Zakaria Suspension Yields Another Blow to CNN

I’m starting to think that if CNN didn’t have bad luck, it would have no luck at all.

As the channel girds for changes amid Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes’ stated priority to improve performance at the network, many have wondered what direction the channel will pursue.

Those with a more hopeful spirit — think Aaron Sorkin’s characters in “The Newsroom” — have thought maybe CNN will seek to be more “engaging,” as Bewkes put it, by emphasizing hard news, in a smarter way. Perhaps even stressing its dominance in international coverage, given the advantage it holds over Fox News Channel and MSNBC in that area.

Assuming those are priorities, names come to mind like Fareed Zakaria, who hosts a relatively low-profile weekly show on the network, “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” which actually deals in serious issues and focuses on international news. In a recent analysis piece, news researcher Andrew Tyndall referred to Zakaria as “probably CNN’s best anchor for tone of voice,” while rightfully singling out the flaws of Wolf Blitzer, Erin Burnett and Piers Morgan.

So what happens? Zakaria gets suspended from both CNN and Time magazine for plagiarism. Even with an apology, the incident is a blow to Zakaria, as the Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik pointed out.

Hopefully, this won’t deter CNN from seeking a more elevated path. But I suspect there’s already considerable pressure to become more “engaging” by following the lead of HLN, which has boosted its numbers by being salacious and trashy. In news, that’s always the easiest road to ratings, and thus the most enticing. (However irritating on other fronts, Sunday’s “The Newsroom” made this point reasonably well.)

CNN has played with all kinds of toys in an effort to be hip, including holograms, Tweets and its “Magic Wall.” Maybe it’s time to get back to basics — starting with being sure everyone is doing their own homework.

 

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