Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger
I must admit that I gave up watching CNN years ago, even before they attempted to become FOX News lite. Originally, as they created the standard for Cable News, they were an informative leader in providing television journalism. Because of their devotion to the news alone, they became the preferred alternative to Broadcast Network News, which at each network had been put under the “Entertainment Division” and thus viewed as a profit center, rather than a public information service. At the beginning and “golden age” of Television Network News, the FCC had mandated that each network was to provide “news” as a public service, in exchange for their license to control a band on the airways. The leader in this was CBS, a network under the aegis of William Paley, who hired war tested Journalists such as Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. CBS News was independent of the “Entertainment Division” and as a public service wasn’t expected to turn a profit. While it is true that there was an establishment bias on all news programming yet the coverage ranging from Joe McCarthy, to the Civil Rights Movement and to the Viet Nam War informed the public of great issues and brought home the realities through pictures indelibly imprinting horrific images on the public mind. Reactionary elements within the Corporate/Military Plutocracy viewed all of this with alarm. Their continued success depended upon an uninformed public, lulled by jingoistic propaganda and unaware of who really controlled our nation. There was a determination in these elite circles that the network news, the preferred means by which the public was informed on current affairs, must be reined in. William F. Buckley had already created the meme of a “liberal news bias” by this time as an explanation of why his philosophy of the supremacy of the elite was being bought by the general public. Building upon this meme networks were bought out by conservative corporations, news operations were put under the entertainment divisions and the FCC stop requiring news broadcasting as a condition of licensing.
Ted Turner realized that the traditional network news had been reduced in size and homogenized into a rather unpalatable product. He founded CNN under the paradigm of a 24 hour network dedicated solely to examining the news. Following CNN was the entry of Rupert Murdoch and the “tabloidization” of Cable News along with FOX News becoming a propaganda provider for his Conservative views and allies. This was nothing new for Murdoch who bought out the New Post and the Village Voice, turning them both into neo-conservative propaganda operations, sensationalized with gossip and racy pictures. Sadly, in terms of return on investment, it was a winning strategy for cable news as FOX shot to the top of the ratings. CNN the former ratings leader faltered and tried to become “a little” more like Fox News in order to regain their stature. In the process they became a failure as a serious news provider and have become every bit as inane as shows like “Entertainment Tonight”, even in their coverage of “hard” news stories. At this time in our country’s history with so many serious problems that need to be dealt with, CNN has proven not only incapable, but uninterested in providing coverage of issues that affect us all and of which we the public require more information.
Today, as with many Americans who try to be informed, almost all of the “news” I pay attention to comes from the internet. While I occasionally will watch Rachel Maddow and MSNBC coverage of important events, their coverage too seems lacking of content or even intelligent analysis. There are exceptions at MSNBC when they go away from their usual pundit crew to have on original thinkers undaunted by the need to parrot the establishment. Indeed, the first time I became familiar with Jonathan Turley’s work was seeing him on MSNBC. Since this is the case I had to discover something about CNN’s recent coverage from two articles I read in the Huffington Post, one of which made me snort with amusement, while the other just made me shake my head in disgust as to the current state of CNN, as a representative of mainstream Cable News
The first item was from perhaps the “purest” form of cable news, John Stewart and the Daily Show. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/15/jon-stewart-calls-out-cnn-carnival-triumph-ship-coverage_n_2694347.html
“Jon Stewart opened Thursday’s “Daily Show” by calling out CNN for their exhaustive coverage of Triumph, the Carnival cruise ship that was stuck in the Gulf of Mexico for six days. Despite other perhaps more significant stories occurring simultaneously, CNN, which recently came under the leadership of Jeff Zucker, devoted their entire morning and afternoon broadcast on Thursday to following the story of the ship that had lost power and forced its passengers into disgusting conditions, such as defecating into bags.
“CNN has been on the case, for some reason giving this boat crisis wall-to-shit-covered-wall coverage,” Stewart opined, before rolling a clip of a CNN anchor showing a young girl on the ship waving to her mother via the TV cameras.
“You’re not heroes, guys,” Stewart said, referring to CNN. “It’s not a hostage situation or a baby in a well. You reconnected them? They weren’t supposed to see each other. They were on a cruise for a few days.”
Stewart lamented that the CNN coverage was at the expense of notably more important stories, such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Cairo.”
The second Huffington Post Story added depth to the Daily Show comedy and clarified the Jeff Zucker that Stewart Referred to: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/14/cnn-cruise-ship-zucker_n_2687679.html
“Media watchers took notice on Thursday when CNN sent out a press release detailing its incredibly extensive coverage plans for the final leg of the journey of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship, which has been struck with power failures and squalid conditions for five days. The release made clear that CNN was going all in:
“CNN’s Erin Burnett will anchor “Erin Burnett OutFront” from Mobile, Alabama, where the ship will dock. Sandra Endo covers the ship’s arrival by helicopter; Victor Blackwell monitors by boat; and David Mattingly and Martin Savidge report from the dock in Mobile. CNN.com/live and the CNN apps will live stream the docking. CNN International will simulcast the arrival later tonight.On Saturday at 7:30pmET and 10:30pmET, CNN will broadcast “Cruise from Hell: Stranded at Sea,” a 30 minute special reported by Martin Savidge.”
“CNN wound up going beyond even that: during much of the late morning and early afternoon, there was literally no other story for the channel. Fox News talked about various matters, and MSNBC talked about the Chuck Hagel nomination and other political stories, but CNN had eyes only for the ship. The network devoted at least an hour of commercial-free coverage of its journey. The helicopter zoomed in and out, the correspondents reported from land and boat and studio, and the words “CNN Live Exclusive” were plastered in the top right hand corner of the screen the whole time.”
“It was not hard news, and it was not the most “important” story that CNN could have been covering. Jon Stewart will probably have a field day. But it was, if anyone needed it, a reminder that television news is still television — and it was very attention-grabbing. Substitute Matt Lauer for Banfield, and it could have easily been seen on “Today.” (The cruise ship was second only to the Oscar Pistorius murder allegations on that show’s Thursday edition.)Coincidentally (or not), “Today” happens to be where new CNN chief Jeff Zucker cut his teeth. Zucker has made clear that he wants to, in his words, “broaden the definition of news,”
The Today Show has been an NBC standard since the 50’s. It’s hosts through the years became TV lengends such as Dave Garroway, Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs. While it has always had a news content it was always really an entertainment show, with news content. As the years have progressed this had become truer and now with morning show competition the pressure to deliver light content has grown. Since these type of shows are cheaper to produce they have always been very profitable to the networks. Bringing Jeff Zucker in seems a clear sign to me that CNN will become even more of an entertainment network, pretending to provide serious news content. If the Zucker experiment is successful, how log will it be before the other cable news networks get the message and how much less informed will the America Public become?
As I said in the beginning though, I don’t generally watch cable news, but a viewing experience this week aroused ager and disdain, so when these “cruise ship” stories came up they caught my attention. Being in my late 60’s and having always been a political junkie, I’ve watched every State of the Union address that has ever been televised since 1965. Though they began televising the SOTU’s in 1947, in 1965 LBJ decided to make it a prime time affair. I probably watched some before that depending on where I was at the time. I believe that it is the duty of a citizen to watch the SOTU, no matter who is President, since its delivery is mandated constitutionally and thus serves as a common ritual. With the advent of cable news it has become traditional to have news programs concerned with the SOTU leading in to them and then analysis afterwards. When my wife and I sat down to watch on MSBC at 8:00pm, an hour before it was scheduled to begin, we were shocked to see a picture of a burning cabin in the woods. They were giving full on coverage of the Richard Dorner story and it seemed he had been surrounded in the woods. We had the expectation that this would entail bringing viewers up to date on this story and then become the usual background and analysis leading up to the SOTU. The time passed and not only did they stay with the story, but turned their coverage over to the local station that was covering the story. The problem was that like most “wrap around” news coverage we see on TV, think helicopters chasing OJ’s Bronco, there was little breaking news to cover and so we were treated to a constant rehashing of the known material, as each broadcaster seeking their moment of national fame, regurgitated essentially the same story.
Since two County Sheriff’s had been shot, we were treated to pictures of the hospital and the police guard keeping the media away. This continued on even though we knew that the status was that one officer was dead ad the other due to recover. I became increasingly frustrated as this coverage continued up until 3 minutes before the 9:00pm start. Tuning to the other news networks I saw the same coverage of the Dorner story.
The Dorner story indeed is one of interest. His murder spree and escape certainly merits attention, as doe the fact of his firing as a police officer, which he claimed was done to quiet his ratting out another officer’s improper conduct. However, perhaps some might think me insensitive to state that this story didn’t merit the coverage it was getting. It certainly pales in comparison to the SOTU speech, however one might feel about the President. The SOTU is the executive’s opportunity to lay out an agenda for the ext year. We are facing continued unemployment, a financial crisis and the continued deterioration of the infrastructure of this country. There are foreign policy issues that also are urgent and need to be discussed. It is horrible that Dorner murdered people, but such murders are really common place in this country, while there are urgent crises we face. We know the news maxim “if it bleeds, it leads” has too often been a ratings grabber.
This is the state of public affairs in this country as our newspapers fail and television journalism becomes an oxymoron. This coverage, leading up to the SOTU, was disrespectful of the traditions and rituals of this nation. We find this trivialization occurring consistently today and in truth it has been this way for years. We see a citizenry that is alienated from the concept of the American community and a good part of that is because those common rituals of our have been trivialized in the name of commerce. It is ironic to me when I as a Jew can understand Fundamentalist Christianity’s decrying the “War on Christmas”. Christmas in America has become yet another opportunity of commercialization, where presents and Santa subsume any meaning of what the holiday is supposed to be about. This is true though of our other Holidays as Thanksgiving has become football and Macy’s Day and as “President’s Day” has become the opportunity to have actors dressed as Lincoln and Washington offering “tremendous” deals on new cars. Sadly, the same traditionalists who decry these changes, fail to recognize that they are the accoutrements of a Corporate Plutocracy that will sell anything in pursuit of profit.
Which leads us back to the News and the need for a informed citizenry. I my opinion the American Empire has emulated Rome’s “bread and circuses” to keep the masses under control. The last vestige of a “Free Press” informing a “Free Citizenry” has fallen to the internet and to blogs such as ours. CNN to me stands for the “Clown News Network” just as FOX has become “Faux News”. MSNBC is not a news paradigm either, even though its political stance has some similarities to my own. I find them all stultifying and boring in content and structure. They all confuse the concept of journalism, with entertainment and therefore I damn them all.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger