Daily Show's Devastating Critique of CNN

Jon Stewart zeroes in on what appears to be a mandate to dumb down CNN's presentation

The Daily Show’s” research department has a way of seizing upon gaffes in the most unflattering (and funny) way possible. Yet the piece Jon Stewart aired on CNN Tuesday — and its desire to boil down complex questions to “Is it a good thing or a bad thing?” — appeared to expose a larger, dumb-it-down strategy in particularly devastating fashion.

As Stewart noted, the totality of the segment felt like a conscious attempt to reduce complicated issues to their “mood-ring essence,” with clips of Wolf Blitzer (an especially egregious offender in this regard) and others interrupting guests who were trying to make nuanced points and prodding them to boil the whole matter down to “good” or “bad.”

Admittedly, some of these issues are over the heads of the average viewer, who doesn’t devote all of his or her time to wonky dissection of policy. Still, there’s an implied disdain for the audience in the seemingly delivered-on-high mandate to pore over a discussion for a few seconds before the audience’s presumed attention span starts to stray, at which point some unseen producer is yelling in the anchor’s ear “OK, enough. Good or bad already!”

CNN has brought some ambitious programming to the channel since CEO Jeff Zucker’s arrival, including documentaries like “Blackfish” and the upcoming “Pandora’s Promise.” Jake Tapper’s new show, “The Lead,” is generally smart and incisive, with the host possessing an especially good feel for pop-culture stories, which are often terribly sensationalized in the cable-news space. Programs featuring Morgan Spurlock and Anthony Bourdain have sought to present information in an entertaining way, without undermining the channel’s brand.

Other new wrinkles, however — such as the morning program “New Day” — reflect a tendency to pander, as well as an underlying sense CNN’s presentation of the news has to be either sexed up or dumbed down in order to compete with more fiery partisan alternatives on Fox News and MSNBC.

While that’s not necessarily a surprise, I feel pretty comfortable saying it isn’t a good thing.

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