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CNN: The Place to Go for a Few Laughs
I used to think that if you could bottle CNN you’d have a cure for insomnia. CNN gave dull a bad name. But CNN had good points, too. It was seen as the place to go if you were in the market for serious news.
Ever since Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared a month ago, CNN’s credibility has gone missing too. The network has gone wall-to-wall with coverage of the missing plane -- not with actual news, but with hours and hours of speculation, some of it downright outrageous.
One of the network’s anchors, a fellow named Don Lemon, wondered out loud whether something “supernatural” might have happened to the plane. That not being inane enough, a few days later he outdid himself, asking a panel CNN put together if the plane might have disappeared into a black hole.
Dull is one thing. Embarrassing is something else. School children know that black holes only exist in space – outer space! They don’t exist at 35,000 feet where airplanes fly.
Mr. Lemon, who seems like a nice enough guy, is a lucky man. If I were running CNN he would be looking for work someplace else. He didn’t simply embarrass himself with his ridiculous questions. He embarrassed his entire network. CNN used to be the place to go for real news. These days it’s the place to go for a few laughs.
I tuned in the other day to see if anything was new – not with the missing plane, but with CNN’s coverage of the missing plane.
Don Lemon was still there, still doing a pretty good impression of Ron Burgundy, the anchorman Will Ferrell made famous. Looking very serious, Lemon informed his viewers that “CNN has learned” that there would be a “big operations news conference in the coming hours.”
One doesn’t “learn” that there’s going to be a news conference. The people who call news conferences alert the media that one is coming. They tell reporters where the news conference is going to be held and when. Journalists “learn” of things other journalists don’t know about. They don’t “learn” things everybody knows about.
Don Lemon then called on someone named Jeff Wise, who was identified as an aviation analyst, and asked him what we might learn at the news conference. Wise seemed unprepared for the question and said: “It’s either going to be we found something or we didn’t find anything and we’re probably not going to find something.”
“We either found something or we didn’t find anything.” We need an expert to tell us that?
Lemon also advised his viewers that, “We’ve learned a British Navy ship will conduct a specific search for flight 370 in the Indian Ocean.” A “specific search.” As opposed to what?
But Don Lemon didn’t come up with the wall-to-wall strategy – and neither did Wolf Blitzer or Candy Crowley or any of the other CNN journalists who can’t go two minutes without sharing non-news and endless speculation about the plane with their viewers. Ratings at CNN have gone way up since they started covering the missing plane, proving there are plenty of people out there who like to be entertained by shiny objects.
And the brains – a word I use loosely in this case – behind the decision to go non-stop with the missing plane story is a man called Jeff Zucker, who runs CNN. Zucker used to run the entire NBC entertainment network and famously yanked Jay Leno from the Tonight Show – while he was beating everyone in the ratings – and plopped him down at 10pm where the ratings tanked. So did the Tonight Show ratings with Leno gone.
Zucker went to Harvard, proving that even guys who get big numbers on their SATs can do really, really dumb things. And for his brilliant handling of things at NBC, when his time was up, he landed the top job at CNN. This is proof enough that either there is no God or he's got one hell of a sense of humor.
If Zucker worked in Silicon Valley, where talent and accountability matter, he’d be hauling trash from Apple and Google – if he were lucky.
Not long ago I went on television and characterized CNN’s supernatural, dark hole coverage of the missing plane story as "stupendously dumb and jaw-droppingly stupid.” I admit this was not gracious. In retrospect, I think I was too kind.