Thursday, May 31, 2012

No News is Good News?

You know what I'm a sucker for?  The news.

You know what I haven't seen in the past 10 years?

There's an article on Yahoo! News (your place for breaking info on the Olsen Twins' fashion faux pas) about CNN as a Zombie news network.  

The conclusion:
And it may be that CNN's legendary objectivity is part of the problem. The network has always prided itself on covering the news with an even hand, but more partisan networks like Fox News and MSNBC have stolen away viewers by taking sides in the growing culture war and offering strong opinions with a conservative or liberal slant. CNN may win on journalistic integrity, but they're losing on passion.
Well, not for me and certainly not for anyone I talk to.  I may slant left, but I won't watch MSNBC because I don't need the news spun to me so that I'll nod like a muppet meeting the celebrity guest when Rachel Maddow comes on to tell me how smart we all are for agreeing with her.  

No, I quit watching CNN because they quit airing the news.  We all know that.

I'm not even sure what the hell Yahoo! is talking about, frankly, when they're talking about CNN's "objectivity".  There's a brief window in there where Wolf Blitzer embarrasses himself nightly in "The Situation Room", which resembles news, but feels more like Blitzer wandering around an overly large space reading headlines and then opining upon them.  Aside from that, its a string of Nancy Grace, Jane Velez-Mitchell, Showbiz Tonight, Piers Morgan, and even @#$%ing Joy Behar hosting "shows".  

The news isn't a "show".  It's the @#$%ing news.  And the "shows" are absolutely unwatchable.  

I know, I know... I'm old fashioned, but there was a time where everybody was cool with fairly objective reporting on the events of the day by someone perched behind a desk who would introduce the stories, the stories would roll, and then we'd come back to that dude or lady.  Basically: the news.  Not Piers Morgan talking to Rosanne Barr for some reason.  Nor Nancy Grace bleating like a circus performer, vaguely threatening her audience as she spends multiple hours per week asking the same questions about the missing white child of the week (the children are always 3-4, white females, usually named "Kayla").  

My wild idea for CNN?  Try doing some @#$%ing reporting.  Bust out some tapes of what you looked like in 1995 when you destroyed Network News by having consistently solid reporting without editorializing, creating stunts, etc... and dug up facts instead of asking PR people to lay it all out for you.  

I used to watch you on an endless loop, man.  You were beautiful once.

I'm not someone who gets their news from The Daily Show (I don't really watch it anymore), but what Jon Stewart does is closer to the news than what CNN has been doing for years.  He notes something interesting, finds footage on it, and let's the story form itself - only in parody form.  There's a reason he can go to the well and find hilarious footage of both pundits and cable news, and its because they're both awful at their own game. 

All CNN has to do is the same thing, but without the snark.  And, voila!  That used to be called "The News".  Not Joy Behar talking to Whoopi Goldberg or other fading celebs with nothing else on the schedule that day.

I don't really care if CNN goes under, but its not OBJECTIVITY that's killing CNN (Jesus Christ, Yahoo!, really?).  Its that they're trying to compete with the way the internet and horrendous news outfits (like Yahoo! News) deal with "news".  

You gotta get all Action News Team on 'em, CNN.  Don't take that.  


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with your view of CNN's idiotic self destruction by leaving its objective news format.


Jake Shore said...

I think it's sad the direction CNN has gone. I still watch some CNN when I can (I don't have cable anymore). But when I did, I watched Anderson Cooper 360, which I think is the best thing they have going. I also thing John King is a solid reporter.

I remember during the 2010 midterm election coverage. I was switching back and forth from CNN, FOX and MSNBC to see how they were covering it. CNN was outstanding that night. FOX's coverage was hosted by Brett Bair and they did an OK job, but it was kind of boring and repetitive. MSNBC was pathetic. Their coverage was hosted by their opinion people (Olbermann, Matthews, Maddow, Shultz) and they just embarrassed themselves as they sat around mocking the results, and played up the victories that allowed the Democrats to keep the Senate, which was a story, but kind of secondary to what happened that night.

I'm old enough to remember when there was just ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN on cable, and I think there's a few reasons why CNN is struggling.

1. People don't believe that networks are objective in their reporting. Most people have known the media has slanted left for many years, but there was a time when they at least had the decency to give a pretense of objectivity. I think during the mid-90s or so people got sick of it enough, and Rupert Murdoch saw a niche and FOX News was born; to cover news they felt the mainstream media was not and give an alternative perspective. Now we can debate whether that's been a good thing or bad thing, but what's seems pretty clear is that people (like me) began to get really tired of the blatant (Liberal) bias in network news coverage.

