As a former newspaper reporter, I never had much respect for
television news. More style than substance, more sound bite than serious, TV
journalism was media junk food. I preferred a good steak and still do.
There were exceptions – Walter Cronkite, Jim Lehrer and,
going way back, Ed Murrow (though he served up his share of sugary snacks as
well.) And in the early ‘90s, there was
a decade-old network called CNN that, with its blog-like first person coverage
of the Gulf War, showed that television and journalism could indeed coexist and
add reason to public discourse.
But that was, as they say, then – and this, unfortunately
for our country and its conscience, is now.
I accepted CNN’s financial need to compete with Fox and
MSNBC by taking a side – not conservative like Fox or liberal like MSNBC, but a
kind of neo populism characterized by anchor-driven “mad as hell” histrionics.
I looked away when the “maddest” of the bunch, Lou Dobbs, made illegal
immigration his clarion call.
Then last week, CNN went too far. The network, which hosted
the Republican “YouTube Debate,” went from ranting about the election to
attempting to rig it.
CNN is no longer a news organization; it is a political
action committee. It has gone off the deep end not in search of ratings, but
rather in an obsequious bow to Dobbs, his quest for book sales and a possible
third-party Presidential bid.
Consider this: the first one-third of the debate centered on
immigration, Dobbs one-trick pony, despite national polls showing that only six
percent of Americans believe immigration is an important issue in the 2008
election. What are the top issues? Iraq, the economy, healthcare and
energy costs. What other topics did CNN producers cull from the 5,000 YouTube
submissions? They chose gun control, the Confederate flag and whether the Bible
is the true word of God.
I don’t mind the YouTube format – in fact I love its raw
sense of immediacy. But don’t for one minute think that the format makes the
debate any more real; CNN took care of that, manipulating the event to serve
its own puerile purposes.
CNN not only crossed the line, it went into uncharted
waters. It used the electoral process, hardly free of abuse itself, to serve its
hunger for relevance and ratings. CNN has gone from being an inspiration to
journalism to being its enemy – a voice beyond mere bias now bent on
Hyperbole? Perhaps. CNN is, after all, just a network – just
a business. As I said before, I never had much respect for television news, so maybe
I should go eat my steak and shut up. Just sit back, relax and listen — the news is on.