna pitch?  You’re gonna pitch up “cool,” you’re gonna pitch “hip,” and how you gonna do that?  You’re gonna go to other media and you’re gonna massage ’em and you’re gonna have PR campaigns.


And to tie the above two stories together, Rush adds, “People have asked me, ‘If nobody’s watching, how does it stay on the air?'”

The answer is CNN and the people that run it are considered heroes.  They’re promoting the cause of liberalism, Big Government socialism. They’re trashing Republicans every day.

They still get invited to cocktail parties, those executives.  They still are loyal to the cause.  They’re protected, and they still get advertising buys even though they don’t deserve it.  There is a loss-leader aspect to the as well for other properties owned by Time Warner. But MSNBC? How do you explain that?  Nobody watches, but it’s still there.

As for CNN, for once the Politico asks a great question: “Is Jake Tapper CNN’s Future—Or Its Past?”



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