Last summer, media critic Jay Rosen announced
that he would no longer criticize CNN.
“As of today,” he said, “I have retired from criticism of CNN for falling short of some sort of journalistic standard that news providers should maintain. That activity no longer makes sense.”
Rosen argued that since CNN no longer holds itself to news standards, it would be pointless for him to do so.
I agreed with much of his premise at the time, but I wasn’t ready to give up on my former employer quite yet. (I worked at CNN from 1999-2001.) I cherish the role that CNN should be playing—a straight-up-the-middle news outlet—and wanted to believe that the network would eventually wander back to its roots.
Instead, with its saturation coverage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, CNN has taken a giant step backward, part of its inverted metamorphosis from well-respected news outlet to “The Jerry Springer Show.”
The coverage reached its nadir during Don Lemon’s newscasts. First, Mr. Lemon speculated that the supernatural could be responsible for the plane’s disappearance:
“Especially today, on a day when we deal with the supernatural, we go to church, the supernatural power of God,” he said. “You deal with all of that. People are saying to me, why aren’t you talking about the possibility—and I’m just putting it out there—that something odd happened to this plane, something beyond our understanding?”
Next, he wondered whether a black hole could have somehow sucked the plane out of the sky, a suggestion that his guest batted down immediately.
Not to be outdone, CNN’s sister network, HLN, hosted a psychic who said she doesn’t like to rely on facts. (The passengers are alive, she claimed.)
Psychics. Black holes. Supernatural forces. Baseless speculation. This
As atrocious as CNN’s coverage has been, the network’s ratings are up. That prompted Piers Morgan’s executive producer to tweet this:
Wald appears to be conflating popularity with quality. That’s like saying McDonald’s sells the best
burgers because it sells the most
burgers. No, quality and popularity aren’t inextricably linked. Wald’s suggestion otherwise offers a discouraging view into the network’s ends-justify-the-means approach to news.
Yes, CNN still has some fine journalists working for the network, some of whom are friends and former colleagues. But that misses the point. The network is only as good as its least responsible programming, of which there’s an intolerable amount.
Like Jay Rosen before me, I’m tired of expecting more from the network. I’m choosing to click away and find my news in places that exercise more journalistic restraint. I’m just sad that the once-respected 24-hour news
network has become little more than a 24-hour network.
Jon Stewart’s takedown of the shameful cable news coverage of Malaysia Air 370 is worth watching:
What are your thoughts about CNN’s programming? Please leave your views in the comments section below.
Brad Phillips is author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared.