There’s an old saying that wisely counsels to leave well enough alone. Unfortunately, the Tea-guzzlers at Breitbart News have dismissed that advice and unleashed an assault against CNN and its chief, Jeff Zucker. Never mind that CNN has devolved into a nearly useless platform for right-wing propaganda as evidenced by their recent interview of Glenn Beck by Beck’s own employee, S.E. Cupp. But that’s not good enough for the BreitBrats. Now they are launching an attack on CNN that is so feeble they had to make up quotes to hammer them with.
The title on Breitbart’s article is “CNN To Republicans: Drop Dead.” Of course, no one on CNN ever said or even implied that. The flimsy impetus for the citation occurred in an article that was a slobbering love sonnet to Fox News by BreitBrat Tony Lee, whose feathers were ruffled by a remark made by CNN’s Zucker at a TV convention. Zucker responded to a question about a recent Fox criticism of CNN by correctly pointing out that “I think we all know what’s going on there. The Republican Party is being run out of News Corp. headquarters [and] masquerading as a channel.” Zucker was merely acknowledging the obvious: that the cozy relationship between Fox and the GOP is a well documented fact. [Note: Fox happily reposted the Breitbart article on their own web of lies, Fox Nation]
BreitBrat Tony rushed to Fox’s defense with a quote by the Chairman of the Republican Party, Reince Preibus who denied that Fox was his party’s mouthpiece saying “Hey Jeff Zucker, we’re the Republican Party and we speak for ourselves, pal.” Sure they do. They just do it mostly on Fox News, and when they aren’t available, Fox does it for them.
Lee then gets to the point by alleging that “It’s an interesting strategy Zucker has: trash the Republican Party and, by extension, all Republicans.” Except where in Zucker’s remarks did he trash the Republican Party? He merely noted that Fox is a GOP friendly network, which no one who is paying attention would dispute. Zucker’s comments were not even directed at Republicans at all. They were characterizing Fox News’ obvious partisan bias. But apparently associating Republicans with Fox News constitutes “trashing” in Lee’s view.
The rest of the article went on interminably about how Fox is beating their competition in the ratings, as if that had some relevance to the subject or to the measure of news quality. Lee’s conclusion, therefore, was summed up in the article’s second made up quote: “These factors led The Hollywood Reporter to declare that Roger Ailes and Fox News had won the cable news wars.” The only problem with that is that the Hollywood Reporter declared no such thing. In fact, it was Ailes himself who made the declaration in an interview with the Reporter.
It takes an astonishingly low grade level of comprehension to take a quote by Ailes and attribute it to the Hollywood Reporter simply because that’s where it was published. But the quote itself was deliberately misleading and self-serving, as one might expect coming from the the CEO of Fox News about his own network. The only people who still believe that cable news quality is measured by ratings are the marketing and the PR departments. The truth is, in a point made often here at News Corpse, is that being number one is only a measure of popularity, not quality. After all, McDonalds is the number one restaurant in America, but very few people would say that it is the best quality food in the country. However, they do have something in common with Fox News:
Once upon a time there was a groundbreaking 24-hour cable news network that came to dominate broadcast journalism. After nearly two decades as the undisputed leader in its market, CNN began to stumble and was eventually overtaken by both Fox News and MSNBC.
There are many factors that contributed to CNN’s decline, including a certain arrogance derived from having the field to itself for so long. When Fox came along and challenged CNN, they were unprepared for a competitor that didn’t really care about news, instead favoring a more entertainment oriented approach that focused on a sexier brand of melodrama and sensationalism. Also, the hardcore, right-wing partisanship of Fox News herded all of the conservative news sheeple into one corral, artificially inflating the ratings picture. From the start, Fox reflected the views of its financier, Rupert Murdoch, and its CEO, former GOP media guru Roger Ailes, who described his own philosophy of journalism this way:
“If you have two guys on a stage and one guy says, ‘I have a solution to the Middle East problem,’ and the other guy falls in the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?”
