Criticizing CNN: Goodbye to that.

I used to say: I criticize because I care. But I no longer do.

8 Jul 2013 3:15 pm 95 Comments

As of today, I have retired from criticism of CNN for falling short of some sort of journalistic standard that news providers should maintain. That activity no longer makes sense. Let someone else receive the “ratings, you idiot” replies on Twitter. I’m done. I’m pretty sure you don’t care about this announcement, either. Which nicely illustrates why I’m done.

The immediate cause of action is an amusing but also telling column by Jack Shafer of Reuters: In praise of tabloid TV, which explains why critics of CNN are absurd creatures. If you want coverage of Egypt instead of the Zimmerman trial there’s plenty of places to find it and besides audiences have always loved murder trials, so who are you to tell them they shouldn’t?

Shafer uses something I wrote as his “ha ha, how clueless can you get?” text: this little 99-word Tumblr post. That was kind of annoying because as far as I can tell Shafer agrees with everything I wrote. CNN is making its priorities clear when it sticks with the Zimmerman trial while world events are breaking. Murder trials are like a TV series. Jeff Zucker, CNN’s new president, does want “everyone in his company to know what the priorities are: Mini-series in the center, world events off to the side.” Shafer writes:

In today’s media environment, the media critic who insists that the cable networks follow Egypt and drop Zimmerman is like the nudging dining companion who wants to order both his meal and yours, lest you embarrass him by mistakenly ordering the burger and fries.

Which is a good line. The fact that no one in journalism bats an eye when Shafer equates CNN with “tabloid TV” tells us why I am out of the game. Some other reasons:

1. Jon Stewart does it better.

2. CNN makes $600 million a year for Time Warner, but if you challenge one of their ratings-driven decisions the main thing you hear back is: hey, they have a huge business problem on their hands. What can you say to that?

3. The other thing I hear back ad nauseum is: “Jay, watch CNN International, so much better.” Uh… okay. I don’t have CNN International in my cable package, but I do know how to change the channel. So thanks!

4. Even where you might expect to find resistance to what CNN has become – among journalists – you do not. Here’s Dylan Byers, media columnist for Politico:

The Zimmerman trial will likely be a ratings boon for all cable networks, including MSNBC and Fox News, which have also been heavy on the courtroom coverage. CNN’s domestic outfit understands the same way Time Magazine does that most Americans don’t know much about world events, and don’t care to — John King even admitted as much last year.

The truth is, CNN’s programming decisions aren’t a reflection of CNN so much as a reflection of the American people, more of whom care about a domestic court trial than about the historic events taking place overseas. Right now, CNN International is broadcasting wall-to-wall coverage from Egypt. The fact that CNN’s domestic channel isn’t should tell you what executives there think about the American people’s interests. And sure, CNN could take the lead and cover what they think the American people should care about, but that’s not necessarily a great business strategy.

Frame check: “Ratings, so shut up” vs. “eat your spinach,” with a side order of “Americans don’t care.” None of this describes what I was trying to accomplish by criticizing CNN, but that’s over now. I’m retired.

5. What I was trying to accomplish by criticizing CNN has been overridden by Jeff Zucker. Here’s what I mean. CNN’s problems were well stated a few years ago by a competitor, Phil Griffin, head of MSNBC, who asked: “What do they stand for?” That is the million dollar question. cnnegyptThe answer CNN people had always given was pretty simple: breaking news! When big events happen the world turns to CNN. That’s who we are. That’s what we do. At CNN, they used to say, “the news is the star.” The problem with this answer eventually became well known. What causes people to tune in when there is no big breaking news? Fox and MSNBC have their ways of creating loyalists, what does CNN have? Wolf Blitzer? Erin Burnett?

I admit this is a hard problem. I didn’t have an answer, either, but as a critic I tried to make a few suggestions that would at least get the discussion out of the left/right/center rut. The most promising direction, I thought and still think, was latent in a catch phrase that Anderson Cooper uses: keeping ’em honest. CNN could have tried to become the fact-checking network, the “no bull” channel, the place that did away with both “he said, she said” and news for party loyalists, where repeating the talking points got you booted from the rolodex and performances like this became the norm. There were even some hints that network execs were moving in that direction. Of course the challenge would be to make it interesting television but on that score I thought “no bull” a long way from “eat your spinach.”

Zucker has ended that by giving his own answer to Phil Griffin’s question: what do they stand for? The same thing Entertainment Tonight stands for! Television that occupies your attention, not for a purpose but merely for a while. Another answer might be “drama without dramatists,” meaning: drama where the plots and characters are provided by the people unlucky enough to be caught up in tabloid-ish or flashpoint events. Trials are ideal for that, but so is the poop ship. Criticism of these tactics actually tells Zucker that he is on the right track. Now the ratings are up relative to his competitors, and nothing ends the conversation like an uptick in the numbers. Unless it’s bringing back Crossfire, which is like saying, CNN: brain dead and proud of it.

6. David Carr, media columnist for the New York Times, once wrote: “By marketing itself as the most trusted name in news, CNN is and should be held to a higher standard.” I thought that way too. But now I realize that not enough people join in Carr’s belief, inside or outside CNN. And without it there’s no traction.

So I’m saying farewell. I used to say: I criticize because I care. But I no longer do. I’m turning this beat over to James Poniewozik, Time magazine’s gifted television writer. CNN is TV, popular enough to remain on the air. That’s pretty much all you can say about it now. That and: ratings, so shut up.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links

Former CNN producer and  executive Sid Bedingfield: Is It Time to Give Up on CNN?

I rarely criticize CNN in public, partly out of loyalty, but also to avoid hypocrisy. No one spends 20 years in cable news and comes away entirely clean. In this case, however, I’m tempted to agree with Jay Rosen, who believes it’s time to give up on CNN.

His analysis of the Zimmerman coverage is acute. Read it.

The New Republic: CNN Is Bad at Tabloid Journalism.

The worst kind of tabloidism is boring tabloidism, which was what CNN had devolved into by Tuesday night. Its headlines were sensational (“SELF DEFENSE OR MURDER?”), but its content was mostly not. So it is not the fanatical coverage of the Zimmerman trial or the relegation of Tahrir Square to a tiny box in the corner of the screen that feels most symptomatic of the network’s general decline. It’s the moments when even CNN’s nightly news programs, the one opportunity for some analytical distance, participate in the trial’s vacuity instead of stepping back to interrogate it.

Adweek: Zucker’s Changes at CNN Are Already Bearing Fruit. I couldn’t ask for a better illustration of why I’m done.

The good ship CNN is riding a little higher on the waves. After months of plummeting ratings and a high-profile game of C-suite musical chairs, the original cable news network is catching up to its competitors in the core demo and showing significant year-over-year gains. And while a fall resurrection of Crossfire and the June launch of the morning show New Day are drawing ink, president Jeff Zucker is making other, more subtle changes, too.

For one thing, CNN’s anchors are appearing on each other’s shows…

When the encouraging news (other than the ratings) is that CNN anchors are appearing on each other’s shows, it’s time for a press critic to direct his gaze elsewhere, don’t you agree?

Inside Cable News reacts to this post.

Zimmerman will pass. There will be a verdict and the cable channels will move on. It is where CNN moves on to that we need to watch. And that’s why I think that thowing in the towel as Rosen has apparently done is a tad premature. Maybe CNN is indeed hopeless and innoculated against meaningful criticism. Even if it was, I would hope that people would criticize it nonetheless. Because if there is no criticism from a source that counts (which automatically excludes Jon Stewart and his “I’m just a comedian” crutch he trots out all too often) then how can the network’s coverage be measured if there is no counter argument to contrast it to?

If CNN had an ombudsman, the situation might be different. There would at least be an office to which one could appeal. Now we understand why a company making $600 million a year cannot afford that position, although strangely NPR has one and they ran at a deficit last year.

Short Form Blog, a major force on Tumblr, replies to the question, “Isn’t it possible that the backlash against CNN’s coverage of the George Zimmerman case is in and of itself racially motivated?”

CNN and the Problem With the ‘Egypt or Trayvon’ Question. At Foreign Policy magazine’s site, Joshua Keating asks: “Isn’t it the network’s job to tell viewers why they have to pay attention to a story and to make it interesting to them?”  That job description is exactly what’s being abandoned at CNN, Josh.

In reply to criticism of its wall-to-wall Zimmerman coverage, Jeff Zucker says… exactly what you would expect him to say. No light escapes his reply. But there was this:

Zucker also said that a criticism that CNN has not had enough conservative points of view on the air is a fair one and he’s working to correct that.

Good to know. Here are the ratings for July 10, as the Zimmerman trial was cresting.

Now this is what I mean by brain dead. The alternatives as posed by Dan Abrams: wall-to-wall Zimmerman trial or inane gotcha coverage. Abrams is currently working for ABC News as a legal analysis.

Perfect! Deadline Hollywood, the entertainment industry news and gossip site, describes me as an “industry navel-lint gazer” and says it will hold me to that pledge to retire from CNN criticism.


Is there really not time enough for coverage of the trial and other news worthy events in any thirty to sixty minute time period? Whether it’s breaking news or continuing coverage of an important series of events, there is enough time for a reasonable report on two, three or more such events. News isn’t a circus come to town. It’s what’s happening around us. If Americans don’t know about something they have the media to blame. We don’t decide what news is presented. The news is brought to us by the media.

Shafer’s critique is OK as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. He correctly points out that lots of other outlets are doing what CNN purportedly does, but he ignores what CNN is. The network still has a huge agenda-setting role for what’s important in the world and how to talk about it, more so than perhaps any other single outlet besides the NYT. (At the last daily I worked at, it was taken for granted that the night news editor took his cues from CNN; that would explain the banner-headline treatment we gave to Paris Hilton in her inglory days.)

Of course Jeff Zucker and CNN are free to ignore their role in the public debate, or revel in their disdain, but Shafer ought to have made a case for why that’s not a bad thing.

Hymen Roth says:

No one in their right mind should use US media to get their information about the world. The good old days sucked. That’s why some people read Izzy Stone.

I’d be amused to know the opinions of the readership here regarding Egypt, but I wouldn’t expect much. THAT’S a bigger problem than CNN.

Hymen Roth says:

Here’s Josh Marshall, surely someone you respect, and clearly out of his depth.

Quoting Jay Rosen on another thread:

“Politics: none is what most of the editors and reporters at the Washington Post practice and preach.”

This is the same company that owns Kaplan, but lets forget about that for now and keep things simple.
Is the Washington Post a “Pro American” newspaper? Is there any way even if most of the writers would not admit to “supporting the troops” (and I’m sure they’d all say they did, at least in public) that it could not be said to function as a part of American culture, following American prejudices? That’s how culture works. Egyptian newspapers, Chilean websites, all operate within the frames on the cultures they’re a part of. Chilean journalists and Chilean readers are under no obligation at all to “support the troops” of the USA.

Here’s a real journalist:
“objections to my article have been silly so far. i’m a journalist, not an american journalist. my job is not to serve as a propagandist for anybody, just to tell stories and my advantage is that i can tell stories that are hard to come by any comparison to WWII or the nazis always shows a lack of imagination, but in this case also a lack of understanding. the whole reason why its important to have people like me, able to hang out with militias in somalia, afghanistan, iraq or lebanon, is because they are not a formal army of a formal state, with clear goals, structure, hierarchy etc. on the contrary, their motives are not known and diverse, often at odds, they take up arms for different reasons and as anybody remotely interested in COIN knows by now (except for sassaman perhaps), they do not put down their arms through force, unless you’re willing to use force like the russians in chechnya (and that hasnt worked for the israelis), but instead their goals and motives must be understood, and eventually a political accord must be reached.

moreover, journalists regularly embed with the american military when it is conducting operations, attacks, killing. whats the difference?

imagine if that one taliban commander had not screwed up my plans to go with them when they conducted attacks, and i had seen that too. isnt that interesting? isnt it important to understand who they are? and most importantly, wouldnt it make for a fun read?”

Rosen is political. But he’s also a bit anti-political: he’s an adventurer and an adrenaline junkie. But I trust him to be honest to his perceptions.

Here he is again.

Are you capable of talking about the issues themselves?

Matt Chmiel says:

Pardon me for saying this: you sound more than a little petulant here, especially a week or two after writing about your principles for how you operate as a critic. This post has me wondering now if you ever actually articulated your end-game or thoroughly defined success.

Is it successful if it is meaningful but has no audience? Is it successful if it is on TV but not the web or print? Is it successful if it is or is not monetized with ads or sponsored content? Finally, is it completely unsuccessful if it is also melo-dramatic?

Hopefully you have a great holiday planned that gets you away from all this. You need a holiday and some time.

You deserve credit for the changes in the narrative about American news production (he said/she said, etc.). That is driving a lot of the programming decisions that are underway and right at this moment, you are tossing the baby out with the bath water.

” Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others. ”

{– Groucho Marx}

montag2 says:

Years ago, when CNN’s star was shining more dimly, they brought in consultants to tell them what they were doing wrong.

One of the major points was that Fox News profits were way higher because they didn’t have to pay for foreign news offices and stringers. So, basically, because Fox depended heavily upon on-air opinion and not international newsgathering, the only way to compete with them was to become more like them.

And, it seems like that advice stuck, which is why CNN, over time, has become an even bigger joke than it was.

Charles Darnay says:

I can’t tell if you’re intentionally lying or just ignorant. Fox News has had foreign news desks in Baghdad, Islamabad, Jerusalem, Kabul, London, Rome, etc… The idea that they don’t have foreign correspondents would be stunning to David Lee Miller, Greg Kelly, Steve Harrigan, William La Jeunesse, Rick Leventhal, Greg Palkot, Steve Centanni, and Malini Bawa, among others who have travelled extensively and reported on incidents around the world. Oops! I forgot to mention the celebrated correspondent Jennifer Griffin, who covered conflicts around the globe while fighting breast cancer! You also either forgot, were ignorant of, or intentionally left out that Fox runs the British and international divisions of Sky News, which is equivalent to CNN International!

I’m just going to assume you’re ignorant and inventive, rather than malicious and deceptive, but, admittedly, I’m on the edge. In your misfired attempt to make a backhanded slap at both Fox and CNN, you made a statement that is easily disproven.

accidentalfission says:

Perhaps you’ve confused CNN with “CNN International?

I’ve never hear of any of the journalists you just mentioned.

Any if you were any way implying that journalism was something one can find on Fox “news,” well … you’re confused.

Jay, i spend alot of time outside of the US and tell you that CNN International is not all that. It is mediocre at best. BBC World and Al Jazeera and EuroNews are much better in every way.

Renfield says:

So is the CBC.

Mick, that may very well be true, but… as a loyal CNN-International fan, the drop in quality from CNN-I to CNN-US is so vast that I’ll watch almost anything else when they switch to Atlanta. It goes from an earnest-but-uneven news channel to an infotainment/mockumentary/tabloid-aspirational fluff channel that feels almost degrading to watch; I can’t imagine what it’d be like to actually work for them while wanting to do serious journalism. (Yes, there are some good journalists working for CNN Atlanta; unfortunately, the company is trying very hard to turn them into productised Personalities, like “Amanpour.” for example.)

What would make me turn off CNN-I for good? If they completed the Americanisation of the channel, pushing people I respect (Anderson Cooper, Kristie Lu Stout, Fareed Zakaria) either out the door or into cameo roles, and continued to push their inflatable-doll replacements instead. (Does anybody take Pauline Chiou, Wolf Blitzer or Richard Quest seriously?)

Using similar logic, shouldn’t you also stop caring about what Politico “media columnists” think?

I may come to that point with them. Not there yet.

Yep. Already there.

I was among the first viewers of CNN, who’s impact on news can’t be overstated, even though I had to sit through 3,714 ads for Zamfir, master of the pan flute. I haven’t defaults to CNN in years. It isn’t the place I turn to for breaking news — the financial cable sites (CNBC, Bloomberg) are much better at that these days.) But I still find it hard to fault CNN, any more than I can hold it against MTV that they don’t show music videos anymore. There are other places to go for breaking news. They don’t have to try to duplicate efforts of other sources — some, like Twitter, non-visual — that have embraced it. In a perfect world, would CNN still be what it was? Sure. But it just ain’t that simple.

Splendid illustration for why I quit.

Which, apparently, you feel the need to keep repeating. Oy

What, there can only be one illustration? Who says? The whole point of of my post is the pervasiveness of attitudes that make it pointless to criticize CNN.

CNBC great at news? Are you for real? CNN has its problems but CNBC is the dumbest propaganda garbage in all of cable news. Holy wow, CNN would be an anormous step up for you. Then again, the way CNN is going there won’t be much difference.

CNN is too corrupt to reform anything. They traded coverage for access in Iraq, and they do much the same here. Their bias isn’t left/right/center, it’s *pro-establishment*. They have no intention of rocking a boat, unless the boat belongs to a nobody.

Witness the Dobbs issue: his coverage would have cost very powerful people money, so he was canned.

The new Crossfire features four hacks, all on the same basic side of key issues like immig. and trade.

That’s not to say that MSNBC or Fox are any better, but neither are pretending to be a “straight down the middle” news channel either.

I sense on I am the other (left) end of the political spectrum then you 24ahead, but I totall agree with the judgement that CNN is pro-establishment. They never rock the boat and they always protect the powerful and privileged. They don’t care left or right, just green! Scooping up Burnett and thinking that was a stroke a genius pretty much cemented their role as a platform for the wealthy.

*pro* establishment is the key phrase to understanding the media and political environment resulting in the insane behavior on the right as it acts as a rump opposition unable to actually engage issues.

It also explains the “market-driven” approach — this is the pragmatic ideology of the establishment, which of course is then reflected in the media. These are honestly people who are post-truth. Whatever it takes to “win” in this extremely constrained sort of winning.

So the ideology under it all disappears as simple practice. It’s post-post-modern! You are post-truth because you are simply following the “truth”.


Michael Ferris says:

I totally understand why you no longer want to flog a dead horse. If I want to watch world news, I find a live feed online of CNN International and watch it from there. Otherwise, I watch the BBC World Service on my cable.

You want an insight into CNN’s decision making? Look at the Food Channel. It started out covering gourmet recipes and fine dining, quality chefs and fine wines.

Over time it discovered that the lower it went in terms of its coverage, the larger its audience. That is why today, you watch fat guys eating strange parts of stranger animals, contests to see who can eat the largest hamburger and hottest chili, and wannabe chefs being excoriated by celebrity chefs with massive egos and small aprons.

CNN in a nutshell… got a choice between trying to understand why one of our key allies in the Middle East is imploding and the inner conflicts of Islam or a racially charged murder trial…..and the trial is gonna win every time, hands down.

JackCerf says:

Perfectly true. A&E, Bravo, TLC and the History Channel all followed that same path — start with ambitions to enlighten, and move steadily down market until you reach the level of crap that a mass audience will sit still and watch.

I’m resistant to these sort of responses that shift the agency to a presumed mass audience, where “we just give them what they want” becomes an excuse for poor practice, for two reasons:

1) “We just give them what they want/CNN is just a reflection of mass culture” presumes a linear relationship between cultural production and consumption. But cultural desires are much more complex–where do these desires come from? If mediated content weren’t able to at least bend and influence desire–exert some sort of agency, rather than passively respond–there’d be no point of commercial advertising. Which then segues to…

2) It smuggles in (perhaps unintentionally) a pretty high level of contempt for the public, one that presumes that the public always deserves its own shoddy treatment. The problem here is that WE are included in that mass audience (or as I prefer it, that public). I’m the public too. I think we deserve better–in many ways. Otherwise, we’re stuck getting pitted against one another (all my superior taste against that of the lamentable mass, who get what they deserve).

This is a pretty common position, and I don’t want to be a scold–so maybe a place to start is to ask “what DOES the public (which is us) deserve?”

Additionally, it misses the point of “the market”. The de-intellectualizing of the material isn’t driven by (at least solely) by maximizing the number of viewers. It’s driven by maximizing the number of preferred demographics (the most easily influenced who have money) under conditions that the advertisers believe will maximize them sales.

So folks who are resistant to advertising (folks above 40 say) are not being pandered to. Folks who don’t spend cash on toys aren’t being pandered too. Shows that could drive numbers but would simultaneously undermine the advertising are excluded.

Soon this idea that “the masses” are choosing becomes extremely stupid. At most, they are collaborating in the scam by being stupidly suggestible — but it’s definitely an intentional scam to select out the weakest in the herd and use them to drive the herd.

And by turning it into this “the markets decided” without looking at how those markets were set up, even less suggestible folks become collaborators in these CHOICES made by a few folks who dominate the means of communication.

There’s a place for internal market analysis, without doing the meta-analysis on the market — someone’s got to make money at the end of the day. But without “scolds” actually doing the hard-thinking of questioning the assumptions of the establishment, all we’ll ever get is one more sales-pitch (which is what simply market-analysis is directed towards).

Droogie655321 says:

So true. TV today as about commerce. Network news and so-called reality shows are all about making money by creating mindless, generally horrific entertainment, on a shoestring budget, in order to maximize the advertising dollars spent for incessant commercials. Its lowest common denominator tv and its unwatchable.

CNN is Jerry Springer meets the NY Post. Locate something charged or just make it up. Run the story. Whip it all day long. See if it froths. Rinse. Repeat.

Saying American dont want effective world news is of course misleading.

Ask why. Why is the market constructed so that McD’s wins, rather than a more nutritious meal?

It’s not a choice by the consumer — it’s a question of the rules of the market relative to the nature of the consumer.

Corporate media is low consciousness information.

gregorylent says:

it’s a part of the distraction industry … includes sports, celebrities, tv, hollywood, the news, “journalism” …

to expect anything from those (huge) industries beyond distraction is to be misguided.

That’s the beauty of quitting. I don’t expect anything more any longer.

It’s nearly the same situation here in Sweden! 🙁

billmon says:

“Americans don’t know much about world events, and don’t care to ”

They care when “the world” drops a couple of skyscrapers in NYC, or their sons and daughters have to go fight and die in some country they never heard of before — but by then it’s too late.

So true, Bill. “Sure, it’s hugely important but Americans don’t care…” followed by a shrug and a justification for ignoring what’s hugely important (ratings, you idiot!)– this is the pattern that started as a strain and is now the norm in the CNN discourse.

The same reporter just pronounced the NSA story over for similar reasons:

Despite how troubling the NSA’s surveillance practices are, the American people seem content to live with them. Moreover, the news cycle has moved on, dominated now by The Zimmerman trial, Egypt, et al. Finally, Greenwald doesn’t seem to have any more big revelations up his sleeve.

Maybe that’s not the way it should be, but that’s the way it is.

James Joyner gets it. “At some point, you’re no longer in the news business at all. And it’s quite possible CNN has reached that tipping point.”

Droogie655321 says:

CNN is to news what VA guvnah McDonall is to good governance.

This: You get the news you deserve.

If you think it’s tough to watch the day to day demise of CNN from a viewer standpoint, trying doing it from someone who shed blood, sweat and tears to help construct and grow the one time “World’s Most Important Network”. It is truly painful to see what you helped to build – battered and besmirched – and all self-inflicted.

Tell us more, Jeff. (Seriously: I’d love to hear.)

Marius Telemacher says:

I’m not a critic of CNN, I’m a critic of the thought of Advocacy Journalism taking over the news landscape to offer no alternatives other than news channels of a single color of the truth per channel.

One of the most important things they taught us in Journalism in college was the recognization of bias and offering the truth no matter how miniscule or detailed (where Editors usually tromp all over that.)

Confirming facts on “breaking news” was of the utmost importance in the past, with mistakes costing people’s jobs. Now, there’s a 15 second apology, and it’s done at the tail end of the show before the next anchor takes the seat. Facts are ancillary versus the opinion, and there’s no way to change the channel to unfiltered information. Everything is in the lens of partisan politics now. There is no room for the next Peter Jennings, Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw: the loudest, most obnoxious pundit wins.

Todd Kennington says:

I heard CNN turned down an innovative news/talk show starring Jon Lovitz and Steve Langford from the Howard Stern Show.

Jeff Zucker and Amy Entelis (CNN’s V.P. Talent) nixed the idea because it ‘didn’t fit’ into CNN’s current programming plans. I guess plans to suck don’t dovetail with creative programs.

Zucker single-handedly ruined NBC and he’s back to do the same at CNN. His only hope: An apocalyptic series of news events, the coverage of which even Zucker can’t screw-up.

Sad time in news coverage when a network’s programming methodology relies solely on world events taking a downward spiral.

Jay Schiavone says:

The hell? To put it charitably, Jon Lovitz was a has-been 10 years ago. His recent ranting about Obama over-taxing him let us know he is also dogmatically ignorant. Not sure what Langford brings to the table. His work with Stern was unremarkable, though he has a good radio voice. Not convinced that passing on this “innovative news/talk show” is a rejection of “creative programs.”

Todd Kennington says:

He’s “dogmatically ignorant?” You mean he is ignorant of dogma?

Although devoid of syntax coherency, your intent is clear. It appears by your reckoning that Jon doesn’t have the right to rant – translation: exercise his right of free speech – regarding Obama’s patently indefensible stance regarding tax inequities. Your comment is quite ironic, given it was made within the context of a journalistic forum.

As to Jon’s “has-been” status, perhaps you could explain that comment to his millions of current fans world wide. But then again, you were exercising your right of free speech, which protects even “dogmatically ignorant” comments.

And as for Langford, a bona fide, award-winning investigative reporter long before his Stern tenure, who boasts a fan base of millions as well … “he has a good radio voice?!”

Obviously, you’re a Piers Morgan fan.

Dennis Miller would probably do better in this role. Oh, wait. Fox already snapped up that “talent”, never mind.

Jay Schiavone says:

CNN must be ruled by cretins if they would turn up there noses at two talents with “millions of fans.” However, a rant is a rant, and Lovitz was mistaken in ihs assertion that Obama had caused him to pay higher taxes. he is, of course, entitled to speak his mind. He is not entitled to a show on CNN. Why is it that no other channels have exercised their right in a free market to exploit the manifest talents of Mssrs. Lovitz and Langford for easy and immediate profit?

Right to speech? To hear the same crap repeated in a slightly different tone is free speech?

If you were serious, we’d here you screaming for some actual different “speech” rather than the endlessly repeated pablum, left and right.

Don’t talk about free speech unless you’re actually a voice that is excluded in practice from the discussion.

Jay Schiavone says:

It’s fine that you will no longer cover CNN. I hope you will redouble your efforts to criticize NPR. 18 months ago you were shouting, “Bravo!” because the radio network tentatively pledged to steer away from their staple “he said, she said” manner of reporting. How have been the results? Once per month I will tune in to one of their news shows to get a feel for the new tone that was promised. I’m not sure I’m feeling it. Granted, you have a stake in the outcome, having already given NPR full credit in advance, but perhaps you should follow through and examine the progress with a skeptic’s ear. I’ve pretty much given up on NPR, but I haven’t given up on you.

Did you just call Dylan Byers a “journalist”?

You really have given up, haven’t you?

Susie Madrak says:

Did you just call Dylan Byers a “journalist”?

You really have given up, haven’t you?

Wins the thread!

What I love is “The truth is, CNN’s programming decisions aren’t a reflection of CNN so much as a reflection of the American people, more of whom care about a domestic court trial than about the historic events taking place overseas”

It’s this quality of naiviete rapped up in world-weary cynicism. On the one hand, it is absorbed in a claim of cynicism, “it’s the ratings, stupid”. On the other hand, it wants to claim a complete naiviete about how the ratings are constructed, how the media choices are made, about how a fairly narrow elite has built a system that rewards a certain kind of press, and punishes deviations, often quite autonomously.

It’s like building a car, starting it, stepping away, and then claiming that it’s “the car that done run them folks over”. It’s a beautiful rationalization — I’m pretty sure that it’s greatest function isn’t to convince others, but to let the arguer sleep well at night. Of course, it requires the arguer to hold up a delusion. That will always come back and bite you in the ass eventually.

You wrote: What causes people to tune in when there is no big breaking news? Fox and MSNBC have their ways of creating loyalists, what does CNN have?

The answer is simple: do breaking news when there is breaking news, and have your ratings-grabbing “other” programming on tap for when there is no breaking news. I was a producer for CNN for 8 years, during its golden, pre-Time Warner era. In those days, we planned programming we thought would bring in viewers, but always, ALWAYS pivoted to wall-to-wall breaking news coverage when there was something to cover. Many is the time when we had guests sitting in the studio, about to go on air and talk about the tabloid fluff du jour, and we pre-empted that programming with breaking news. We didn’t tape those guests or present the fluff later; we thanked them and sent them home and went forward with the news of the day.

It’s not rocket science — it’s agility.

Why CNN is not practicing it any more is a mystery. CNN can no longer crush competitors with what used to be its bread and butter breaking news coverage, and it cannot truly compete with the tabloid stuff either, because it doesn’t put the money behind getting the “hot” guests and celebrities or even buying satellite time when a guest is not in a CNN bureau city.

For years after I left the news business, my first stop every morning was CNN, and later, — to know whether there was anything important going on in the world. Now, CNN is not my first stop — nor even my fifth — in a breaking news situation. Really sad. Bring back Ted! He was the one who set the standards back then, when CNN was actually a news outlet.

Thanks for your testimony, Karen. Very interesting.

Engineer says:

CNN is only expressing the outcome of the society you wanted to create.

you put government in charge of schools because you want children to be brought up as good little statists, and so you get children who are 35 years old and care about celebrity and murder trials more than the state of the world.

good little voters.

CNN is catering to the liberal ideal here.

The idea that you want more intelligent news is absurd- if you wanted intelligence, you wouldnt’ support a school system that systematically stamps it out, as all government school systems must.

Whether you recognize the contradiction or not, it is there.

This is the result of the violence you’ve done against the people by denying their kids the chance to be educated.


The “Culture War: Forever!” room is down the hall to the right. This is press criticism. But thanks for stopping by.

Droogie655321 says:

CNN sucks so it is inconcievable that the cause is anything other than liebrul bias. Riiight. Id like to watch some CNN programming with you so you could point out the obvious (to you) bias which only exists in your fevered imagination.

Well, at least Mr Alternate Universe refrained from blaming Obama or Agenda 21 for CNN’s mess.

“CNN could have tried to become the fact-checking network, the “no bull” channel, the place that did away with both “he said, she said” and news for party loyalists, where repeating the talking points got you booted from the rolodex and performances like this became the norm.”

That news channel already exists, it’s called The Blaze. Call your cable company and demand they carry it.

Oh my. I really love this comment. Glenn Beck, the “no bull” guy? Priceless.

The Blaze. A channel for lunatics, by lunatics.

I used to rely on Glenn Beck for all my gold buying and selling news. Then this…

The Blaze — if you really want fact-free reporting!

Droogie655321 says:

Called my cable company to demand they carry The Blaze.

The representative openly admitted their standards relative to decent programming are lower than whale excrement, yet the rep emphatically denied the network would ever broadcast anything remotely associated with crybaby BeKKK.
Damn people. Even the wicked have limits.

Edmund Singleton says:

Chiseled eye browed hairs, painted eye lids, adhesive extended eyelashes, pigmented cheeks and greasy lips, is the look of most women in broadcast television news. Many too young to have dyed their hair, with gray hair over the horizon can now look forward to a life time of this activity before its time. With this clownish appearance they will be delivering the news of some tragic death while we hold our stomachs to keep from laughing…

CNN can’t even win a race to the bottom. It’s one thing to give up trying to be first–now they’ve given up trying to be a pale imitation of whoever is coming in second or third.

The only thing sadder is that the three major networks still have a nightly news program. CNN was supposed to be an alternative to the evening news–a more informed and substantive version that had the time to go into depth on stories. Wait, that ended before the Lewinsky Affair. Never mind.

joel hanes says:

A “media columnist for Politico” is not a journalist.

The correct job title is courtier.

The Zimmermann trial is important because he needed to come to trial rather than slip through the stand-your-ground statute.

This is the right call. Too many press critics take the lazy way out, continually throwing darts at the same tired list of enemies. It’s been obvious for some time CNN is awful, in the same way local news is awful, in the same way even most network news has become pretty awful. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to keep repeating this.

What we need from Jay, if he is really going to be taken seriously and respected as a press critic and thiinker, is for him to not only harshly judge MSM reporters and outlets, but for him to also offer criticism of friends and ideological comrades like Glenn Greenwald. In Glenn’s case, he hasn’t done this once, as far as I can see. In fact, he’s offered slavish praise of Greenwald, in embarrassing fanboy tones. And yet by most standards Greenwald’s coverage has been tainted by his agenda and has been highly dubious, full of the “he said she said” Jay said he abhors.

Greenwald is probably one of the most prominent journalists in the world right now, and he has had a hand in shaping a major story. And yet, apparently, he’s off limits to Jay.

If Jay critically examines Greenwald’s coverage, this may cost him some links from Glenn, and he may have Glenn’s flying monkeys come after him, much like they came after Rick Perlstein, Charles Pierce, etc. etc.. Maybe he and Glenn won’t go on Bill Moyers together anymore. But how can Jay call for reporters to have courage, when he shows so little of himself?

Brendan says:

Important? Somewhat. Important enough to cover every single second of it? Nope, not even close.

CNN is part of the latest attempt by corporate America to distract John and Jane Q Public.

Sadly, more people can tell you what’s going on in the Kardashian household than who their elected officials are in their towns.

Brendan says:

The above reply was meant for Modaca

If I want to know what’s going on in the world, I watch a few hours of worlds news from half a dozen different countries on the MHZ Network on broadcast TV. There’s nothing worth paying for on cable.

We cancelled our cable three years ago and haven’t missed it. I listen to NPR and BBC on the radio mostly out of decades long habit. The quality of public radio news has decayed over the years, but not as much as newspapers and tv news. If a talking head says something interesting or entertaining I can viddy it online. I get breaking news mostly from Twitter. The quality of the information is erratic, but it’s still better than cable or broadcast news. Cancel your cable and unplug your tv. You don’t need it. It needs you.

Deborah says:

I was in Brazil two weeks ago, eager to have news of Brazilian protests, Syria, Egypt, and other critical events. CNN (International?) was my only English news, and it was essentially non-stop Zimmermann trial. Horrible.

Public demand- ‘give them what they want’- is the real problem here. The trick is in making issues that are important & vital to peoples lives, interesting to them, and at the same time giving them power in the whole news apparatus. That is what I am trying to do with my new website ATD challenges the media to follow common sense rules in their reporting, and allows the public to Call Them Out when they break the rules. The rules “Ask the Question” and “Cite the Basis” were specifically intended to break the “he said, she said” stalemate that is so typical in ‘debates’. So check out and let me know what you think!

Other than that my only comment is- Jay, methinks thou dost protest too much? (Keep up the good work.)

I started working in Asia in the mid-90s and had regular access to CNN International, BBC-World, NHK, RAI, etc. They all had limitations–BBC treated the ineffectual John Major with kid gloves and ignored the Ulster Unionists’ role in the troubles in Northern Ireland, but they all seemed a lot more grownup than CNN. BBC, for example, handled breaking news without getting silly, and offered all kinds of documentaries and informative series. In contrast, CNN International had hours of white Bronco footage and filled enormous amounts of time with Larry King, Lou Dobbs, et al. and this was the allegedly better CNN Inernational, not the US feed. CNN struck me as a lost cause ages ago.

CNN doesn’t do depth, but they also don’t do breaking news very well either. They’re more rudderless than they used to be, but frankly, they’ve always been the national version of a cheaply run UHF station doing news 24/7—and given Turner Broadcasting’s roots, that’s probably the best conceptualization I can offer. You can’t do much with that kind of venue except hope that it eventually fails as a business model and they do start doing reality shows or women in jeopardy tv movies instead. On second thought, they’ve already done that, so the best thing to do is to avoid it as much as possible and certainly try to stay away from Atlanta’s airport where hometown babbitry makes CNN completely unavoidable.

CNN’s declining ratings and weak demographics ultimately will lead to some sort of change. Time Warner isn’t a charity, but giving them any more attention than Food Network won’t hasten the day. Fox faces similar problems, but I doubt anything will happen until Rupert Murdoch is dead and buried.

I stopped watching cable news altogether a few years ago. It’s a losing battle critiquing it. They’re not going to change for the better. A few large media companies own these news sources and their primary concern is money and shuffling viewers between their channels, not journalism and keeping the American public well informed.

Of course, you know this. I think perhaps now instead of legitimizing these infotainment channels by offering critiques as if they are open to such debate and change, you can encourage your readers to stop wasting their lives watching them and subsequently wasting more of their lives critiquing them online as if those who run the channels give a damn.

Chris O'Connell says:

I just want to watch Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show but he is often absurdly pre-empted for “breaking” news. For instance, this past Sunday there was no show because of the San Francisco plane crash. But that happened 22 hours earlier on Saturday morning!!! Now it is Sunday morning and there will be NO breaking news but they have to show pictures of the wrecked plane on the tarmac! Because that is what they do.

Agreed. Zacharia is a gem.

[…] However, I must admit that I’m still scared about her choice of career, for an entirely different reason.  Jay Rosen’s excellent blog PressThink ran with the reason recently: after his Tumblr post on the newsworthiness, or lack thereof, of what was being shown on CNN, he got essentially laughed out of the blogs by multiple writers for even suggesting that, perhaps, the tabloid spectacle of the Zimmerman trial may wish to take a back seat to, oh, I dunno…an active military coup happening in Egypt.  Rosen quite rightly decided after that to simply say to hell with CNN. […]

Jim Brotherson says:

Sad to say, CNN is now off my list of goto channels for world news. The list has now shrunk to zero.

That leaves me with the internet which is too broadly based to succumb to advertising mandates.

I’m like Karen. During big events like the original Gulf War, I camped in front of my tv watching CNN. But their news coverage has gotten worse over the years, and breaking news is among the worst now. It used to be a good alternative to the excretable fluff that passes as morning news on the network. Now it isn’t.

Just think: CNN could have become like the old “60 Minutes.” And 60 Minutes, back when it was hard-hitting, was one of the highest rated shows. So hard, investigative news can draw an audience.

[…] a cable TV network somewhat more popular than CNN — a network with more Al Sharpton, but less non-stop murder trial coverage — if Lawrence O’Donnell said the IRS scandal is not a scandal, this was of tremendous […]

We can’t just throw up our hands and surrender.

I remember a respected media professor on the verge of tears as he traced the “happy talk” news phenomena wrecking the work of Murrow, Sevareid, Pierpoint, Collingwood etc. So I understand your frustration. It’s been a long slide down covering many decades. (Think of Murrow’s boys and girl watching Couric’s nightly news.)

But doesn’t history show this tabloid-ism and programming to “the lowest common denominator” has always haunted the pursuit of good journalism, fiction, films, theater? Others found a way to do good work.

We won’t find our way if we give up.

I haven’t watched a second of the Zimmerman trial, but it’s bombarding my Twitter feed. My problem is this: The roundups and tweets I’ve seen are not terribly exciting, and tend toward color (ahem) commentary. The Zimmerman trial isn’t nearly as interesting as the concurrent (but non-televised) Bulger trial. For the life of me I can’t figure out how this justifies daylong coverage. If this is CNN’s signature breakout, then good luck.

Maybe they just need to put Nancy Grace on the Egypt beat. Stop signaling “it’s spinach time” by turning it over to sober anchors and analysts that are either worried about facts or not offending anyone. Get Grace, who has no use for any fact that interferes with her opinion, in there for “Team Brotherhood” vs. “Team Military.” It would probably be horrifying to anyone with a brain, but at least CNN can have it both ways!

gregorylent says:

better late than never, mr. rosen. welcome to the bright side.

Shame on you! If you are serious, you must evaluate your action according to the old axiom we use as parents and coaches…”What will happen if everyone else does what you are doing?”

I agree with you and gave up quite some time ago on TV news. But I was really struck by your sentence “Television that occupies your attention, not for a purpose but merely for a while.”

I think that’s a bigger issue than TV news. As a teacher, I need to think about whether I am occupying my students’ attention for a purpose or just for awhile.

And I need to ask the same question about the ways I spend my time.

Can I quote you on this? It’s a profound statement.

These ideas are made for use, so, yes, of course. Thanks for reading.

Dominic Connor says:

The business problem with trial coverage is that it has no “secret sauce”.

I could do trial coverage, so could you, it is a mystery to me why there isn’t aalready a “TrialLive” channel which scours the world (OK, the US) for interesting trials.

I’d have some faded celeb (Shannen Doherty, OJ Simpson) to comment, rather like a cross between a ball game and news.

Do make money over time you need to do things that competitors find hard, economists call this “barriers to entry”.

For any business there are occasional lumps of easy money and of course they grab them. The problem is that money that is easy for you is easy for the other guy as well and the other guy has thousands of friends, so the easy money gets shared out and fades away.

Covering Egypt is hard and not without risk and the breakup of Spain as a country, covering the ethnic cleansing in Denmark, Moslem uprising in China, civil war in Russia which might happen next year (but probably won’t) requires a network of people on the ground familiar with the situation.

That’s stupidly hard to build, would take not just serious money but requires skills few people or companies have.

*That* is a secret sauce, which might make less money this year, but over the next 5-10 years will make more.

A very intelligent analysis and one with which I concur. Jeff Zucker is unbuilding the CNN brand, but since he’s getting a ratings bump for doing it he will not be opposed.

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