Thursday, January 19, 2006

CNN: FAUX DEUX









CNN just can’t seem to cut it. Not on any day, not in any time slot. Not against Fox News.

Fox News - affectionately known on the left as "Faux News" - that unfair and imbalanced nuthouse that each night brings John “The War on Christmas” Gibson, Bill “Falafel” O’Reilly, Sean “Insanity” Hannity and an endless parade of convicted felons, hate-mongers, bigots, immoral morality mavens, disgraced politicians and other intellectually-dishonest, ethically-challenged Kool-Aid drinking gasbags right into your living room. Well, maybe not your living room. But the living rooms and bedrooms of millions of like-minded God-fearin’ Amuricans who think that Bill O’Reilly’s Talking Points Memo is the nightly Sermon on the Mount.

Despite its comically over-hyped delivery, ludicrously pro-Republican bias and demonstrably fictionalized reporting - all chronicled daily by Newshounds (“We watch Fox, so you don’t have to!”) – Fox now slaughters erstwhile news leader CNN in the ratings department.

Just look at last Thursday’s carnage, courtesy of TVNewser:

TOTAL VIEWERS:

Total day: FNC: 1,006,000 / CNN: 400,000
Primetime: FNC: 2,002,000 / CNN: 732,000
Hourly:

4pm: Cavuto: 1,081,000 / Blitzer: 367,000
5pm: Gibson: 1,299,000 / Blitzer: 487,000
6pm: Hume: 1,760,000 / Dobbs: 533,000
7pm: Shep: 1,886,000 / Blitzer: 597,000
8pm: O'Reilly: 2,673,000 / Zahn: 748,000
9pm: H&C: 1,844,000 / King: 808,000
10pm: Greta: 1,489,000 / Cooper: 640,000

I report. You decide.

You don’t have to be a network news executive to read the numbers. Unfortunately for CNN, when it comes to measuring TV audiences, there are lies, damn lies and Neilsen ratings.

So what conclusion has CNN News Honcho Jonathan Klein drawn from this? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

Good bye CNN. Hello FAUX DEUX!

“The Most Trusted Name in News” has become the Most Mismanaged Name in News. The company now known as something like AOL/Time Warner Turner/CNN NewLine Pictures Broadcasting Bros, Inc., should be called “AWOL Bros.” for short.

CNN had a huge head-start over FOX and MSNBC. They had assembled a team of well-respected international journalists, positioned them around the world and let them do what they do best – report the news. Whenever there was a story, CNN was there. They were the first and they were best. If there was breaking news, America - and the world – tuned in to CNN. Hell, they invented the 24-hour News Cycle.

Their video footage became iconic: Anita Hill’s testimony, Baby Jessica’s Rescue, The Challenger Disaster, The Fall of the Berlin Wall, Gulf War I, Arthur Kent – “Scud Stud”, The Bronco Chase and Simpson Trial, Oklahoma City bombing, Pennsylvania miners' rescue and the list goes on and on and on.

Sure, they no longer have a monopoly on instant news as they did during the first Gulf War. And, yes, they’ve lost some good people like Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff to attrition. So they needed to shake off the cobwebs and bring in some talent – both management and on-air – and retool the network for the new millenium. And they blew it. Big Time. Cheney Time.

I really thought they were going to make a run at being a serious 21st century news organization. They did away with the acrimonious shoutfest known as Crossfire, which really hadn’t been any good since the days of Michael Kinsley and Pat Buchanan – and failed miserably before a live audience – after some well-placed on air words from none other than a true pioneer of really, real fake news, Jon Stewart. In fact, the only thing positive you can say about the latter day Crossfire is that it enabled us to share in the spectacularly fitting end to Robert Novak’s career on the network. Add his obscenity-punctuated walk-off to the “CNN Greatest Hits” reel. (And by the way, in case you missed it, where did Novakula end up? Why FOX News, of course. (Or, as Josh Marshall so eloquently put it “After decades in captivity at CNN, Robert Novak has now been allowed to return to his natural habitat.”)

But then, CNN’s brass made some real prime-time blunders. First, they paired Aaron Brown with Anderson Cooper. They weren’t exactly Huntley and Brinkley or MacNeil and Lehrer. In fact, they were a train-wreck, but one you COULD stop watching. And people did. They stayed away in droves

Then CNN shit-canned Brown altogether – while he was on vacation no less. He never had a chance to say good-bye. Or even “Courage”. Yeah, he only had about 600,000 viewers a night but dammit, they were true believers; you either loved Aaron Brown or you hated him. Those 600,000 loyal fans felt like, well, like they lost a key player from their World Series-winning team. Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you?

Koo-koo-cha-choo.

Now don’t get me wrong, I actually like Anderson Cooper. A lot. He’s passionate and quirky and if I may say so in a very manly and hetero way, he’s damn good looking. He and Headline News reader Erica Hill make such a cute team; every 30 minutes she pops in for a news update and you can just feel the sexual tension between them. I’m spent just watching an entire 2-hour block of AC 360.

But there’s something a little too cutesy, too pop-culturish, a little too “American Idolish” about the show. Maybe it’s the camera angles, the set, his laptop…It sort of feels like a TV reality show about a TV news show. That’s hot.

If Cooper is CNN’s – and America’s – Next Top Model, Larry King is Marcus Welby, MD, the network’s Father who Knows Best. (Okay, Channeling Robert Young here. Sorry.) Actually, Larry King is the Energizer Bunny. 30,000 interviews and he’s just warming up. 30,000 pairs of suspenders and not a single sport coat! He’s the franchise player and his is the network’s highest rated show.

Hey, I love Larry. He was Oprah before Oprah was Oprah. He always gets the big get and no one makes guests or viewers feel more at ease than The King. I guess it’s just that after 25 years, it’s probably time to begin the farewell tour. Larry, you have a beautiful wife and some cute, young kids. Go home and be with them, man. You’ve earned it.

Then there’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer – “Where news and pictures from around the world come together in one place all the time!” Really?? News AND pictures? Sound, too? It’s like Thomas Edison barnstorming the country and announcing that he could now record - and playback! - the sound of a human voice. And you can purchase a new device called a “phonograph” to hear it for yourself!

Wolf Blitzer – what a great name for a news anchor. But can you imagine what is must have been like growing up with it? Hey Wolf….bite me!! Hehehehe. With his white beard, cropped top and clipped delivery, he is a combination Ernest Hemingway and David Brinkley. I’m not sure if CNN has made the best use of Wolf. He’s more than proficient reporting from the field and he handles anchor duties just as well. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about Wolf that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe he just seems a little two-dimensional; you get the sense that if he turned to the side he’d disappear.

Well, at least the Situation Room has the curmudgeon and eye-candy factors covered with Jack Cafferty and the cute internet twins, Jacki Schechner and Abbi Tatton. Now that’s entertainment.

Paula Zahn. The hair, the eyes, the mouth. The legs! Naperville, Illinois’ prodigal daughter. She’s bright, beautiful, articulate and boring as hell. She has the emotional depth of an artichoke. Her passion seems contrived, if it exists at all. She was once a rising network news star, who rose to fame Icarus-like, a la Jessica Savitch, but didn’t fly too close to the sun and suffer the same horrific fate. I don’t know what really happened to Paula. She could have been a huge force in network news, possibly Dan Rather’s replacement, had she remained with CBS. Maybe it was bad management on the part of her agent or perhaps she just lost her bearing somewhere along the way. Whatever the case “Paula Zahn Now” feels like the wool filler in a cashmere blend coat. Paula Zahn Now? I prefer Paula Zahn Then.

The one bright spot on CNN’s evening lineup is my personal favorite – Lou Dobbs, that Harvard-educated, no-nonsense, ball-bustin’, take-no-prisoners, four-star news general who has devoted the last ten years of his life to exposing our dirtiest little secrets – America’s “Broken Borders” and the "exporting of American jobs to cheap overseas labor markets”. Damn, no one can stay on message like Lou Dobbs. Other than Ken Mehlman. Lou Dobbs is The Man. You can almost see his disciples - Kitty Pilgrim, Christine Romans, Bill Tucker and Lisa Sylvester - sitting around the table raptly listing to Lou tell his war stories over and over again. Dobbs has won nearly every major award for television journalism. I believe that if Lou Dobbs says it, it must be so.

Yet even Lou Dobbs, arguably CNN’s most respected anchor, can’t compete with Fox in the 6pm time slot. Going head-to-head with one of the most intellectually corrupt members of the Faux Fighting Force – Brit Hume – Dobbs draws less than a third of the viewers.

And so, the decision has been made. CNN is horribly wounded but Ted Turner’s equivalent of the Six-Million Dollar Man can be rebuilt! We can make him stronger than before. A robotic arm here, some steel plates there and - BAM! – we have The Bionic News Network! The only problem - the treatment is worse than the disease.

Here are CNN’s three latest hires from the lunatic wing of the Republican Party:

1. Bill Bennett, the disgraced former Education Secretary, FOX News contributor and self-appointed morality czar caught nursing a serious gambling addiction. His most-recent abomination? This quote: "It's true that if you wanted to reduce crime ... you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."

2. J.C. Watts, former Oklahoma Congressman and front-man for the GOP’s supposedly pro-African American policies that actually hurt African Americans and other minorities. He turned to television after he left Congress and found a promising career in infomercials shilling for the National Grants Conference (NGC), a Boca Raton, Fla.-based company that helps individuals “qualify to receive government money.” As highlighted in The Carpet Bagger Report, Watts's new line of work has earned him some sneers. A senior Republican aide snickered about his role on television, saying, "It makes the Cher infomercials look serious." As a rule, when someone compares your work to Cher's hair-care and makeup ads, and concludes that Cher's infomercials are better, it's a problem.

3. Glenn Beck, nationally-syndicated radio personality who, in full Rush Limbaugh mode, recently referred to survivors of Hurricane Katrina who remained in New Orleans as "scumbags" and, after acknowledging that nobody "in their right mind is going to say this out loud," attacked victims of the disaster in general and the families of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, saying: "I didn't think I could hate victims faster than the 9-11 victims."

Yes, say hello to the new CNN and say good-bye to cable news as we once knew it. By adding all these conservative commentators to their line-up, CNN now makes a dramatic and unnecessary dive downward and to the right. Perhaps they think they can outfox FOX. Perhaps they think that by eliminating any journalistic integrity, the NSA will stop eavesdropping on Christiane Amanpour’s phone calls. My guess is that the red hue you will soon see on CNN will be the color of embarrassment.

So, ready on the set, roll tape and cue James Earl Jones, the Voice of God, with the new commercial break bumper:

THIS!...was CNN.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ringmaster - Good analysis of who and what has gone wrong at CNN. Good Luck in your new blog.
Rubber Soul

1:17 PM  
Blogger The Ringmaster said...

Thank you very, very much, R.S.

One reader and counting!

1:21 PM  
Anonymous colleenmilitarymom said...

Great post. I was just going to check you out and ended up staying.

1:34 PM  
Blogger The Ringmaster said...

Thanks, Colleen. Appreciate your stopping over.

1:39 PM  
Blogger nonny mouse said...

Good luck with your debut blog - it's bright, it's well laid out, it's clear reading. Off to a good start.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Crankyboy said...

A new shimmering star in the blogosphere firmament.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Temple Stark said...

Somone who wishes CNN had a pair, instead of hiring a different pair, pointed me to this. Quality summary. I don't care much about left or right. i just want honesty. And from the news, i just want facts. Cable News is running away from the facts. It's a shame to have to say it, but local TV news is better nw, even with its sensationalist stripe.

3:11 PM  
Blogger The Ringmaster said...

Nonny, thank you.

Cranky, thank you, too. Glad to see you woke up on the right side of the bed today :) How's your auction going?

3:12 PM  
Blogger The Ringmaster said...

Temple, thanks for reading and for taking time to drop a note.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long winded. I really wanted to see the "Sky is Falling" link. If I wanted to read a diary, I would go to Kos, which I never do. You have very good writing skills and exceptional language usage. You asked for feedback right?

8:22 PM  
Blogger The Ringmaster said...

Yes, anon. Thanks for the feedback. Normally I won't rant on this much. Been thinking about this stuff a lot. Thanks.

12:03 AM  
Blogger Frank Cheshire said...

Great entry, you are a brilliant writer.

10:03 PM  

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