And ever since Fox has been throwing Democrats into orchestra pits that were built by Fox engineers and reporting that in place of actual news.
In responding to the competition, CNN did not help itself by embarking on the path to Foxification. Their management made the foolish mistake of concluding that Fox’s success was related to their blatant conservative bias and abandonment of journalistic principles, and rushed to reproduce that model themselves. They installed Ken Jautz, a rabidly right-wing promoter, as it’s chief. Jautz was the man who gave Glenn Beck his first job in television. Then CNN went on a hiring binge that consisted of the most unsavory figures from Wingnutlandia including: Amy Holmes and Will Cain (of Glenn Beck’s The Blaze), Erick Erickson (of the uber-conservative blog RedState), Dana Loesch (of Breitbart News and the Tea Party), and E.D. Hill, a former Fox anchor and Bill O’Reilly guest host, who is most famous for saying that a friendly fist bump between the President and the First Lady was really a “terrorist fist jab.”
CNN was the only cable news network to broadcast live Michele Bachmann’s Tea Party response to Obama’s State of the Union address. Then they co-sponsored a GOP primary debate with the corrupt Tea Party Express. They also co-sponsored a debate with the ultra-right-wing Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. However, they conspicuously failed to program similar events with lefties like MoveOn.org or the Center for American Progress.
Dressing up like Fox was damaging to both CNN’s credibility and their ratings. Even Fox’s business network recognized that copying Fox News was a losing strategy. FBN VP Kevin Magee sent a memo to his staff saying that…
“…the more we make FBN look like FNC the more of a disservice we do to ourselves. I understand the temptation to imitate our sibling network in hopes of imitating its success, but we cannot. If we give the audience a choice between FNC and the almost-FNC, they will choose FNC every time.”
Unfortunately, no one at CNN could grasp that simple truth. Now CNN has a fresh opportunity to restore its former glory. Following the resignation of Jim Walton, CNN has tapped former NBC/Universal chief Jeff Zucker to replace him as the president of CNN Worldwide. Zucker has a mixed record at NBC. During his tenure the entertainment division went from first to fourth. He presided over the catastrophic move of Jay Leno to primetime, then back again to late night, which resulted in the loss of Conan O’Brien. However, NBC News boasts the top rated morning and evening news broadcasts. And MSNBC has rocketed into an unexpectedly competitive position with Fox. In fact, since election day, MSNBC has actually outperformed Fox.
Zucker has an abundance of existing assets with which to remake CNN into the global media powerhouse it used to be. They have more reporters in more parts of the world than their competitors. In fact, CNN has more domestic and foreign bureaus than Fox and MSNBC combined. Fox invests very little in news bureaus or other news gathering operations. The bulk of their expenditures is on their “celebrity” presenters and pseudo-pundits. Fox is an enterprise that is engaged more in news analysis and manipulation than anything resembling journalism. While MSNBC benefits from the substantial resources of NBC News, the cable network has concentrated more on opinion and advocacy in recent years.
All of this creates an opening for CNN to become what its marketing department already pitches the network as: a news channel. CNN’s audience still expects the network to perform at its best when some catastrophic event occurs. They continue to get high tune-in for natural disasters and acts of war. However, there isn’t always a convenient calamity to fill their airtime. So they cram their schedule with pablum and phony attempts at balance, but succeed mostly at boring their viewers with a desperate effort to avoid offending anybody.
The question now is, where will they go from here? The best way to put CNN back in the game is to adopt a hard news profile that dispenses with petty partisan bickering. In one of his first quotes after the announcement of his hiring, Zucker said that “news is more than just politics and war.” That’s true. Viewers have many immediate concerns that would compel them to watch a network that provided them with information about issues that impact their lives. That includes economics, civil liberties, health, crime, education, jobs, the environment, etc. And the job of a news network is more than just reporting what occurred. It is also putting it context, explaining matters that are often complex, and making the whole package entertaining enough to keep the viewer’s attention.
By concentrating on real news, CNN can stake out territory that its competitors are neglecting. They can focus on the fundamentals of journalism that consist of shoe-leather investigations, relevant interviews, and compelling production values. They need to jettison the political hacks who populate their studios and replace them with policy experts and academics. This will turn the predictable, partisan slapfights into informed discussions. And the audience can get something out of the program that is more substantive than a red face and ammunition for their next bout with a contrary uncle at a family dinner.
When the subject turns to politics, who would you rather see debating, for instance, raising the age for Social Security eligibility? A Democrat and a Republican who will spew the same old party line talking points? Or an expert on retirement economics and an apolitical career administrator from Health and Human Services? Obviously the later would be more informative, but it could also be more dry and difficult to sit through. That’s why the art of storytelling needs to be brought back to news reporting.
With actual intellectual content to convey, it would be up to anchors and producers to package it attractively. For that you need professionals who know how to tell a story and engage an audience. The newspaper business used to be full of people with those skills until all the papers started folding up. CNN could snap up some of that talent and put them to work juicing up stories that people are really interested in. In fact, there would nothing wrong with employing dramatists and humorists to write news copy that makes people feel something, so long as they stick to the news. And the presenters should be people with demonstrated abilities to connect with audiences on a personal level. Add some dynamic graphics and music and those experts on retirement economics can become downright scintillating.
Finally, there is a concept that has crept into the production of contemporary news that is not, and should not be, a part of quality journalism. CNN should ban the notion of balance from all of their reporting. Balance is a false objective. The goal of honest journalism should be truth. For example, it does no one any good to interview a doctor about the documented health risks of smoking, and then bringing in a tobacco advocate for “balance.” An opposite opinion is worse than a waste of time, it is counterproductive, if it is not based on reality. A news network should not tolerate science deniers, birthers, and zealots who peddle fables as if they were facts.
If CNN wants to be a player in cable news, they need to avoid accepting the terms of their competition. They need to set the terms themselves. And if they commit to identifying the issues that matter to people, and presenting them honestly and with a bit of showbiz flash, they can draw the kind of engaged and loyal audience that appeals to advertisers which, of course, is critical to success in this business. Plus, they can actually serve a positive purpose by educating viewers and advancing dialogs of substance. Even better, if this approach is successful it will spur other news enterprises to follow a similar path. Then, maybe, one day, we can be proud of the American media and not regard it with the disdain that it currently inspires.
Remember the old days when CNN was the dominant cable news network? Or the even older days when it was the only cable news network? I didn’t think so. It was a long time ago. Viewers today don’t appreciate how remarkable an achievement it was to launch a 24 hour news channel when nothing like it existed at the time.
Whether or not you like Ted Turner, you have to give him credit for being a pioneer, although given the state of cable news today, I’m not sure he’d want the credit/blame. However, he recognized the unique environment in which his experiment was born, and he further recognized the changes that took place in subsequent years that preclude anyone from ever doing the same (see My Beef With Big Media).
Now CNN is mired in third place, overtaken by a bombastic, right-wing, agenda-driven, Fox News, and a lukewarm, marginally liberal, MSNBC. So it should come as no surprise that the brass at CNN would be looking to shake things up in hopes of recovering their glory days. To that end, yesterday CNN announced that its president, Jon Klein, would be leaving the network. That, in and of itself, would appear to be a routine response to poor performance in the marketplace. The problem here is not that Klein is leaving. It’s who they are elevating to his post that is worrisome.
Ken Jautz, presently the head of CNN’s HLN (formerly known as Headline News Network) has been tapped to replace Klein. He is a brash, iconoclastic, executive who is more interested in ratings than journalism. But perhaps the most disturbing item on Jautz’s resume is that he is the man who brought Glenn Beck to HLN, and to television. Looking back at that millstone in broadcast media is one of the best ways of getting a handle on what may be in store for a Juatz-run CNN. Here is what he had to say upon hiring Beck back in January of 2006:
“Glenn Beck is the next piece of the puzzle,” said HLN prexy Ken Jautz. “Glenn’s style is self-deprecating, cordial; he says he’d like to be able to disagree with guests and part as friends. It’s conversational, not confrontational.”
