I’ve been wondering that for a while, but the question has become more acute recently. CNN keeps bringing on that lying boob, Jeffrey Lord, or the Disney villainesque Kelly Ann Conway. Wolf Blitzer has been promoted above his level of competence, I suspect because of his name — he belongs in a Joseph Heller novel. Everyone’s eyes seem to light up with dollar signs every time Trump says something belligerently stupid, and the whole network’s reputation seems to rest on the orgiastic celebration of military violence. It’s just plain awful. CNN only survives on a tabloid-like fascination with evil and the fact that it’s not as much of a propaganda organ for the Republicans as is Fox News. “Not quite as bad as Fox News” is a hell of an endorsement.
If you’ve ever felt like cutting CNN some slack, though, you need to read this profile of Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, and the sick media culture he fosters.
We can blame our own home-grown media organizations, especially CNN, for the elevation of Trump. Forget the Russians — Jeff Zucker is the real traitor.
CNN was hardly the only news organization to provide saturation coverage of the Trump campaign. The media-measurement firm mediaQuant calculated that Trump received the equivalent of $5.8 billion in free media — known as “earned media,” as opposed to paid advertising — over the course of the election, $2.9 billion more than Hillary Clinton. Nor is CNN the only cable-news network that has benefited from Trump’s incarnation as a politician. MSNBC and Fox News each had a surge in ratings during the election that has shown no signs of slowing since then. Fox, the president’s preferred outlet, is coming off the best quarter in the history of 24-hour cable news. MSNBC, the network of the resistance, has been thriving, too, often even beating CNN during prime time.
But CNN was the first major news organization to give Trump’s campaign prolonged and sustained attention. He was a regular guest in the network’s studios from the earliest days of the Republican primaries, often at Zucker’s suggestion. (For a while, according to the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Trump referred to Zucker as his “personal booker.”) When Trump preferred not to appear in person, he frequently called in. Nor did CNN ever miss an opportunity to broadcast a Trump rally or speech, building the suspense with live footage of an empty lectern and breathless chyrons: “DONALD TRUMP EXPECTED TO SPEAK ANY MINUTE.” Kalev Leetaru, a data scientist, using information obtained from the TV News Archive, calculated that CNN mentioned Trump’s name nearly eight times more frequently than that of the second-place finisher, Ted Cruz, during the primaries.
He isn’t a news person at all. There’s nothing about journalistic standards in his approach. It’s not a news network, it’s a circus.
What Zucker is creating now is a new kind of must-see TV — produced almost entirely in CNN’s studios — an unending loop of dramatic moments, conflicts and confrontations. “I’ve always been interested in the news, but I’ve always been interested in what’s popular,” Zucker says. “I’ve always had a little bit of a populist take on things. Which I know is interesting when you talk about Donald Trump.”
Every circus needs its clowns, and Zucker has hired at least a dozen of them.
Lord made his CNN debut in July 2015. Two weeks later, CNN offered him a job as the network’s first pro-Trump contributor. (CNN said it was already considering Lord and that Trump’s suggestion had no effect on their decision to hire him.) Today, he is one of 12 Trump partisans on CNN’s payroll and perhaps the network’s most reliable, if mild-mannered, provocateur; he recently defended Trump’s tweet that Obama had orchestrated a “Nixon/Watergate” wiretapping plot against him, saying that the president was just speaking “Americanese.” The network sends a black town car four days a week to ferry him to Manhattan from Harrisburg and back, a three-hour drive each way.
Stop. Just stop. Turn off the entire media spectacle of 24 hour news. It’s a failure. It’s worse than a failure. It’s led us to think that entertainment (of the worst kind) is information, and has paved the road to complete corruption and ineptitude in our politics. I’d like to think that print journalism, at least, isn’t completely dead — note that I’m citing a NY Times article here — but even there the signs are on the wall. Just look at their op-ed pages, which consists largely of a parade of over-paid idiots, to see the same rot growing there.
At this point I’m more reliant on European news sources. It’s not that they’re necessarily better, but that at least they’re outside looking in at the chaos in America.
But tune out CNN. They’re tainted.
The CNN mindset: