CNN: Victim of Ideology, or Its Own Shortcomings?

The ratings gains by Fox News Channel and MSNBC — coupled with the declines during the first quarter for CNN — could lead to various conclusions. The most obvious one is that with a new Democratic administration and an extremely polarized cable news audience, viewers are gravitating toward their ideological comfort zones. So conservatives are taking solace in the “Obama is a socialist” rantings of Fox’s Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, while liberals cozy up to Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. CNN — trying to stay down the middle — thus becomes the odd network out.

There is certainly some underlying truth to this, but I wouldn’t overlook CNN’s own missteps in contributing to its ratings woes. (To be fair, the year-to-year comparisons are skewed by election coverage in first-quarter ’08, but there’s no denying that CNN’s competitive standing has slipped.)

Most of the thoughts that instantly come to mind regarding CNN in the last year are all of the sniggering variety, many having to do with the gratuitous use of technological toys that did more to obscure than illuminate its coverage. From holograms on election night to fever bars crawling across the screen during debates to the “Word Cloud” plucking terms out of President Obama’s speech to the aerial (or was that satellite?) shot of the inauguration, the network forever seems to be planting a big “kick me” target on its back, making life too easy for the writers on “The Daily Show.” As one critic put it, the latest stunt, “word cloud,” looked like “Your brain on CNN.” I was thinking more “Schoolhouse Rock.”

The shame of it is that CNN should be — needs to be — better. With Fox veering harder right and MSNBC finally gaining traction as a progressive counterweight, there’s a genuine need for serious reporting — beyond the confines of “Frontline” and PBS — that goes beyond just people in a studio spraying out their opinions. CNN could distinguish itself as the news counterpoint to the talkradio that its competitors are becoming, and it only has to attract a few million viewers hungry for that to become a rousing success. But first, it has to get smarter — and stop futilely hoping that gizmos are going to be its salvation.

Instead, we get Wolf Blitzer and John King explaining the joys of “word cloud.” “Some may find it cool, some may find it confusing,” King began, leaving out the obvious — namely, “And some may find it completely ridiculous.”

For his part, Anderson Cooper fidgeted uncomfortably, as if he’s somehow above all the nonsense. Sorry, A.C., but from my 360-degree view, the whole network is up to its ankles in it, and it’s time to start shoveling.

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  1. elena says:

    The person who said the comments represent readers coming from Drudge, is correct. CNN is not in the same universe as Drudge.
    I certainly would have never read this post otherwise. The author says “conservatives are ranting”, while playing nice by saying “liberals are cozying” .
    Then the comment that somehow CNN needs to be better for the sake of humanity he writes :” need for serious reporting.”
    Maybe Obama will give CNN a bailout.

  2. Roberta says:

    2008 election coverage destroyed CNN’s popularity. The network’s tawdry treatment of Sarah Palin along with the network commentators’ obvious infatuation with Obama angered many conservative viewers and even disgusted some liberals who prefer a more evenhanded approach to election coverage. In this part of the country (Tennessee) even airport and restaurant viewers are asking that TVs be turned off or changed to a channel other than CNN. That never happened (at least to my knowledge)before the 2008 election.

  3. Catherine says:

    If CNN got both Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow, then I’ll consider watching that channel again.

  4. Tom Storm says:

    I don’t really care much if CNN is middle or left – it’s just plain boring to watch. Christian Amanpour’s focus on Asia Minor holds no interest for me – and why is Richard quest still on air? He doesn’t talk – he shouts…also lacks cred after his naked soiree in Central Park. FOX wears it’s conservative bias on it’s sleeve – and I am so over Papa Bear – but he and all the others are at least colorful. And they have the most attractive females on cable –
    Down there on the bottom MSNBC has the overbearing olberman – who I cannot suffer for longer than it takes me to find the remote and switch.
    CNN’s Headline News works for me – maybe that should be the model for the honchos in Atlanta.

