Monday, February 27, 2017

#600: Where Have You Gone, CNN?

Back in the '90s, I had to travel around to military headquarters in different locations in the world for my assignment.  This was in 1992-93 or so.

One thing that was a fairly common sight back then were the war rooms, or situation rooms, where the brass would meet to brief and be briefed.  They were pretty high-tech for the time, with large TV screens around an otherwise normal conference room type of setting.

Obviously it was a bit intimidating to be in such a space while a war was going on, or at least winding down, although I was never that close to any of it.  Well, I was in Panama less than a year after their internal war, and there were still bullet holes in the outside walls.  That wasn't fun and it defined "intimidating", although Panama City then was certainly safer than south Chicago now, or south Chicago in 1968 when I lived there.

But I digress.

In each one of those situation rooms, one of the television screens would be running the Cable News Network, known then and now as CNN. Twenty-five years ago, CNN was the McNews of the traveler, in the same sense that USA Today was called "McPaper."

The point was simple.  For pretty much ever, news was delivered locally even when the content was national.  If you watched an affiliate of a network in the evening, you got a half-hour or so of local news followed by the anchor of the local affiliate's network doing a half-hour or so of world and national news.  But you watched Channel 6, or whatever, in your town, to get it.

The print media were the same.  The Herald, or the Times, or the Post, or the Press, or the Times-Picayune, or the Register, of whatever city or town, well, they carried world and national news but were delivered locally.  They were associated with their locality and were loyal to their locality.  The larger ones had bureaus in Washington and other places to represent them and deliver customized reporting, but they were the reporter or bureau chief of the Springfield Whatever, not of a press service.

All that changed with CNN and with USA Today.

These outlets had no locality to represent.  They vaguely resembled AP or UPI, the news services, except instead of being news services that fed the working press, they were their own outlets.  USA Today put kiosks in every airport for their paper, and stuffed one under hotel doors all over the place, a perk for guests, or at least guests with frequent-traveler status.

And CNN, ahh, CNN.  They, too, were all over, on the screens in airports, hotel rooms and all manner of "non-local" places.  We of a certain age grew up in the '50s and '60s when "news" was available first thing in the morning, and 6-7pm at night.  That was it.  CNN brought to us the concept of news being updated all the time, a 24-hour news cycle wherever you were, and the same news in Idaho, Texas, New Jersey, Maine and Alabama.

Some of that is the same 25 years later.  It is still there, CNN is, still delivering "non-local" news.  But so is Fox News Channel, and so is MSNBC, possibly (we're not sure if it actually is, as this column has not found anyone who actually watches it).  CNN is owned by Time-Warner, and while we can't really say that has mattered, and I don't want to go all post hoc, ergo propter hoc on you, what we know is that their reporting is unabashedly to the left, or at least anti-Republican.

And extremely anti-President Trump.

I expect that what bothers me most about whither CNN has drifted -- and I don't have to remind you of stories they have recently filed that are factually incorrect but reliably anti-Trump -- is that they had a position they could have staked out.  CNN built its reputation as a non-local news provider, practically the inventor of the 24-hour news cycle.

It could have been an essentially neutral provider, as it was in the 1990s.  It could have reported Barack Obama's warts and failures along with whatever good he might have done (I have forgotten if there was any, but I'm not pretending to be neutral).  It could have critiqued the Democrats in Congress for their fruitless stalling of Cabinet appointees with the same vigor that it criticized Mitch McConnell for holding up any hearings on the Supreme Court nomination last year of ... of ... gaack, I've already forgotten his name.

It could have been a reliably unbiased provider of 24 hours a day worth of news, a position that its origin allowed it to be.  I know that news virtually everywhere else is reported with bias, in some cases with a lot of it.  CNN had set a position for itself where it could have been a respected journalistic beacon.

It is now something quite smaller than that.  It has become advocacy journalism, unabashed Hillary supporters frustrated by their backing of the wrong side.  They appear to be solely inclined to enhance the political position and power of establishment Democrats, and to minimize the political power and position of Republicans, currently by their corrupt bashing of President Trump.

By doing so, they have sacrificed their standing as a respectable outlet, and their journalistic endeavors, which are at their highest when they are neutral and unbiased, are compromised everywhere.  MSNBC is to the left, we get that.  Viewers, if any remain, expect that and want that.  Fox News is to the right, and we who do watch it expect that point of view as well.

I didn't watch CNN that often, but I used to.  I trusted that their purpose dictated that they would tell us what happened, no more, no less.

I asked too much.  CNN ran away from me.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

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