If Beck is Jautz’s idea of cordial, I hope never to meet anyone he considers to be rude. What’s more, Beck is not known for having guests with whom he disagrees, friendly or otherwise. And the notion that he is not confrontational is absurd on its face. Calling the President a racist; charging that progressives are a cancer; tagging anyone with whom he disagrees a Marxist; declaring his hatred for Woodrow Wilson as well as 9/11 families; these are not behaviors generally associated with being non-confrontational. Jautz went on to say…
“As part of the continued evolution of the network, we wanted another primetime show,” Jautz said. “We didn’t look for a conservative, a liberal or anyone of a particular ideology. It was about getting the best talent that would resonate with the most viewers.”
Well then, it’s a good thing he wasn’t actually looking for a conservative. He would have ended up with a modern version of Attila the Hun (or did he anyway?). It should also be noted that his desire to find the “best talent” who would “resonate” with viewers, was unfulfilled. Beck’s show was a dismal ratings failure on HLN. He would not be a success until he moved to Fox News with its built-in audience of pre-cooked FoxBots.
Given the remarks Jautz made when taking over HLN and bringing Beck into the fold, it is fair to say that he was somewhat disingenuous with regard to his public appraisals. And he was similarly disingenuous in private. In the book “Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck And The Triumph Of Ignorance,” author Alexander Zaitchik noted that Jautz mislead his employers at the time as to his intentions in reforming the channel:
“Facing a staff weary of rumored changes, Jautz gently presented Blue Sky [his programming initiative] as a trial balloon. He promised that CNN standards would not be diluted in the makeover and that soon-to-be-hired Headline News personalities would not appear on traditional CNN news programming. He broke both promises.”
Indeed he did. Glenn Beck not only appeared on CNN, he was permitted to fill in as a guest host on Larry King Live. Taking into consideration the duplicity of Jautz’s comments when he assumed command of HLN, it might be prudent to take note of what he is saying now with regard to his promotion at CNN. Jautz was interviewed by The Wrap and said…
Q: Can we expect a tone change, or any sort of ideological shift? A: I think that CNN needs to be as lively and engaging and as informative as it is known for its reporting.
Whatever that means.
Q: For a long time, Jon Klein resisted any sort of partisan programming — especially as expressed by the hosts. Can we expect to see more opinions — or at least opinionated hosts — under your watch? A: CNN has always been about adhering to non-partisan programming in general. And it will continue to be.
However, I do not believe that “facts-only” programming … it will not work. Viewers, if they’re looking for just the news, they can get that anywhere now. The news that happened that day, they probably know already. They want context, perspective and opinion. And we’re going to give that to them. As long as it’s non-partisan, in the aggregate, from all ends of the spectrum.
In other words, we will continue to be non-partisan except when we’re being opinionated. And none of those pesky “facts” that clutter up the news.
Jautz did improve the standing of HLN. But he did it by ramping up the volume with shouters like Beck and Nancy Grace, and by diving head-first into the tabloid world of pop culture and celebrity gossip. Could that approach help to restore CNN’s prior leadership? Who cares? It isn’t what anyone who truly cares about responsible journalism would want.
And that’s the problem with contemporary corporate media: It is more interested in serving the shareholders than in serving the public. Unless Jautz has recently had a revelatory transformation, CNN has taken a giant step backwards by giving him the reins to the network. The prospect of the man who launched Glenn Beck’s television career running a cable news network is troubling, to say the least.
In related news, NBC/Universal has announced that it’s chief executive, Jeff Zucker, will also be leaving his post. This is an entirely different situation than the one at CNN. NBC is presently the number one network in evening news, morning news, and Sunday news. CNBC is still the top business channel. Plus, under Zucker’s reign, MSNBC moved up from third place to second. The staffing change at NBC is due to its imminent acquisition by Comcast. It remains to be seen who will be replacing Zucker.
Sometimes these sort of changes are merely shifts designed to put a new management’s imprint on the merged entity. But Comcast has baggage that makes it important to keep an eye on them. And they will have an unprecedented range of influence as a result of the merger. Stay tuned.
Bill O’Reilly gets funnier by the day (or scarier, depending on your perspective). His latest broadcast falsehood is that MoveOn.org has wielded its mighty power to “force” NBC/Universal CEO Jeff Zucker to hire Howard Dean as a contributor to CNBC. This display of domination was allegedly in response to conservative commentaries by CNBC’s Jim Cramer and Mark Haines.
Even if someone was stupid enough to believe that a relatively small political activist group could boss around the chief of a major entertainment and news empire, the accusation is completely without foundation. In fact, Sam Stein of the Huffington Post, who did some actual reporting, unlike O’Reilly, found that:
“…the decision to bring the recently departed DNC Chair on board, the source says, was finalized well before the current wave of CNBC-angst. So while grassroots groups have sprouted up in recent weeks petitioning the network to make wholesale changes, Dean’s hiring can’t be viewed as a direct result of public pressure.”
O’Reilly’s stupidity, however, extends even further. The source he quotes for his baseless and false allegation is Noel Sheppard. O’Reilly identifies him as the author of a column in the Washington Examiner. What O’Reilly doesn’t tell you is that Sheppard also happens to be the Associate Editor of NewsBusters, an arm of the uber-conservative Media Research Center. The MRC was just revealed to be the source for many ideologically twisted stories on Fox News, a fact that former anchor Brit Hume confessed just last week. Now O’Reilly has admitted that he too is disseminating MRC propaganda as if it were news. It should be noted that neither O’Reilly nor Sheppard produced any evidence that either MoveOn or Zucker played any role in Dean’s employment.
As if that were not enough, O’Reilly went on to disparage Dean saying that he “know[s] little about economics.” Where O’Reilly gets the gumption to knock Dean’s credentials is beyond me. Dean served as governor of the state of Vermont for twelve years. For a portion of time he was Chairman of the National Governor’s Association. Prior to that he was a Wall Street stock broker. And his father was a top executive at Dean Witter Reynolds. But O’Reilly, who expounds on economics every day is a former tabloid TV news reader. So on whose advice would you prefer to rely?
On the comedy tip, O’Reilly is even having trouble organizing his outrage. For years he has been hammering NBC and its cable units as being irredeemably compromised by wicked leftists. He reveled in characterizing them as despicable purveyors of group-think. The following quotation, however, reveals a psyche that is sorely starving for air.
“Now many on Wall Street believe Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric which owns NBC, has completely lost control of his company, including the actions of Mr. Zucker. The evidence of that is that MSNBC is supporting and promoting the same far-left loons that are hammering the sister outfit CNBC. I mean, how rich is this?”
First of all, the “many on Wall Street believe” canard is an example of a lazy intellect. O’Reilly won’t, and can’t identify these imaginary critics. Secondly, his complaint that MSNBC is critical of CNBC contradicts his contention that all NBC units think alike. Even worse, by mocking this diversity of opinion, he is implying that he would prefer it if they did think alike. Of course, he would prefer no such thing. He would simply go back to accusing them of being blindly and uniformly liberal. It’s the O’Reilly way
Whenever Bill O’Reilly has some dirty work to do that doesn’t involve a loofah, he sends his trusty minion, Stuttering Jesse Watters. In the field, Watters pretends he is the progeny of Mike Wallace (whose real progeny, Chris, is also a Fox News toady). Watters plots elaborate ambush “interviews” with people who wouldn’t otherwise get within spitting distance of him, or O’Reilly either for that matter.
This past weekend, Amanda Terkel of ThinkProgress was literally stalked by Watters while she was on vacation.
Terkel:Watters and his camera man accosted me at approximately 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, in Winchester, VA, which is a two-hour drive from Washington, DC. My friend and I were in this small town for a short weekend vacation and had told no one about where we were going. I can only infer that the two men staked out my apartment and then followed me for two hours.
This harassment was orchestrated by O’Reilly as payback for Terkel’s reporting on O’Reilly’s appearance before the Alexa Foundation, a rape victims support group. It was a personal assault that had no news value, just the desire to harm someone he believed to be an enemy. The action taken against Terkel violated even O’Reilly’s criteria for ambushing:
O’Reilly:[W]e do not go after people lightly. We always ask them on the program first, or to issue a clear statement explaining their actions.
However, Terkel was never contacted for either a statement or an invitation to appear on the Factor. This is typical O’Reilly behavior. Remember, this is the same guy who pushed an Obama aide and threatened him not to “block the shot.” He is a textbook bully, as well as a paranoid narcissist. Dispatching so-called “producers” to harass people you don’t like is closer to organized crime than to journalism. Perhaps O’Reilly and Watters could be prosecuted under the RICO statutes.
Update: O’Reilly’s segment with the Watters ambush just aired and it was a stunning piece of sensationalistic, libelous, garbage. The encounter with Terkel, whom O’Reilly branded a villain, was edited so as to paint a thoroughly dishonest picture of her, while permitting Watters to spew a running commentary of vile character assassination. Then O’Reilly took a cognitive leap to turn his fire on Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC, without explaining what he had to do with any of this. Clearly, O’Reilly just wants to take every opportunity to bash NBC as a proxy for his nemesis, Keith Olbermann, who also had nothing to do with this.
Also notable in the segment was O’Reilly’s description of the rape trial for the perpetrator of the crime committed against Alexa Branchini, for whom the Alexa Foundation was created. O’Reilly said that the defense put on a case intended to “prove the rape was consensual.” That is, to say the least, a curious phrasing. He did not refer to whether the “sex” was consensual. It appears that O’Reilly thinks that sometimes a rape victim may have consented to being raped, or was otherwise responsible. And that is precisely what Terkel noted in the article that started all of this – that O’Reilly was an inappropriate speaker to a rape victims organization because of his previous insensitivity for implying that some victims are responsible for bringing about their own assault. Somebody needs to tell O’Reilly that rape is NEVER consensual.
Howard Kurtz has a revealing backgrounder on the battle between Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann. O’Reilly, who has a superstitious aversion to saying Olbermann’s name, has directed his attacks at NBC, calling its chairman, Jeffrey Immelt, “a “despicable human being.” He even blames Immelt for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq. The sad reality is that Ailes, O’Reilly, and Fox News are far more culpable for the tragedy that is Iraq via their persistent disinformation and cheerleading for the war.
Kurtz reports on conversations between Fox News president Roger Ailes and NBC CEO, Jeff Zucker. Ailes is reported to have jumped in swinging at Zucker:
“Ailes warned that if Olbermann didn’t stop such attacks against Fox, he would unleash O’Reilly against NBC and would use the New York Post as well.”
Unleash O’Reilly? Wouldn’t they need a permit from the Department of Animal Control for that? It’s interesting that Ailes openly asserts that he exercises editorial control over both O’Reilly’s program and the New York Post, for which he has no executive responsibility. NBC is to be lauded for their refusal to similarly impose such controls on Olbermann.
While Ailes is violating every tenet of journalistic independence, O’Reilly is behaving like the bully he is known to be. And worse, he is rapidly spinning into the Delusions of Grandeur Zone:
“That Immelt man answers to me. . . . That’s why I’m in this business right now, to get guys like that.”
O’Reilly’s claim to domination of GE’s CEO is both pathetic and laughable. The Factor averages about 2.5 million viewers a day. NBC Nightly News does three times that. The Today Show more than doubles O’Reilly’s numbers. The idea of Ailes and O’Reilly pushing NBC around makes no sense. But that never stopped O’Reilly before.
Now it appears that Ailes is already making good on his threats. The New York Post’s gossipy Page Six is asking whether the “notoriously odd” Olbermann is “on the verge of yet another professional meltdown?” That’s funny coming from the notoriously disreputable Post, and particularly Page Six, which has a history of publishing false items and hiring corrupt columnists.