  5. Dave says:

    CNN got more Bill Clinton jizz on them than Monica’s blue dress. They sold their soul to save Bill Clinton. In our house CNN stands for Clinton News Network. If they need money they can always ask the DNC because they repeat their talking points for free. If CNN wanted to be competitive they could give the 8:00 pm slot to Bill Bennett.

  6. Fox Fan says:

    More democrats watch Fox News than CNN or MSNBC. Numbers don’t lie.
    http://homepage.mac.com/mkoldys/blog/awp244917045.html

  7. Who cares?? says:

    It looks like from the comments this story was linked to Drudge…. geez… It’s like follow the leader here. Almost everyone I know who is under the age of 40 doesn’t watch any of these lousy 24-hour networks (unless it is during the election cycle) because the are all MONEY GRUBBING, MISGUIDED AND BIASED. Fighting to be number one in this bunch is ridiculous. The majority of people are centralist and that is why President Obama is in office, if you like it or not, and the majority of us get our news through other sources not FOX, not MSNBC and not CNN… something that President Obama understands and something the rest of you don’t. Sorry to inform you, but the world is changing, so get a grip! How about counting the people who don’t watch any of these 24-hour news network. What’s wrong, is the number too big?

  8. SickOfConservatives says:

    *Sigh* here we go. Anything or anyone who doesn’t kiss conservative arse 24/7 is “left-wing” and “socialist.” Parroting a bunch of RNC talking points is not news. That Fox News is #1 in ratings only proves how many hillbilly morons we have in the USA. What a bunch of cry-babies. How do you right-wingers live with yourselves?

  9. elena says:

    Heywood, that’s so funny!!!

  10. Heywood Jablomi says:

    CNN’s wordcloud… this is so precious! What would a CNN “word cloud” look like?
    In large letters it would have BULLSHIT-OBAMA IS GOD-GLOBAL WARMING IS SCIENTIFICALLY TRUE-PRO PALESTINE-OIL IS EVIL-MEXICAN NATIONALS ARE US PATRIOTS-SOCIALISM IS PC-COMEDY NEWS NETWORK-LARRY KING UNDERSTANDS

  11. J Pat says:

    Have you watched CNN ?
    To say they are middle of the road is wrong.
    They are left
    There are several foundations that analysised the coverage during the elections. They counted positive – negative – neutral reports of Obama vs McCain…
    If you you at the results you will see that CNN was biased towards the left. Fox was the most neutral.
    Don’t believe me – look them up yourself.
    Those who continue to disregard the facts will continue to be surprised.

  12. ringer says:

    The problem is that Jon Klien of CNN is trying to make the case that they are the hard news station yet he is the idiot that replaced Aaron Brown with Anderson Cooper…they deserve to get their butts kicked with those type of decisions!!!

  13. joan says:

    This article claims that folks are just going to veer to their comfort zone and so the libs are going to MSNBC and the conservatives are going to Fox. So you must be saying that there are far more conservatives than there are liberals. WRONG.
    CNN programing reminds me of a paasive-agressive person. Act nice while you stab conservatives in the back. Why don’t you hire some true conservatives? Lou Dobbs is not one. He is on some issues but not in many, like keeping all manufactoring in the USA, buy American, and other trade issues.

  14. joan says:

    Part of CNN’s problem is the phony-ness aspect. They pretend they are middle-of-the-road, as if viewers were fools. They are the Obama cathedral. Caampbell Brown is probably the most disgusting of all.
    It is amazing how big the ratings are for Fox, because it is not available in as many homes as CNN is. CNN has viewers in airports and the like because the viewers can’t change the channel.

  15. Laura in Tennessee says:

    Just took a look at Wednesday’s ratings. Bill O’Reilly’s RERUN at 11:00P beats every MSNBC, CNN and Headline news show between 5:00P and 11:00P in total viewers and in the 25 – 54 demo.

  16. Marlee says:

    CNN is NOT “middle of the road.”
    It was the “default” news channel in our home for so long, and one day I was really listening to it and thought … I just can’t listen to this anymnore. I put the “default” channel on Fox, and there it has remained, save for getting a balancing viewpoint from MSNBC. But I don’t really depend on any of these channels by themselves to report what’s really going on out there.

  17. Don Samson says:

    CNN only masquerades as a centrist news channel. Our country desperately needs a neutral, unbiased, objective source of the news. That is definitely not CNN. They are so liberal and pro-Obama that their puppet reporters salivate and drool on their chins when they mention his name. Some posts seem to consider him the best of the bunch, but I cannot bear to watch Lou Dobbs – the uberopinionated blathering old fool. When he comes on I grab the remote.
    Fox is on the right, and MSNBC is on the left, and that is OK in a pluralistic society. If CNN wants to gain audience it should own up to being left-wing and see if they can take market share away from MSNBC. Or, if they want to be seen as objective they should present the news straight, without their traditional bias. An alternative would be to have both genuine conservative anchors as a counterweight to their many genuine liberal spinsters.
    Come on CNN, make an effort to take us down the middle of the road and we will tune in. Just try it.

  18. Jim in Atlanta says:

    CNN is what I call the charlatan network in that they pretend to be centrist and objective when they clearly have a liberal bias. With the exception of Lou Dobbs which is the only decent show worth watching, all the rest are clearly of the liberal bent. All of the commentators – Campbell Brown, Gloria Borger, Jeffry Tobin, Roland Martin, Larry King, and Anderson Cooper could hardly contain their love for Obama going back to the early primaries. Then you have others like David Gergen who pretend to be objective but constantly put forth liberal and pro-Obama views on the air. I would say that aside from Dobbs, only John King and Ed Henry are the true professionals on CNN. I say that because I can’t really tell what their personal political leanings are. The rest could easily get jobs writng for Huffington Post is their gig on CNN dries up.

  19. Carol says:

    The only person on CNN worth watching is Lou Dobbs. The rest of that gang have no clue what news is, nor how to report it. Granted they have tried to stay in the middle, but all, except Dobbs, have shown their far left socialistic views, or their far right ideas. Their anger when reporting a story takes so much from the story that they might as well not report it. They have a lot of very angry reporters on their staff. Campbell Brown is without a doubt the worst reporter they have. With her facial expressions as she “reports” a story leaves you with no doubt as to how she feels about what she thinks of that bit of news. Disgusting. Get rid of most of the staff and start over. Maybe then you’ll be #1 again.

  20. elena says:

    Good grief, CNN is not hardly middle of the road. They are left wing with no personality, except Lou Dobbs. MSNBC is not progressive, but rather left wing and full of spunk. You got it right on Fox, they are right-wing, but people find their explanations plausible. Fox has more viewers than both networks added together, so there are some progressives and independants watching it.

  21. CNN needs to realize they are not the leader they were twenty years ago. Doing so will enable them to take off their gloves and go toe-to-toe with Fox (and now CNBC). Not admitting this will keep them in third place all the while congratulating themselves on being the only real news people left.
    Here’s what I wrote last month about this exact issue:
    http://www.gerardbabitts.com/2009/02/23/going-for-the-jugular/

  22. GG says:

    It’s not the technology. The other networks have been trying that sort of thing too, but coming up with even stupider things that didn’t catch on as something to chat about. If you watched the Daily Show making fun of election coverage technology you saw they had lots to mock all the networks for and MSNBC got a particular drubbing for things like that giant senseless floor display thing. CNN’s actual coverage spent only a short time on the technology, it’s just the technology was the new thing people would discuss after. And during the election coverage CNN was doing very well in the ratings.
    I would say your first point was the correct one. The culture divide has everyone scurrying to hear what they want from a network catering to their idealogical orientation. Right wingers are so far right now in the US they are never going to warm to a network that is at all centrist or neutral. CNN has been playing it center but with the odd quite conservative commentator like Lou Dobbs to try to pull in some of FOX’s piles of viewers. They should get a few good leftist commentators instead or in addition to Dobbs. After all, MSNBC doesn’t actually have many leftist commentators themselves (and they’ve kept right wing Morning Joe), and Maddow is the only actually good one. CNN will have more luck drawing in independents and left wingers than right wingers.

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