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(Not Exactly) Breaking News: CNN Has Become a Journalistic Embarrassment
It’s not exactly breaking news that CNN is no longer in the news business. I know this because I possess a television and every now and then it’s tuned to CNN. Now, the network that once bragged that it was “The most trusted name in news” has become a journalistic embarrassment. There’s enough blame to go around, but Jeff Zucker deserves most of it. He’s the leader of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. When I covered stories for CBS News, CNN was a real news organization, a worthy competitor. And when big news was breaking, Americans didn’t tune in to CBS or ABC or NBC. They were entertainment networks. CNN was the place to go to find out what was happening -- any time of the day or night. CNN may have had its biases like other news organizations, but they weren’t blatant. For a long time, CNN at least appeared to be non-partisan. That was once upon a time. Now CNN has embraced a new role. It proudly sees itself as the media arm of the anti-Trump “Resistance.” If you have doubts, stop reading this column, turn on your TV, tune into CNN, and there's a good chance that you'll find someone on screen saying something about Donald Trump, and that something won't be good. It’s not only the commentators who hate the president. They’re no different than the commentators at Fox who have fallen madly in love with the president. They’re two sides of the same coin. But at Fox, news correspondents, by and large, keep their opinions to themselves. At CNN, the line that separates news from opinion hasn’t been blurred; it’s been obliterated. “It is difficult to convey in words just what the candidacy and then presidency of Donald Trump have done to CNN.” That pithy observation comes from a devastating essay by National Review online editor Charles C. W. Cooke; an essay appropriately titled, “CNN Is Not a News Network” … with an equally fitting sub headline that reads, “And Jim Acosta is no reporter.” Cooke writes about an on-air campaign CNN initiated in 2017, the year Donald Trump took office. The theme was “Lies can become truth, if we let them”:
“President Trump, the clear target of the drive, is a habitual liar and an unreconstructed narcissist. “The trouble is . . . so is CNN. With the possible exception of the hallucinatory MSNBC, no other institution in American life spent more time and effort indulging the false idea that President Trump was quite obviously guilty of treason, collusion, and bribery, and insisting that the impending Mueller report would not only reveal this guilt, but would prompt Trump’s removal from office and, possibly, his arrest. For two long years, the network was breathless. The walls were always ‘closing in,’ the hours were perpetually ‘ticking down’. … Wars have been fought with less relentless effort than Jeff Zucker and co. put into starting with their conclusion. Anything with the word ‘Russia’ glued to it — however minor or tenuous or self-evidently silly it was — warranted a ‘BREAKING’ chyron, and a grave, dramatic … tone. Nothing gave rise to skepticism or pause — not even the publication of the Mueller report itself, the details of which, when revealed, were all but rejected in favor of yet more conspiracy theories.”
Just one year later, CNN was at it again with another ad, bragging about its supposed journalistic impartiality. Except, if Russian trolls had infiltrated CNN and concocted the ad, hoping it would make you wonder if the folks who run the network had finally lost their marbles, they couldn’t have done a better job than CNN did to itself. Cooke tells us:
“In October 2018, a few days before the midterm elections, the channel began running an advertisement for itself every ten minutes that featured Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, telling Ron DeSantis, the Republican candidate for governor of Florida that, ‘this is CNN, not Fox — you have to bring facts.’ Or put another way: CNN, which is putatively a news organization, endorsed and repeatedly aired a cheap political attack from a candidate it was supposed to be covering, against a candidate it was supposed to be covering, as publicity in defense of its own neutrality. You couldn’t make it up.”
Cooke also takes aim at several CNN on-air personalities, which amounts to shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. There’s Jim Acosta, CNN’s White House correspondent, who doesn’t even try to hide his contempt for President Trump.
“Jim Acosta … seems to believe that his job is to act as the loyal opposition to President Trump, prone as he is to showing up at press conferences and emoting until he inspires a reaction about which he can subsequently complain on Twitter.”
And then Cooke turns his sites on another easy mark -- Don Lemon.
“Even more transparent a player than Acosta is Don Lemon, who is a ‘news anchor’ in the same sense as that in which [Alabama head football coach] Nick Saban is a referee.”
And there’s pretend newsman Brian Stelter who hosts a media show for CNN on Sunday morning. Stelter has two themes he visits week in and week out: Donald Trump is horrible … and so is Fox News. Here’s what Cooke has to say about him:
“CNN offers up a glossy propaganda show named ‘Reliable Sources,’ the primary purpose of which is to whitewash the most egregious decisions it makes, to defend similar decisions made by its allies, and to explain why mirror-image behavior by Fox News represents a unique threat to the republic. Reliable Sources is presented by Brian Stelter, a man who insists that he is not a ‘media critic’ and who is, in a literal sense, correct in this evaluation. A better description for Stelter might be ‘media apologist,’ or perhaps ‘media sculptor,’ for Stelter clearly believes that his job is to suppress any information that makes the outlets he likes look bad and to highlight any information that he believes makes the outlets he likes look good. He is, in his own mind, the Arbiter of the Press. A National Media Ombudsman. The First Amendment’s Own Inspector General. To understand the nature of Reliable Sources, one needs only to know that Stelter managed to cover in obsessive detail the appearance of former White House press secretary Sean Spicer on the ABC reality show Dancing with the Stars, while assiduously ignoring fresh and explosive evidence that ABC News had withheld its knowledge of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal years before it broke.”
But we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this, should we? Cable news these days isn’t really about news. It’s about drumming up outrage; tossing red meat to the audience; validating viewer biases; all designed to get them to come back for more. But somehow CNN is worse than the others. CNN was once a serious, important news organization, a real pioneer in the news business, a 24-hour news operation that you could count on. That was a long time ago. Now, as Charles C.W. Cooke tells us in the title to his smack down essay: CNN Is Not a News Network. And Jim Acosta is no reporter. -0- Note from Bernie: If you care about politics, the media, American culture, and want more columns on those topics (some of which you’ll agree with and some you won’t), please consider signing up for my premium membership. It's the only way to get my weekly (and ad-free) columns, audio commentaries, and Q&As (where I answer your questions, on just about any topic, every single Friday). Thanks!