Ed Driscoll

Soledad O'Brien's Progressive Nostalgia and the Collapse of CNN

Biased? Moi? Soledad channels her inner Dan Rather:

I don’t think I show bias in my TV show. I think I am aggressive with people about trying to find the facts behind what they say,” O’Brien told the Reporter’s Paul Bond. “Am I a liberal or conservative? I’m neither. Like most Americans, I find politics very frustrating. Like most Americans, I’d like to hear from politicians the facts. That is what drives me.”

At the American Interest Website, on Walter Russell Mead’s blog, John Ellis explores “The Collapse of CNN.” The quote above by Soledad O’Brien defines what happened perfectly.

The vast majority of Americans are self-aware enough to understand where they fit on the political spectrum, and seek out programming that reflects their worldview. The idea that a network anchorperson needs to be “neutral” in his or her politics more or less worked from the 1920s, when the first radio networks began, through the end of the 1970s. (Watch Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 film Network if you need a refresher on the television news industry at the peak of the Big Three’s information monopoly.) Broadcast bandwidth was scarce, building a national radio and then television network was expensive, and the Fairness Doctrine stifled competition anyhow, as Nick Gillespie and George Mason University’s Thomas Hazlett discussed in a recent video at Reason TV. It also more or less fit within the consensus of the New Deal that dominated America during the middle of the 20th century. Which is why Cronkite, Dan Rather, and other news industry figures who date from this period reflexively pretended not to know what their politics were when asked in interviews, until after they vacated their network anchor chairs and revealed themselves as — shocker! — flaming liberals.

But beginning in the 1980s, cable and satellite TV held out the promise of hundreds of TV channels, making the Fairness Doctrine seem like a dinosaur from the bobbysoxer era. (Even more so, once the rise of the World Wide Web essentially made bandwidth free.)  In the 1990s, once first Rush Limbaugh and then Fox News and Drudge took off, the landscape of the media changed dramatically, finally returning to Americans choices of where to get their news and opinion, in a manner not seen since the days before the broadcast networks. Conservatives were thrilled; the left wanted — and finally got — outlets that matched their worldview as well. (There were loads of leftists in America prior to the rise of the Blogosphere and MSNBC who turned on the 6:30 evening news and thought that Peter, Dan, and Tom were waaaaay too conservative for their taste.)

Fox and MSNBC are open about their biases — if you’re on the right, you have a channel that matches your worldview. If you’re on the left, you have a channel that matches your worldview. Viewers at home on both sides of the aisle may grouse that their respective channels are too moderate. (I know plenty of conservative Fox viewers think that; I’m assuming there must be a certain number of leftists who would long to junk MSNBC for The Bill Ayers Network. And Al Gore’s Current TV is essentially trying to battle MSNBC from the left.)

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In 2008, O’Brien was approvingly namechecked by Rev. Wright during his speech at the NAACP, which she in-turn praised on air as “a home run,” only to see, in a maneuver straight out of the Ministry of Truth, Wright become buried by CNN a week later when he was declared an unperson by the Obama campaign. The network would go on to bake a cake on-air to celebrate the first year of the Obama “stimulus.” Earlier this year O’Brien and Piers Mogran did an on-air Obama “fist bump” with singer Roberta Flack during Whitney Houston’s funeral.

A month later, O’Brien defended the “critical race theory” espoused by Obama mentor Derrick Bell and attempted to portray Joel Pollak of Breitbart.com as a racist. Which must have come as quite a shock to Pollak’s wife:

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All of which would be just another day at the office for MSNBC or Current TV, where the stock-in-trade is leftist agitprop. But seems a little — hmm, what’s the word? — biased — yes, that’s it! — for a network that claims to be objective.

Beyond all of that, O’Brien has been on the air for over 20 years now, at first NBC, then the nascent MSNBC, and then CNN. How do you cover politics professionally and yet pretend that you’re so naive you haven’t formed opinions, both pro and con, about the people and ideologies you cover?

It’s a sham — we know it, she knows it, and her bosses know it. But the network heads at Fox and MSNBC are at least smart enough to know that it’s an outdated sham. Which is why they’ve outflanked CNN and left it in the dust.

Related: “CNN’s Soledad O’Brien wins Media Matters stamp of approval.”