2. CNN's programming and production is just lousy. Piers Morgan, Joy Behar, Nancy Grace, etc.? And even their debate and commentary shows like "Parker-Spitzer" are tepid and inane.

3. Kathy Griffith. I don't know what this foul, unfunny woman has on the executives at CNN, but she is leveraging it hard to repeatedly get on the air for reasons other than talent, intelligence, or relevance.

I will certainly grant CNN tries to be objective, but when Anderson Cooper made a partisan (and foul) joke on the air about Tea-bagging back in 2008, I lost a lot of respect for him. And as far as I can tell, Soledad O'Brien might as well be under the employ of the White House since she attacks anyone who criticizes the Obama Administration, including other Liberals like NY Times Correspondent Jodi Cantor when she wrote a book about the President, that cited a few negative comments about the First lady by White House staffers. I could go on with just ones I've observed, but I'll spare you.

And finally, I think that along with the negatives, there is some real value to commentary shows that analyze and debate the news, which is FOX and MSNBC's bread and butter. I'm all for more straight news reporting, but I think the networks would have to earn some trust back.

The League said...

I'm an occasional "Meet the Press" watcher, so you won't hear me arguing that there's no room for those shows. The problem is that from 6-11 PM, it skews more Nancy Grace than old school Tim Russert.

I sometimes think John King is this lost soul, trying to report actual news at CNN, but I honestly have no idea when he airs now that he's got a show. Not when I've flipped by CNN. But I see a lot of the other knuckleheads.

What's always been interesting to me about the liberal slant in news coverage has been a matter of perception. There was no question that up through the 90's lefties made up a good chunk of what you found in a newsroom. Maybe for the same reasons lefties make up art schools and drum circles. I don't know.

But the perception of what's been considered "liberal bias" has always seemed very muddy to me. Which is why I've always been a proponent of "facts is facts and numbers, short of polls, are numbers" style reporting, and leaving the comments to the editorial page.

What actually got covered seemed to be the issue of contention in the 90's, before anchors and reporters began to tersely editorialize as they did around 2003 or so, or now, how they wink and nod or read the crackpots off Twitter after reporting a story.

But the 90's was also the era in which Bill Clinton was hammered every single day and the media was played like a fiddle by the folks trying to take him down.

This isn't a dig, because I didn't really think about the issue much til I was in my early 20's, but I am 37 and I'm still not clear on how, exactly, the old format of CNN was considered liberal or even the network news.

The theory floated to me in my Journalism 101 class by Marvin Olasky, a journalist with pretty rock solid conservative credentials, was that lefties report on what interests them, and so they tended to dig up things they perceived as "needing fixing", and so they weren't necessarily in the wrong, just a bit focused on lefty ideas of social justice. Which could make make folks in power, often folks at the top of the pyramid, a bit uncomfortable.

But I don't know.

Matt A. said...

Although I agree in that I don't like the way most news media outlets have turned in their approach to reporting, we should keep in mind that "news reporting" is an evolving process (Wikipedia touches on it: For good or ill, I view what these networks are doing as experimenting with different formats.

We must remember that the networks are for-profit entities that are looking for ways to increase their advertising money, which means they need to attract an audience (and a few other things that I won't get into now).

The League said...

What I don't get is abandoning the format that got them to where they were. CNN has been on a continual downward slide since Fox appeared, yes. But they also completely changed their product. It would be a bit like if a new Raspberry soda came on the market that was cutting into Coke's profits and rather than just preparing a competing product, Coke switched its formula to become a Raspberry soda. You're going to lose the people who were just fine with a cola.

The cable spectrum is vast. I don't entirely understand why CNN hasn't experimented more on a sister network rather than eliminating straight news.

I do remember is 2002 being told by a Journalism student, freshly minted from the Hugh Downs School of Journalism at Arizona State that "the purpose of the news is to entertain". My eyes about fell out of my head.

When the broadcasts were carried over the airwaves, TV stations were required to carry news as a public good to get a license, because of the important function it performed in a democracy (something I assume is still true or they would have abandoned newscasts for dollars lone ago).

It's just a bit bizarre that the broadcasters keep moving the goal posts and not looking back at the era in which they did, in fact, enjoy viewership.

Jake Shore said...

I served in the Marines back in the 90s. I was a journalist and spent most of that time in Media Relations. It was a cool job. I got to spend a lot of time with civilians which I liked. I worked with local newspaper reporters, local TV affiliates and occasionally the big networks themselves. Most of the reporters I worked with were local beat reporters for the San Diego Union Tribune and the North County Times. They were great people and I got to be pretty good friends with them. I suspected they leaned somewhat to the left but I never got the impression it ever affected their reporting. What they were interested in were stories. Being a reporter is a hard job and doesn't pay very well unless you get pretty high up. I only mention this because when I talk about media bias, I want you to know I'm not a right-wing sounding board, but I am passionate about this issue. Now having said that...

Given the overwhelming evidence, I don't see anyone can make a persuasive argument there is not a Liberal bias in mainstream news coverage, both TV and print. Yesterday, I saw Dan Rather on The Daily Show promoting his new book. He, not surprisingly, but laughably claimed there was no such bias. This coming from the guy who back in 2004 during the John Kerry swiftboat controversy, said in an interview, “In the end, what difference does it make what one candidate or the other did or didn’t do during the Vietnam War? In some ways, that war is as distant as the Napoleonic campaigns.”

OK fine.

A week later he goes on 60 Minutes to talk about what George W. Bush did or didn't do during the Vietnam War. That story, one that he pushed, turned out to be so utterly false and embarrassing for CBS News that Rather was forced to retire in disgrace.

Sure Dan. Let no one question your journalistic integrity.

Look, I'm not a tin-foil hat guy. I don't think there's some conspiracy in the media to help one side over the other. I don't think Brian Williams or Bob Schieffer get all their staff in room and plan out how they can help Obama win. It's an institutional bias. If you look at all the facts and numbers as you say, it's simply indisputable. Study after study (Pew Research, U. of Conn to name a few) have shown that journalists overwhelmingly identify as Democrats, vote for Democrats and contribute Democratic candidates. When you look at the ratio of positive and negative coverage on networks, Republicans get decisively more negative and less positive coverage. The editorial boards for at least 3/4 of the nation's major newspapers lean left.

Bernard Goldberg has written very persuasively on this issue. He worked at CBS for 25 years and is no Conservative. He explains that people who populate newsrooms are clearly to the left, but believe they are in the middle. They don't believe they have any ideological biases. And this has a great effect on how and what journalists choose to cover.

Can anyone say the media didn't embarrass themselves during the 2008 Presidential election with their fawning coverage of Barack Obama?

Jake Shore said...

Look at what's happening right now with this Planned Parenthood story. Women posing to be pregnant go into P.P. clinics around the country and say they want an abortion if it's a girl (a sex-selective abortion). The employees dutifully advise them on how to proceed, one even saying, "I hope you get your boy!" as she leaves. Now regardless of where you are on the abortion issue, is it not newsworthy if the top abortion provider in the U.S. is knowingly providing gender-discrimination abortions like we see in China? And yet, there's a virtual blackout by the national news services on this story. Same thing happened last year when it was shown that P.P. was willing to provide abortions for underage girls who were victims of statutory rape and not inform the parents or report to the police as required by law.

Ideology? Lazy reporting? Don't like getting scooped by right-wing organizations? I don't know. But just imagine if it was shown that the NRA was discouraging gun stores to sell guns to minorities, or gun sellers were giving away targets with the President's face on it or something?

But to get back to your point. I remember the old CNN format back in the 80s and 90s and it was a good one. There were a lot of great reporters who worked for them, and I wish they'd go back to that. Part of me wishes we still had Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. But we are where we are because the news media lost the public's trust.

And what's the point of having a free press if you don't have a fair press?

Sorry for the overkill.

The League said...

Not overkill at all.

Too often we (as in - people, not just the Jake & Ryan "we") throw around the subject line of a notion, but never talk about it. The worst discussion I ever had on the topic ended with "because My Pundit says so!" which is, of course, utterly uncompelling.

It may have been the same Goldberg comments that Olasky was discussing in my class, because that was very much the meat of the argument. And that makes sense.

Part of what I see as the shame of the MSNBC and Fox News models is that they can't seem to just tell the stories. The Planned Parenthood story absolutely feels like a compelling issue.

At the risk of thrashing about violently agreeing with you, I'll simply say "thanks!" for the response. Its much appreciated.