God And Man At CNN

As Rod Dreher wrote in 2003, "There are few people in American public life as openly hostile to Christianity as media mogul Ted Turner":

"Christianity is a religion for losers," he once said. On another occasion, Turner joked that the pope should step on a landmine. Seeing CNN employees wearing ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday, he remarked, "What are you, a bunch of Jesus freaks? You ought to be working for Fox." He is so viscerally uncomfortable with the Christian faith that he blamed his divorce from his third wife, Jane Fonda, partly on her decision to become a practicing Christian.

CNN's coverage of traditional American religion is of course born from original sin, but even this deep into post-Turner-era, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Last summer, explored CNN's exquiste reversals on Obama's "spirtual advisor", Jeremiah Wright. Fast forward to 6:45 into this edition of Silicon Graffiti from August of last year, and you watch the mother of all flip-flops. First, Soledad O'Brien, speaking to CNN's John Roberts declares Rev. Wright's speech to the NAACP a "home run" on Monday, April 28th, 2009. That was the speech in which Wright declared:

“Africans have a different meter, and Africans have a different tonality,” he said. Europeans have seven tones, Africans have five. White people clap differently than black people. “Africans and African-Americans are right-brained, subject-oriented in their learning style,” he said. “They have a different way of learning.”

One week later, after Obama famously tossed Wright "under my bus", at the start of his interview with then-candidate Obama, Roberts said:

"I want to just stipulate at the beginning of this interview, we are declaring a Reverend Wright-free zone today. So, no questions about Reverend Wright. Our viewers want us to move on, so this morning we're going to move on. Is that okay with you?" Obama reacted favorably to this declaration. "Fair enough. That sounds just fine."

Of course it does -- what presidential candidate doesn't enjoy a relaxing, easy round of slow pitch softball?

Of course, one of the recurring featured guest pastors at Rev. Wright's Trinity United is Father Michael Pfleger. Michelle Malkin describes Plefger as an "angry, Farrakhan-defending, jihad-apologizing, Jew-basher"; he's best known for this harmonous moment of peace, love, sunshine and post-racial unity:

But you wouldn't know it if you watched CNN this Thursday:

Anchor Roland Martin brought on Father Pfleger 43 minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program to talk about his continuing push against street violence in Chicago, especially when it involves minors, as 36 school-aged children so far this year have been violently killed . He only introduced the priest as the “pastor of the faith community of Saint Sabina from the South Side of Chicago.” Neither he nor any of the other journalists participating in the panel mentioned any of Father Pfleger’s past controversies during the segment.

Which explains so much as to why the majority of cable TV viewers prefer Fox News to CNN. Martin, who apparently has been called a "life-long friend" by Wright, also gushed during his friend's NAACP speech last year, which helps to explain why Pfleger gets a pass, but ultimately, the decision to toss questioning his incendiary rhetoric down the memory hole rests with CNN's producers. As Don Irvine of Accuracy In Media notes, such a lack of media guts may help them score points with Obama White House, but it's killing them in the ratings:

Bravo for '08, eh? The U.S. elections brought a rare twofer. Intense viewer interest in news--better ratings, which translate into more ad dollars--and increased ad demand, thanks to well-heeled campaigns buying every second of airtime they could grab. Now, almost halfway into '09, the election's as gone as last night's thunderstorm. Well, that's not quite right. There's no half-life to a weather story. There is a half-life to an election, especially one in which power is handed to a new President intent on using it in manifold new ways.

But CNN's evening Nielsen ratings among a key audience--adults aged 25 to 54--have fallen from their pre-election peaks. Yes, the same fate has befallen your competition, Fox News Channel (NWS) and MSNBC. But if MSNBC's ratings between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. now best yours--they did, among those adults in February and March--then your falloff is worse. Your executives make the point that CNN's overall all-day audience is growing. But that does you little good if the other guys outdo you in the most precious part of the day. (And it looks dreadful if flagship CNN ever trails CNN Headline News among adults 25 to 54 in prime time. It has in some recent months.)

In prime time it's not enough to lean on CNN's advantages: your bigger reporting staff and middle-course sensibilities. Those help when viewers hunger for continuous coverage of big breaking events or for ongoing stories like last year's election. They don't help much right now. Changing realities require changing tactics. Your opponents have staked their evening programs--successfully--on pugilism, not punctiliousness.

It's time to embrace a new prime-time ethos for CNN, which encompasses the bona fides of the brand CNN and the fact that, like it or not, on-screen combat is good TV. No, CNN should not suddenly solely air food fights, though a little food fight never hurt anyone. No, CNN should not dive madly toward some new and overt point of view. No, don't bring back Crossfire. (Pace blogger Mickey Kaus, who has suggested that.) Rather: Remake Crossfire. Make prime-time CNN the place for vigorous debate. (You can add the word "respectful" to the description if you feel the need.) The venue for intellectual combat. Two, or more, viewpoints enter an arena; one comes out the victor.

Like their peers who edit newspapers, CNN's producers cut their teeth during the Watergate era of the mid-1970s. Speaking of which, Moe Lane writes:

Honestly, I think that everybody involved would be happier if we just established once and for all that the Watergate scandal was a disaster for the newspaper industry; it encouraged an entire generation of reporters to go out there and try to change American society, instead of simply documenting it.  Nobody really wants them to do the former.  In fact, based on the historical record, what the American people want them to do is to go out and alternatively tweak and praise local power structures via proudly and openly biased articles that make no secret of their own opinions, and that offer no pretense to an objectivity that never really existed anyway.  In short, the American people want ‘honest’ yellow journalism for their day-to-day news.

To which Robert Stacy McCain adds:

Nail on the head, Moe. All The President's Men solidified this idea of journalism that "makes a difference" in the heads of a generation of journalists. It not only encouraged a lot of what is called "Pulitzer bait" -- the five-part series -- but it generally attracted to the business a lot of liberal do-gooders who thought of themselves as superior to their readers.

Last year, there was a certain news story that caused Ace of Spades to erupt in fury: "Stop telling me what to think!" (I wish I could find that post, because it was good.) Nobody wants to do the straight-ahead Joe Friday "just-the-facts-ma'am" news story, because there is no prestige in that kind of basic reporting.

It is no surprise, really, that the great scandals of American journalism -- Stephen Glass in 1998 and Jayson Blair in 2003 -- occurred about 30 years after Watergate, by which time the starry-eyed liberal do-gooders who entered the business in the 1970s had become editors and journalism professors.

Add it to CNN selling out to Saddam Hussein, the Wright-Free Zones and now the Pfleger memory hole and a general tone of dismissiveness to traditional American religion, and you have both a no-content zone and an air of superiority that's offputting to millions of Americans.