The decline and fall of CNN


Ted Turner, a true visionary who’s also a true kook, founded the Cable News Network in 1980. People said he was crazy; there wasn’t enough news in the world to justify a 24/7 television news network.

CNN sputtered along through the 1980s. Finally, the first Gulf War in 1991 gave them a breakthrough. People sat hypnotized in front of their TVs and watched the live coverage from Iraq and Kuwait: Wolf Blitzer, Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett, Christiane Amanpour. I remember sitting mesmerized in front of a friend’s television myself (I didn’t have cable in those days).

Then cable became common. Then it became almost universal. Then it became almost necessary.

Then CNN found that it was competing with Fox and other news networks, which were using the formula CNN had itself created: reporting, reporting on the reporting, experts. It is hard to fill up twenty-four hours a day with news, so you come up with other stuff – let’s be charitable and call it “commentary” – and pretend that the “commentary” is news too.

Let’s fast forward to the present day, shall we?

On the morning of the fourth of July, Partner and I happened to be watching CNN, and I suddenly realized that they were running a promo for the return of “Crossfire.”

“Crossfire”! This was a point-counterpoint program with Tucker Carlson maybe ten years ago, which got shamed off the air when Jon Stewart pointed out that they were accomplishing nothing except filling time.

Now they’re bringing it back.

Okay. Back to CNN. They’re doing a piece on the New England Patriots player, Aaron Hernandez, who killed some people. First, the anchor garbles the words “New England Patriots” into something incomprehensible, and stares silently into the camera for a long moment until she recovers control of her voice. Now we go to the story. CNN has a reporter on the scene in Attleboro, Massachusetts; a neighbor is leading her around the crime scene, explaining things to her. How the hell does this guy know anything? Best of all, the neighbor is introduced this way: “This is Jay. He asked that we not use his last name.”

Hi, Jay. We can see your face. If we really meant to do you harm, we probably wouldn’t need to know your last name.

But don’t blame poor Jay in Attleboro. Blame the CNN reporter who said, “Uh, sure, if you don’t want to use your last name, you don’t have to. But of course you can appear on camera.”

Isn’t CNN hiring anyone with any expertise in journalism?

Evidently not.

But journalism is no longer in demand.

You gotta fill up those twenty-four hours a day with something!

%d bloggers like this: