What CNN Should Do With Itself in Prime-Time

A media beat reporter asked me if I had any advice for CNN about what to do in prime-time. Just so happens I do. Ditch the View from Nowhere but don't go aping your rivals. Here's my alt line-up for CNN from 7 to 11 pm.

31 Mar 2010 1:57 pm Comments Off on What CNN Should Do With Itself in Prime-Time

Noting that I had some suggestions for the Sunday morning shows, a media beat reporter recently asked me if I had any advice for CNN about what to do in prime-time. (See How to Fix CNN by The Politico’s Michael Calderone.)

The occasion for asking was this report, CNN Fails to Stop Fall in Ratings. “CNN continued what has become a precipitous decline in ratings for its prime-time programs in the first quarter of 2010, with its main hosts losing almost half their viewers in a year.” Anderson Cooper, currently the face of the brand, sometimes loses in the ratings to re-runs of MSNBC’s “Countdown.”

And yet, “CNN executives have steadfastly said that they will not change their approach to prime-time programs, which are led by hosts not aligned with any partisan point of view.”

So this is what I told the reporter:

Almost every time I see this subject addressed CNN is placed in a mental lock box by media reporters who share a component of its ideology but of course don’t acknowledge that. The shared component is that the View from Nowhere, also called “straight news,” is inherently superior and always preferable.

But audiences seem to like their news delivered with opinion: right wing in the case of Fox, left leaning in the case of MSNBC, these reporters say. And so the choice is framed: whether to continue with the journalistically superior “we don’t have a view, we’re just giving it to you straight” coverage, which is sometimes called “hard news,” or to cave into a ratings-driven trend: ideologically inflected news.

But not everything in the world fits into that frame. A few thoughts that don’t…

Maybe the View from Nowhere has failed, not because audiences want opinion rather than news but because the Voice of God isn’t as convincing as it once was. From this point of view, nothing will improve at CNN until the people running the news report consider that viewlessness may not be an advantage but ideology-in-command is not the only alternative.

Maybe what Anderson Cooper calls “keeping ‘em honest” journalism has failed at CNN because the way the network operates most of the time it practices “leave it there” journalism, as Jon Stewart so brilliantly explained.

My alt line-up for CNN prime time looks like this: (Please excuse my jokey titles…)

  • 7 pm: Leave Jon King in prime time and rename his show Politics is Broken. It should be an outside-in show. Make it entirely about bringing into the conversation dominated by Beltway culture and Big Media people who are outsiders to Beltway culture and Big Media and who think the system is broken. No Bill Bennett, no Gloria Borger, no “Democratic strategists,” no Tucker Carlson. Do it in the name of balance. But in this case voices from the sphere of deviance balance the Washington consensus.
  • 8 pm: Thunder on the Right. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational liberal that mostly covers the conservative movement and Republican coalition… and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are right leaning. The television equivalent of the reporting Dave Wiegel does.
  • 9 pm: Left Brained. Flip it. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational conservative that mostly covers liberal thought and the tensions in the Democratic party…. and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are left leaning.
  • 10 pm: Fact Check An accountability show with major crowdsourcing elements to find the dissemblers and cheaters. The week’s most outrageous lies, gimme-a-break distortions and significant misstatements with no requirement whatsoever to make it come out equal between the two parties on any given day, week, month, season, year or era. CNN’s answer to Jon Stewart.
  • 11 pm.: Liberty or death: World’s first news program from a libertarian perspective, with all the unpredictablity and mix-it-up moxie that libertarians at their best provide. Co-produced with Reason magazine.

Now that’s a line-up that doesn’t pretend the View from Nowhere is superior and doesn’t turn CNN into MSNBC or Fox. Get it?