How Do You Fix CNN?
Politico takes a long look at CNN — still quite profitable, but increasingly sagging in the ratings, and searching for an identity in contrast with Fox News and MSNBC.
CNN, the founder of the cable news genre, is now registering its lowest ratings since the first Gulf War. In the second quarter of 2012, the network attracted fewer viewers than at any time in the past 21 years, it was reported Tuesday. An average of 446,000 people now watch CNN’s primetime programming while a mere 319,000 watch its daytime programming — declines from 2011 that are at least twice as severe as those suffered at Fox News and MSNBC. . . . In many ways, the Republican primary, which earned the network better ratings than MSNBC in the first quarter, only served to mask the longstanding problems at CNN. With the exception of late-breaking news events (hurricanes, celebrity deaths and the like) and debates or primary night coverage, CNN consistently averages just over half of MSNBC’s primetime ratings and just a quarter of those of Fox News. It is increasingly falling behind MSNBC in the daytime hours as well.
For his part, Feist remains bullish on CNN’s political coverage. He even believes that Americans are starting to resist the partisan analysis provided by MSNBC and Fox, citing a recent Pew survey that identifies independents as the fastest-growing political group in the country, at 38 percent.
Feist explains CNN’s role in the current media environment in sports terms. If you’re watching a game between the Red Sox and the Yankees, he asks, don’t you want a non-biased sportscaster covering the play-by-play?
“There are a lot of people . . . who are baseball fans. They don’t cheer for the Red Sox or the Yankees, they just cheer for baseball,” Feist told POLITICO. “They want to get their coverage straight. They don’t want coverage of the game colored by the fact that their announcer has taken sides.”
First of all, I’m not sure that’s true anymore. I’m not sure there are that many garden-variety political junkies who don’t lean to one philosophy or the other. I think I heard somebody once describe CNN’s current status as “fire alarm television” — if something blows up overseas, you’re likely to tune in to CNN, which is pretty likely to have reporters and affiliates on the ground. Absent some breaking, dramatic, faraway news story, you flip past Anderson Cooper walking through yet another refugee camp in a tight t-shirt.
CNN is looking in some very unexpected directions as they search for an identity:
World-renowned chef, bestselling author and Emmy winning television personality Anthony Bourdain will join CNN as host of a new weekend program, creating a signature showcase for the network’s coverage of food and travel. The announcement was made by CNN Worldwide Executive Vice President and Managing Editor, Mark Whitaker.
Launching in early 2013, the show will be shot on location and examine cultures from around the world through their food and dining and travel rituals. Slated to air domestically on Sundays in prime time with repeat airings on Saturday nights, it will mark a further step in broadening and distinguishing CNN’s weekend programming from its traditional weekday news coverage.
Based on what Bourdain has done so far, it’s likely to be fascinating, off-kilter, funny, sarcastic . . . although I’m not quite sure much of what he’s done on his Travel Channel show would meet most folks’ definition of “news.” (Having said that, his program depicting being in Beirut, Lebanon when the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict suddenly erupts is some of the most gripping television journalism you will ever see.)
Ed Driscoll contends a big problem is CNN’s increasingly implausible claim of balance:
And if you believe that CNN really is “committed to nonpartisan news-gathering” free of partisanship (cough —shilling for Saddam, getting cozy with Kim Jong Il — cough — Wright-Free Zone — cough — Anderson Cooper’s painful “teabagging” references, baking cakes for Obama and on and on and on) then you might be working for a “news” organization that is also a partisan shop pretending to be objective, and wondering why it’s losing audience as well. Whatever Fox and MSNBC’s other issues, at least consumers know what sort of product they’re getting when tune into those networks. Trying to pretend to be objective is a long-outdated model that’s reached the end of the production line.
Let me toss out three random ideas for CNN:
1. Bring back “Firing Line,” or a version of it. God help whoever tries to step into the role of WFB, but . . . if you’re going to copy an old idea, why not the best? Jay Nordlinger taped a few test pilot episodes for an interview show, and the episode I saw on the last NR cruise was delightful.
2. Bring back some version of “Crossfire.” Since the cable news world seems adamant that former New York governor/prostitute customer Eliot Spitzer must have a show, pair him up with the most brutal, scathing, righteously furious conservative co-host imaginable, somebody who would tear into Spitzer mercilessly, night after night. Gingrich? Mark Levin? Michelle Malkin?
As I wrote when Spitzer’s show was canceled:
Had CNN matched Spitzer with, say, Mark Steyn, at least we would have been treated to some amazing fireworks. Imagine:
Spitzer: . . . and that’s why I think Obama’s financial-reform proposal is a winner. Mark, what do you think?
Steyn: You treacherous, reptilian whoremonger, your foul diatribe spurs me to inch my chair further away from you, as I expect any moment now you will vomit forth a lie so reprehensible and toxic to the very metaphysical concept of Truth that God Himself will be moved to strike you with lightning.
3. Try the panel show, and keep rotating personalities in and out until you get the right chemistry. Obviously I’m pretty biased in my admiration for “The Five” crew, but I think they’ve got the closest to the ideal, in you get the sense that these five (really seven or eight considering the guest hosts who rotate in and out) really would be fun to hang around and shoot the breeze with; the talk can get contentious and passionate, but you get the feeling they enjoy the conversation. We’ll see if the same mood pervades on that new MSNBC midday show, S. E. Cupp and Three Insufferable Liberals.