The Hollywood reporter published an article by Andrew Tyndall this week that asked 'How Can CNN Benefit From Being Bland'. Here are a few of it's key points:
When it was invented about 30 years ago, CNN solved one of the major shortcomings of television news in the broadcast era: It was on all the time. Instead of waiting for the periodic morning and nightly slots that were assigned to news by broadcasters, the viewer was liberated to tune in to a dedicated news channel at any time of the day or night.
CNN's current problem derives from unfortunate timing: It has lost the knack for attracting viewers to its legacy medium before that transition has been completed. The process of unbundling cable channels to offer a la carte subscriptions -- which inevitably will destroy the current cable channel business plan -- has yet to take hold. And in the meantime, CNN's audience, revenue and reputation are still stuck in the world of cable.
In that context, global ubiquity is a greater asset than domestic popularity. Unlike Fox News or MSNBC, CNN cannot afford to be perceived as too American, too opinionated, too partisan, too idiosyncratic. Its ambition is to be the background channel that is always on everywhere around the world: in airport terminals, in business hotels, in barrooms and boardrooms. Bland is not a bug; it's an advantage. CNN's target audience is not individual viewers but operators and managers who are alienated by anything that is not wallpaper.
CNN's error has been that it only followed the logic of differentiating itself halfway: It avoids the partisanship but still embraces the politics. Its programming is wrongly focused, using an anchor-centric format when CNN viewers crave the absence of opinion.
If you want to read the entire article (worth the few minutes it takes) here's the link.
Ramesh Ponnuru has an article posted on Bloomberg.com about bringing back the old Crossfire. In part he writes:
There is a way to elevate the political debate a little bit, though, and it’s simple: One of the cable networks should bring back “Crossfire.” Yes, that’s the CNN show that Jon Stewart attacked in 2004 for “hurting America,” shortly before its 23-year run ended.
By the time Stewart appeared on it to promote his book, the show had degenerated. At its height, though, it did a good job of sharpening political arguments. And the original format, to my mind, has never been bettered.
The show ran for half an hour and examined one question. There were two hosts: one liberal, one conservative, both opinion journalists rather than operatives for a political party. In the early 1990s, Michael Kinsley (now a Bloomberg View columnist) and Patrick Buchanan did the job. There were two guests, usually politicians or public-policy experts on each side of the debate. There was no studio audience.
Each of these features made “Crossfire” better. The one-subject rule made it impossible for the politicians to make it through the show on sound bites alone. That both hosts were journalists made for a fairer debate than the usual practice of today’s political shows, which put journalists up against political operatives.
Those journalists who are fair-minded, even if they generally sympathize with one party over another, will fault both parties when they find it appropriate. On free trade, for example, Buchanan was at odds with most Republicans and Kinsley with most Democrats. Robert Novak, a later host, who died in 2009, was fiercely conservative. He was a dove on foreign policy, though, and he prided himself on never having been offered a job by any administration.
The political strategists, on the other hand, will maintain that the sun shines at night if that’s what the message of the week demands. The debate will then feature concessions on only one side. A reborn “Crossfire” should sometimes invite strategists on air, but only when paired off against each other -- and only when the day’s subject concerns political strategy.
To read the entire article just click on this link.
The National Review.com has a column by Jonah Goldberg that supports the Bloomberg article.
Bring Back Crossfire
I agree entirely with Ramesh (and Tim Carney) about the old Crossfire and that CNN (or one of the other cable news networks) would be wise to bring it back. I made a similar point in a column in 2005, after Bob Novak was suspended for his use of profanity.
And for Carville to buy into this nonsense is like a guy with horrifically bad breath assuming that someone walked away from an argument because he didn’t know how to rebut his points.
This all illuminates the rot in cable-news political discourse. I had a contract with CNN for about four years, which meant I was obliged to be on call for the usual five-minute mini-debates that are a staple on all the news networks. Before that, I committed similar punditry on Fox and MSNBC. On all the networks, but I think particularly on CNN, there’s a habit of pairing opinion journalists with “political consultants” — i.e., party mouthpieces and activists.
I hate the practice because it makes it almost impossible to argue in good faith. I disagree with the Bush administration on a wide number of issues — from immigration policy and “compassionate conservatism” to its grotesque overspending. But it’s very hard to offer a balanced defense when your opponent is shouting that you’re a whore to the GOP and that Bush is a liar with his pants on fire.
Take, for example, what was once CNN’s flagship political program. From 2000 until its recent demise, Crossfire featured Novak and Tucker Carlson on the right vs. Paul Begala and Carville (and before that it was Bill Press, a former Democratic Party operative). You don’t have to be fans of Novak and Carlson to see that they have jobs and backgrounds different from Begala’s and Carville’s. Both Novak and Carlson are journalists — opinion journalists, to be sure, but journalists nonetheless. They speak for nobody but themselves and they have a long-term interest in maintaining their credibility. Obviously, they have views more amenable to conservatives and Republicans, but that’s different from being on the payroll of the Republican party. For example, Novak never supported the Iraq war and Carlson doesn’t now.
Carville and Begala, meanwhile, are party operatives and always have been. They were even advisers to the Kerry campaign while still keeping their “analyst” jobs at CNN.
Crossfire was cancelled by CNN’s new president, Jonathan Klein, because he thought it was just “a bunch of guys screaming at each other” and did “nothing to illuminate the issues of the day.” Klein was right, but whose fault was that?
In the fallout of the Novak outburst, Klein defended Carville’s jibes at Novak, saying they were completely within bounds. That’s all too true. But guess who defines the bounds?
This is a bipartisan point. CNN and the other networks pair GOP hacks and mouthpieces against liberal journalists all the time, too. As I was told more than once, one of the chief complaints producers had when they put conservative and liberal journalists on was that there was “too much agreement.”
Of course, there are plenty of pundits who are in the tank for the Republicans or the Democrats. But as a general rule, the pundits tend to believe they’re doing their jobs by offering their views in good faith. Party flacks by definition define a job well done as making their boss’s case.
What do you think?
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Posted by The ATC Team at 8:53 AM