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From Crossfire To Tea Bagging Jokes: How Jonathan Klein Destroyed CNN

The Politico pretends that there is a fix for CNN. There isn't.

In an attempt to breathe life into the corpse, Michael Calderone starts with a false premise:

Jon Klein, the network president, has consistently defended the network's down-the-middle news strategy despite the increasingly large ratings leads opened up by MSNBC and particularly Fox, with their ideological slants and big personalities.

Let's begin with this. There is no "down-the-middle" news strategy at CNN. The fact that Jon Klein asserts this is ludicrous given his foot in mouth disease that gave birth to the name Pajamas Media during his defense of Dan Rather during Rathergate. But that liberals cannot recognize the slant of the news that is fed them (unless it leans right, which Fox does) is an indication of a larger problem. As the saying goes, if you don't know who the sucker is at the table, you're the sucker. Or rather, if television news were a poker tournament CNN viewers (and MSNBC's) would be the sucker. The extraordinary element in this mini drama is that CNN could have seen their demise coming if they were paying attention.

Since the early 1980's media critics have been complaining about the bias of mainstream media outlets. Reed Irvine at Accuracy in Media was a pioneer in this effort, taking on the likes of The New York Times, The Washington Post and Bob Woodward. Brent Bozell and the Media Research Center were also what might be described as early adaptors to ctrical analysis of the big media companies. What Irvine and Bozell began as a cottage industry that focused on media bias has transformed into a media monolith that dwarfs the audiences of the cable outlets. (It should also be noted that Irvine and Bozell did it on shoe string budgets, unlike the multi millions heaped on Media Matters and other Soros funded mouthpieces that sprout up when the Fox News' and Rush Limbaughs gained traction) Without local programming, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune the network news outlets would find themselves in the same situation as CNN and MSNBC.

CNN used to be a regular stop for me when the evening news was part of the pre internet lifestyle. One of my favorite programs was Crossfire. In its very early years Crossfire was a rare thing: a program where a liberal and a conservative went at each other with few, if any, constraints from the producer. Ironically, Crossfire veterans like Michael Kinsley and Bill Press trace the demise of CNN to Klein's cancellation of the program:

Ask a couple of former "Crossfire" hosts for a solution to CNN's ratings troubles, and maybe it's not a surprise what their answer is: Resurrect their old show.

Both Michael Kinsley and Bill Press -- each of whom had stints taking the liberal side of the right vs. left political slugfest -- think it's worth a shot.

By bringing back "Crossfire," they argue, CNN could continue with its strategy of not falling squarely on the left or the right in prime time, but still offer lively opinion on both sides -- something it appears that viewers want.

Five years ago, one of Klein's first orders of business after becoming network president was killing off the long-running show, a pioneer in high-decibel political debate which had been the recipient of harsh on-air criticism from "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart just a few months before.
"When he unceremoniously dumped it, Jon Klein said he wanted straight news and not commentary or opinion," Kinsley told POLITICO. "And now he's got everyone expressing opinions left and right -- because that's what people like.'

"'Crossfire' used to vie with Larry King as the network's No. 1 show -- and we beat him on many nights, even though he had us as a leadin and we had Lou Dobbs," Kinsley said, adding that he means "the early Lou Dobbs, the boring corporate suck-up, not the new exciting xenophobic Lou Dobbs of legend."

"We were No. 1," said Press, a top liberal radio host who was on "Crossfire" from 1996 to 2003. He described Klein's pulling the plug on "Crossfire" as "one of the biggest mistakes in the history of modern television journalism."

It's a shame that Calderon could not have shared the viewpoints of the late Robert Novak, who often represented the conservative side on Crossfire. But from the liberal hosts quoted it's apparent that Klein made a monumental mistake by killing a popular program and replacing it with a format that would find a welcome spot at ,say, The New York Times, where opinion pieces are masqueraded as news columns daily. And therein lies the fatal flaw afflicting CNN: only the the very few that still watch the network fail to see that it long ago traded it's journalistic soul for ideology. Everyone else left. Will CNN ever learn that in the news business if you have an ideological slant it's much better to say so upfront than to pretend not so and assume your listener's agreement?

How are those pajama's fitting now Mr. Klein?


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Comments (23)

CNN is still on the air??</... (Below threshold)
Tsar Nicholas II:

CNN is still on the air??

Being a Big Shot means neve... (Below threshold)
davidt:

Being a Big Shot means never having to admit to error.

"Down the middle news," wit... (Below threshold)
Marc:

"Down the middle news," with one of its prime-time stars Anderson Cooper using the tea-bagger invective.

And the other one, Larry King, older than dirt and can't make use of follow-up questions because they can't be written pre-show.

It is not that people want ... (Below threshold)
JSchuler:

It is not that people want opinion in their news, it is that people recognize that opinion unavoidably influences the reporting of the news, and so they would rather have their newscasters' opinions open and up front.

If you present yourself as a "straight news" organization, people will believe you are either lying, or delusional. And rightfully so.

Good work Joey my boy! Oh ... (Below threshold)
poptoy:

Good work Joey my boy! Oh and Thank You Very Much...

... liberals cannot recogni... (Below threshold)

... liberals cannot recognize slant unless it leans right - which Fox does ...

Yair.

Fox "leans right," alright.

Except during the average 161 hours per week it's leaning left!

The reality being that the dinosaur drive-byes are so terribly totalitarian that Fox may be said to be "leaning right" only by those relativists who'd somewhat similarly justify their asserting that dogs have five legs on the basis of their calling dogs' tails legs.

re: "Jon Klein, the network... (Below threshold)
Hank:

re: "Jon Klein, the network president, has consistently defended the network's down-the-middle news strategy.."

This is an April fools day joke, right?

Maybe they should give Hank... (Below threshold)
Hank:

Maybe they should give Hank Johnson, Rep (D) from Georgia his own show.

I'd never miss an episode.

The Commie News Network jum... (Below threshold)
TexBob:

The Commie News Network jumped the shark long ago. The only viewers now are folks stuck in airports.

Don't forget Bernie Goldber... (Below threshold)

Don't forget Bernie Goldberg - his Bias book was a real eye-opener for many coming, as it did, from an insider.

Great read if you haven't already read it...or even if you have.

I read that article, too. B... (Below threshold)
James H:

I read that article, too. By far the most intriguing suggestion (IMO) was having a program where a liberal-leaning journalist covers the conservative movement, followed by a program where a conservative-leaning journalist covers the liberal movement. It would be a nice shakeup to the old formula.

Maybe Politico and CNN can ... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Maybe Politico and CNN can trade notes, they're both headed in the same direction.

Garand -- Did you mean that... (Below threshold)
James H:

Garand -- Did you mean that Politico is headed toward irrelevance, toward failure, or toward liberalism?

James H,Irrelevance ... (Below threshold)
SCSIwuzzy:

James H,
Irrelevance and failure go hand in hand with any long term adherence to liberalism :)

"Hello, Socialized Medicine... (Below threshold)
James H:

"Hello, Socialized Medicine Regional Director? Yeah, it's James H. A friend of mine is having some issues, and he really needs to see a specialist. His name's SCSIwuzzy. Yeah, he's stubborn, doesn't think he has issues. You know the type. Yeah. Yeah, they'll want the glove. Uh-huh. And the doctor should have the alligator clamps ready, too. No, the boa constrictor won't be necessary until the third visit. Every two weeks I think."

Funny. It's implied here t... (Below threshold)
James H:

Funny. It's implied here that Politico is too far to the left. Liberal blogs paint Politico as a mouthpiece for Republican talking points.

Glenn Greenwald has the clearest perspective of any people I've read. He condemns all Washington journalists as a bunch of hacks who cozy up to whoever's in power just to get access so they can all write their books.

"Garand -- Did you mean ... (Below threshold)
914:

"Garand -- Did you mean that Politico is headed toward irrelevance, toward failure, or toward liberalism?"

I fail to see the difference?

The genie out of the bottle... (Below threshold)

The genie out of the bottle (vis a vis CNN's demise) isn't Fox News but the popularity of Fox News.

No matter how much the MSM played the lefty angle to the masses the exponential ratings growth of Fox (which means the rejection of all the others, sorry moonbats) proves they tapped in to a center right revolutionary majority......and the loony left and their acolytes in the MSM are panicking by pretending butter didn't melt in the mouth of the hard left during the Bush 2 years and we're all now carrying pitchforks and holding Klan rallies. Pretty absurd from a bunch who bow to an effete chain smoking bully who loves domestic terrorists, Jew haters and race baters.

I'd love someone to do a version of the Munchkin's singing "the loony left fringe, the loony left fringe" with Keith Olbersack dancing in his soiled panties.

Go ahead proletariat.......keep missing the clues!!

Glenn Greenwald... (Below threshold)
Glenn Greenwald has the clearest perspective of any people I've read.
Oh, good Lord. I take back that upscore I gave you on the other thread.
Why do I keep forgetting to... (Below threshold)
SCSIwuzzy:

Why do I keep forgetting to add the /sarc tag when being tongue in cheek with the Leftrolls?

It's like expecting my dogs to understand instructions beyond sit, stay, down etc...

SCSI:I saw your sm... (Below threshold)
James H:

SCSI:

I saw your smiley face. I was being tongue in cheek myself. It's the old joke where you throw together three unrelated objects, don't give details, and let the reader use his imagination.

Cheney:

Clarification: Glenn Greenwald has the clearest perspective in this instance of any commentator I've read. I happen to agree with him that Washington journos have been more or less "captured" by the people they cover.

Thanks for the clarificatio... (Below threshold)

Thanks for the clarification, JH. Yes, Greenwald does seem to be right almost as often as a stopped clock, for extremely generous definitions of "almost," and it appears he was due for one this decade.

My two observations on why ... (Below threshold)
independent John:

My two observations on why CNN sucks-

1)They are oblivious to their own liberal slant. The "down the middle news story" on the "psychological profile" of Rush Limbaugh listers is a perfect example.

2)They talk down to their audience as if they are talking to 12-year-olds. Take a step back the next time you watch CNN "news" and you will notice the after-school special tone seems written for naive teenagers. It's just not watchable.




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