NUMBER ONE IN MISERY

I watch 24 hour cable news networks solely for comedy value at this point. They serve no other purpose. Fox News is and forever shall be the king of journalism as unintentional comedy, of course. Their daily exercise in self-parody must be seen to be believed. However, over the past year CNN has been nearly as fun to watch. The network's disintegration – economic, professional, and psychological – has been a thing of absolute wonder to watch. They managed to finish fifth in the ratings this month, behind Fox, MSNBC (not exactly a ratings juggernaut itself over the years), its sister network HLN, and, somehow, CNBC. Every new ratings stumble sends them into greater paroxysms of desperation. And thus the viewers will never come back; we all know that desperation is a big turn-off, and CNN has it in spades.

Its mission to re-brand itself as the bland, centrist, Beltway consensus alternative to Fox and MSNBC at the outset of the 2012 election succeeded – CNN is now an inoffensive dish of lukewarm water between the fire and ice of its more partisan rivals. This hasn't helped the ratings one bit, as it turns out that no one wants to watch mushy nonsense delivered with no position or perspective. It appears that their current mission, perhaps inspired by their ratings boost from saturation coverage of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, is to brand themselves the Breaking News network. If it's sudden and sensational and absolutely needs to be covered to death for weeks on end, CNN is your huckleberry.

This emphasis on sensational breaking news stories, and the concomitant need to Be First in breaking all the Big News, played out to hilarious effect during the Boston marathon bombing. The network provided one of the most jaw-droppingly awful spectacles in the history of journalism as producers argued, I assume, over ordering Wolf Blitzer to commit seppuku live via satellite. This failure only motivated the network to redouble its efforts. Whenever disaster strikes – particularly natural disasters and school shootings – they beat the drum louder and longer than any of their competitors.

And that is why all of their coverage, such as the recent hysterical coverage of the Philippine typhoon, feels so goddamn tacky = they seem like they're excited by disasters. To see this coverage is to wonder if network policy forbids filming their field reporters from the waist down so as not to reveal their massive hard-ons. It is plausible to argue that the news media play an important role in the early stages of disasters. But CNN's coverage is more Debris Porn than Information Clearinghouse. No sooner did the storm strike than Anderson Cooper was parachuted in to show us rubble, rubble, more rubble, and some corpses. They're giving this story the full court press not because it is important to their American audience but to exploit the suffering for the kinds of lurid images of death and destruction that they hope will capture viewers' attention for a few days. They will argue that they are doing it to help the victims, perhaps not even aware that whatever line exists between public-minded journalism and exploitation has been obliterated. Unfortunately for CNN, too many of us recognize the difference between voyeurism / disaster porn and a sincere concern for the well being of the victims. Hint: The blaring DEATH TOLL counter on the screen kinda gives it away.

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30 Responses to “NUMBER ONE IN MISERY”

  1. J. Dryden Says:

    We're in a fascinating era in the history of the media: an era of massive, industry-wide collapse of the Old Way of Doing Things. And like most forms of mass extinction, this one has been accompanied by a frenzy of denial, which really is the only organic response one can have in the face of an imminent and unavoidable demise: just pretend it's not happening and enjoy the ride.

    The internet fucked everyone but good. Well, not everyone. Just people in businesses that had been, until the day before, titans of indispensability: print and broadcast purveyors–hell, the print media might just manage to survive an industry-wide transition to the web; television networks, less so.

    Because it's not just CNN. Look at NBC. They still think they can "shake up" their programming and get those numbers back up. They cannot. They will not. CBS has decided that pandering to the doddering is a shrewd business move–yes, guys, there will always be old fucks, but the old fucks who watch your stuff will die, and will be replaced by old fucks who know how to work Hulu and Netflix.

    I cannot imagine the shrieking insanity that must be burbling right under the surface of every network, as the "a la carte" model of viewership–
    "I'll pay for Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire, but Girls can go to hell"–becomes the norm, and people only keep their TVs for internet hookups and console games. (Hint: The distinction between those two will be nil in a couple years–and that's if you're behind the times.)

    What CNN doesn't get is that it's OVER. We're never coming back. Ever. EVER. The people who gave a shit about news–back when CNN was actually in that business–have found better places to find it online. The people who watched just to have their ill-informed opinions confirmed have moved to Fox and MSNBC. (Note to Fox: You guys are next to go–please see everything I said about CBS and double it.)

    But what can they do? Close up shop? Liquidate? Surely that's the thought that's been floated–and a few years of in-the-red quarterly reports will make it a topic of discussion. It'll happen. It absolutely will happen. And they all know it. And they are realizing it. And…well, there's an expression for what happens when the reality of youth past/death inevitable kicks in. It's called a mid-life crisis. And it is, indeed, hilarious to watch. CNN is the 45-year-old with bad plugs, a lime-green cigarette boat named "Salty Balls," and a 'friend' made up of 75% non-degradable upgrades courtesy of a plastic surgeon who works on the hush-hush out of Bogota, because you're not supposed to make them THAT big.

  2. drouse Says:

    The last relevance they have is the sunday shows because that is what the villagers watch and think they have a finger on the pulse of the nation. They don't realize that only the oldsters and political junkies care about them. It's just where they go to confirm their biases.

  3. RosiesDad Says:

    The last time I watched CNN, Jon Stewart was pounding a stake into Tucker Carlson's chest. And I was only watching it because I wanted to see JS go at it with Carlson, who was and is a humorless asshole.

    I grew up reading the Times with my morning coffee while Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters chattered in the background; I stopped watching Today when MSNBC started simulcasting Imus.

    If my kids are watching TV and it's not to see a live sporting event or (because I have teenage daughters) a show about vampires, the odds are the content is coming through the Roku box. And I don't think any of them ever touches a newspaper. The older two (the ones who can patiently explain to their mother who Janet Yellin is) get virtually all their news content online (and from TDS and Colbert) and the 15 year old–the hair and nails child–has other interests.

  4. wetcasements Says:

    To paraphrase Big Lebowski, FOX News is evil but you have to respect the fact that they have a plan and a purpose. An ethos, if you will.

    CNN are the media equivalents of German nihilists.

  5. middle seaman Says:

    Journalism as a profession suffers now a days from antic tools, bad writing, pedestrian thinking and lack of talent. No longer are we receiving information from a single source. We read many tweets and blogs and we have an email intravenous supply. Journalist write long verbose, boring and unfocused expositions; we need short and to the point. Most journalist are either unable to think straight or, more likely, don't even try to use logic. Finally, look at who writes or appears: Thomas Friedman, Richard Cohen, Susan Page, etc. Let's face it, you don't want to have them as friends.

    No TV or papers news in my house. We are not suicidal.

  6. Arslan Says:

    I think Jon Stewart nailed the problem in America: The Book, specifically the fact that in 24 hours there just isn't enough news to fill the time. In the early days of CNN you had stories like the Gulf War, the fall of the USSR, the Balkan wars, the Afghan wars(against the government to 1992 and then between warlords and the Taliban to 1996), the rise of the internet, etc. They must have assumed that they had entered a more eventful era which would necessitate a 24 hour news cycle. Clearly they were wrong.

  7. Buckyblue Says:

    And all of them pale in comparison to the dithering and just god-awfulness that is local news. If you think there's not enough news to fill a 24 hour news station, watching local news would give you the idea that there's not enough news in major cities to fill the first 10 minutes. All it is is the police blotter of your small town put on the air. And if one more 'reporter' has to interview a parent who had a kid die, I'll personally go and kill their children just so they could be on TV weeping.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    CNN is like an ancient basketball team, with a geriatric point-guard, and a desperate coach and owner.

    For some reason, the owner wants the coach to run the plays through that point guard, so everyone keeps feeding the ball to Wolf, who can't shoot, can't find the open man, and the only thing he can dribble, is his porridge onto his chin.

    FOX is evil – spewing Conservative propaganda 24 X 7 X 365.

    MSNBC is schizophrenic – reasonable Liberal in the evenings and weekends, but has a squinting Conservative, with his Stockholm Syndrome faux wife, hosting a dreary coffee-clatch of DC MSM Villagers and retired politicians, who do whatever they can to steer opinion back to the Reich.

    CNN is pathetic.
    Just pathetic.
    And nobody wants to watch "pathetic."

  9. Anonymouse Says:

    @Dryden: "CBS has decided that pandering to the doddering is a shrewd business move". My local CBS affiliate is certainly Fox-lite: 85% the classism and 80% the racism. I've been getting my news from BBC and The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and I am an old; I grew up reading newspapers, too. I just have zero interest in mainstream news with its endless, breathless fascination with the Kardashians and whatever lie the right-wing noise machine is repeating about Obama.

  10. Xynzee Says:

    Welcome to the Australian news machine. Where everyday is a slow day at the news desk. We have 3 commercial stations and 2 govt run ones — though the profit mantra has been rammed into SBS.
    The Aus ABC has launched a 24hr headline channel because, you know, air space I think.
    Most of the print news is mostly sewn up by Rupe, the broadcast by couple of players. A major mining magnate keeps attempting to purchase the other main news paper so she can control the messaging on hers and other corporate interests. Rupe's "low-brow" paper, is primarily Fox in print, fleshed out with sport and the form guide.

    The ABC is probably the most reputable, but the conservatard party keeps trying to gut its funding whenever they're in power because, well they're trying to do their job and report. Meaning they just might tell the awful truth about their policies. Like muzzling the news service. Funny that.

    I've concluded that any service that retwits, crowd sources content or has that chick that always has her tongue hanging out as a top news item isn't to be taken seriously.

  11. Major Kong Says:

    I'm convinced that the local news exists solely to scare the crap out of middle-class suburbanites.

    "Is your kid's school bus driver an Al Qaeda terrorist? Tune in to find out!"

  12. sluggo Says:

    I hope you and your family are OK. I saw the the tornadoes on TV (ironically cable), and saw that Washington IL got hit really hard.

  13. Rich Says:

    CNN has always sucked. i don't really get the saddened "post mortems". they've always parachuted anchors into places where they read wire service copy. Shooting massacres have always piqued their interest with newsbots filling the empty spaces between "revelations" with "gee whiz" enthusiasm about whatever tragedy that has ensued. They've been following "runaway blondes" for ages. Disasters have always been their version of porn. They have cut staffing, so it's all a little more threadbare than in the past and they so seem to be hiring bottom of the barrel hairdos for anchor slots, but then this is the network that filled countless hours with white bronco coverage 20 years ago. They employed Glenn beck and Stuart Varney. CNN has always been a joke.

    Someone like our host who has lived in Atlanta should know that nothing of substance has ever come from the bullshit capital of the United States and never will. CNN can only be viewed for its unintentional humor.

  14. c u n d gulag Says:

    Rich,
    Back when CNN launched, Ted Turner threw a lot of money at it, and it had news bureaus all around the world.
    Back then, it was pretty good, as I recall.

    It's when Turner merged it with Time Warner that it started to suck – I think that was back in the mid-90's.
    Not coincidentally, that was shortly after the insipid and inane Wolf Blitzer joined CNN.

    I never understood what anyone ever saw in that assclown.
    He must have pictures of Turner and TWC exec's in compromising positions with young children, and/or farm animals.

  15. Leo Artunian Says:

    c u n d –

    You must remember that Blitzer was originally "the SCUD stud" when reporting on the Gulf War for CNN. Many a female heart was set a-flutter (we were assured) by his manly forbearance under fire. But that was more than twenty years ago.

  16. c u n d gulag Says:

    Leo,
    Yeah, I remember Blitzer from that.

    But the CNN reporter from the 1st Gulf War who I loved the most (sadly, I can't remember his name), was this overweight guy, who they went to occasionally.

    One time, they went to him when the SCUD's were landing in Tel Aviv, and he was the only reporter standing on the rooftop of the Hotel in that city.

    When the studio guy back in the US asked him where the rest of the reporters from all of the other networks were, he said they were in the bomb shelter.

    The studio guy asks him isn't he worried or afraid?

    And the CNN reporter takes a second, looks directly into the camera, and John Wayne-like, says, "Well, it's a mighty big world, and it's only a small bomb."

    I was ROFLMAO – and this was well before that acronym came to be, thanks to the inter-tubes.

  17. J. Dryden Says:

    Not to join c u n d gulag on the front porch, shaking my fist at all the passing young whippersnappers, but, yeah, CNN *was* better back when. Reason being, it could afford to just point a camera and let the facts speak for themselves. There was no competition, and nobody had any idea that they were supposed to do anything different from regular ol' broadcast news, so that's what they did: just showed up, cameras and reporters in tow, and told people what was happening, the end. They didn't have to 'sell' the product because watching cable–ooo, fancy!–was exciting enough in and of itself. And the work benefited from not having to pretty/zazz it up.

    It couldn't last, of course. Gulf War I ruined it, by turning into a ratings-grabber, and producing CNN's crop of celebrity journalists–Blitzer is ridiculously bad, but he was Murrow compared to Bernard "Compares Baghdad to Hell then feels obliged to confirm he's never actually been to Hell" Shaw. Stupid, stupid people got in front of the camera, and that was pretty much the beginning of the end. And then Fox came along, and hastened that end exponentially.

  18. Rich Says:

    c u n d gulag: CNN was never well-financed. Even before the Time Warner merger, it was awful. That was the heyday of White Bronco coverage. before that they had experience going wall-to-wall with human interest twaddle like the toddler in the well.

    CNN's one glory day was when they had people in Iraq during the first Gulf war. Beyond that, it's always been bets at dropping people into war zones to read wire copy or runaway blondes. Enormous blocks of time were filled by Larry King's softball interviews, Glenn beck, Stuart Varney, etc.

    When I began working overseas in the early 90s, I discovered BBC, as well as the various national services like NHK. There was no comparison. CNN lacked the seriousness of other services and the coverage of US events was always the most superficial. The real story here is that anyone thought they did a competent job of anything, on a consistent basis.

  19. jon Says:

    I'm amazed you can still see some actual journalism on PBS for one hour each day. Stories get analysis, in-depth explanations of the issues present, and it actually leads to some learning about issues.

    They're probably eighth or ninth in the news ratings, which is why they should have a sports report.

  20. c u n d gulag Says:

    Rich,
    I certainly can't argue with you, since my standard is based on the way the news has always been covered in the US – and especially when you use The BBC to compare something to.

    I remember CNN as being much better than it is now – but it could never have been compared to the BBC.

    I got my parents watching BBC America a few years ago, but of course, because more and more people were apparently doing that, our odious and monopolistic cable company took it off the air.
    So, it's back to the SOS.

  21. Death Panel Truck Says:

    "…the bland, centrist, Beltway consensus alternative to Fox…"

    Not quite. CNN has been striving for years to be Fox News Lite. A bland, inoffensive network wouldn't do something as asinine as this.

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/11/17/cnn-split-screen-segment-compares-obama-and-crack-smoking-toronto-mayor/

  22. Gerald McGrew Says:

    Speaking of gawd-awful local news, you should see it here in the Spokane area. Anytime we get snow, it's 90% of the broadcast.

    "Let's go to John over on the South Hill. How much snow there John?"

    "Well, we're up to about 2" here. And as you can see, traffic is slow."

    Then they go to downtown, then to the valley, then to the north side, and then start all over again.

    And keep in mind, THIS IS SPOKANE, where we get snow all the friggin' time! But hey, I guess it's better than the 1/2 hour police blotter BuckyBlue described.

  23. bb in GA Says:

    We visited my wife's sister in mid-October who inexplicably moved from GA to Saint Paul, MN about 40 years ago :-)

    The weather people were about bustin' a gut over the POSSIBILITY of less than an inch of snow over night. Didn't happen…

    I was shamin' the locals about that, but it's just what you said Gerald. The weatherdrones on Channel 4 'weren't from around here' neither..

    //bb

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  25. Daniel Harper Says:

    Interestingly, CNN has picked up Anthony Bourdain's new show, basically an extension of his old show, and it's excellent. I've generally been of the opinion that this is the real future of the 24 hour news format: hire intelligent, passionate, creative people to make a series of documentaries for the channel to air, and get rid of all the bloat that comes with Wyclef holograms and the rest of the bullshit.

    Sure, the size of the audience that actually wants intelligent, nuanced commentary by documentary is small, but it's got to be larger than the audience that wants to watch the televisual equivalent of warm dog snot.

  26. Myelectricpants Says:

    "This hasn't helped the ratings one bit, as it turns out that no one wants to watch mushy nonsense delivered with no position or perspective."

    Which is exactly the reason I stopped listening to NPR. Take a position, dammit!

  27. NonyNony Says:

    This hasn't helped the ratings one bit, as it turns out that no one wants to watch mushy nonsense delivered with no position or perspective.

    What amuses me is that CNN is, unlike its competition, perfectly suited to dominate the market.

    They have TWO CHANNELS. On BASIC CABLE! Everyone in the country who gets cable gets both CNN channels as a holdover to the 80s when CNN was the only game in town when it came to news channels. They could easily be BOTH MSNBC and Fox News in one company. Hire two different editorial departments with two different points of view, let HLN be the "conservative" channel, CNN be the "liberal" channel and then stand back and let them go at it, each doing what it does best.

    It would be ratings gold, and CNN and Time-Warner execs could just stand back and claim complete neutrality because "both sides" are represented on their two networks. Sure one is horribly biased towards conservatives and the other horribly biased towards liberals but it's still Better Than Fox Because Balance. Cake + Eating It Too.

    The fact that the morons at Time Warner have not yet glommed onto this strategery (that became completely obvious to me when I realized they already had the odious Nancy Grace on HLN every night) only shows what morons they have in the high offices at TW HQ.

  28. Matt Says:

    They seriously have a "death toll counter"? Oh my. . .
    (Might seem like a stupid question, but I don't have cable.)

  29. Big dog Says:

    This discussion is the handwriting I saw on the wall twenty years ago when I threw my TV out the back door. The pods have since replaced print, except when I thumb through some issue or other in the doctor's office, and that likely ten months old. Sic transit and all that sort of farewell.

  30. Chocolate Covered Cotton Says:

    (Don Henley had a hit song "Dirty Laundry" about this very thing back about 30 years ago, and will you kids get off my lawn now?)

    Got the bubble-headed bleached blonde, comes on at 5.
    She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye.
    It's interesting when people die,
    Give us dirty laundry.