Forget the Mayan doomsday that wasn't, four more years of Obama and the devil of robocalls. For me, 2012 marked the year I finally gave up on CNN. This is both a literal and figurative remark; aside from Reliable Sources and breaking news, I have no engagement in any CNN programming anymore, and since CNN is the godfather of cable news, as it goes, so does the rest of the networks that followed it.
What I mean by that is TV news is ridiculous. It's a pandering mess that offers neither context nor analysis lest they end up offending someone by making it seem like they have a point-of-view, or bias. Unless, of course, an identifiable bias is part of their "brand," in which case they will bang on that drum all day. Balance is fine, but when its false you're not just creating conflict for its own sake, you're actively making yourself a part of the story by helping to develop it. And that, in the common tongue, is a no-no.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for me was following the second presidential debate, and a gaff by Republican candidate Mitt Romney where he tried to play "gotcha" with Barack Obama by inferring the President misled the American public about the circumstances of the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi. Romney tried to go for the kill by saying it took Obama two weeks to finally refer to the death of four American diplomats in Libya as an act of terror, when Obama, on Sept. 12 in the White House Rose Garden, said that "[n]o acts of terror will ever shake the resolve" of the United States, implicitly including the Benghazi attacks under the category "act of terror," while not explicitly referring to it as such.
The night following the debate on her show Out Front, CNN anchor Erin Burnett used an entire segment of her show to dissect what Romney really meant, this clarification of what Romney meant is the difference between what Obama said and what he failed to very specifically say. What Romney meant to say was that Obama didn't single out the Benghazi attack and label it specifically and individually as a terrorist attack. It is not the job of the media to clarify the comments of a candidate, they have spokespeople for that. But because the moderator was fellow CNN anchor Candy Crowley, who immediately called out Romney during the debate for not correctly quoting the president, right-wing media pounced and called Crowley out for coming to Obama's defense as a partisan move by the supposed left-wing media.
It's hard to watch a news network after that shallow act unnecessary of ass-covering. I guess CNN has a right to be concerned about bias, they are, after all, the sole U.S. cable news network that doesn't have one explicitly. (Of course, FOX News claims to be "Fair & Balanced" but we all know that they're not. Even they know that they're not.) The problem is that a number of mainstream media outlets are now overly concerned about the perception of bias. Every story has at least two sides, and anyone with an opposing view, no matter how ill-advised or ill-informed is a legitimate source if they comfortably fit one side.
But are there two sides to every subject? If a country is wiping out all the people who are part of one particular race, class or ethnic group, is there a side to that argument that says that genocide is okay? That people who perpetuate genocide have a good reason for what they're doing? Or let's put this in less severe terms. The vast majority of environmental scientists believe that global climate change is real, and it is man-made. But if you look at the issue not through the lens of peer reviewed journals and symposia, but through the lens of the mainstream media, it looks like there's more of a 50/50 split between the real and unreal camps. Or let's put it another way: if four out of five dentists know that using Colgate is the best toothpaste for your teeth, and the fifth says that Crest is, should Crest advertise their toothpaste by saying, "Sure, four out five dentists say 'use Colgate,' BUT WHAT IF THEY'RE WRONG?
But if a news channel is talking about climate change at all, it's progress. Chances are, more often than not, they get bogged down in some element of minutiae, like the IKEA monkey. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart already did a magnificent job of pillorying the American media for their obsession with cultural tripe, so there's really not that much left to be said on that. However, CNN's love for "branded" news segments and trying to buy time in the 24-hours news cycle to plum the bottom of the internet for the moronic and pointless seems to be coming northward.
It was a week ago Saturday morning as I watched the weekend "Breakfast" edition of CP24 when I realized this. In between doing actual news and traffic, the two anchors seemed to be going mental over the South Korean "pop sensation" - and I use the term loosely - "Gungnam Style" by PSY. In a half-hour stretch, clips of the song were played no less than three times and usually preceding or following a segment where viewers were asked to send in their holiday party disaster stories via Twitter with a special hash-tag set up for the occasion. Oh what a merry time we had! Except me. I watch a news channel for news and information, and that doesn't include what stupid piece of computer born "music" people without a pallet are listening to, or hearing about someone's Christmas Party screw-up in 140 character or less.
Either way, it was skull-splitting to watch, and yet another reminder that as the Bell Media machine has grown, its membrane has become thinner and thinner. In other words, the more it does, the less it actually gets done, which is why someone who knows as little as Ben Mulroney has so much presence on Bell Media channels. It's also why Bell owns two basic cable music channels that don't show nearly a half days worth of music videos between them.
But that's enough criticism. Obviously, by now you're thinking if I have any constructive suggestions to offer as opposed to a lot of jokes and Ben Mulroney cracks, so I offer a few.
1) Quit with the Branded News Segments - It used to be news was split into three categories: news, sports and weather. Sometimes they'd have an entertainment news segment, but they'd usually stuff it at the end of the 'cast if there was time. Now it seems like all news has to be entertaining, unless it's a tragedy, in which case the news value is accentuated by poignant photography and stirring music by a string quartet. Let the news be news on its own. If you have to create a new subcategory like "Rock Star of the Day" or "You're 15 Minutes of Fame Are Up" you're trying to hard.
2) We Watch News of the News, Not the Anchors - Another fault of CNN is that they build every hour of the newsday around a particular anchor, but really, who gives a damn. The news we're getting between each of the pretty young thing anchors isn't that different, so why act like each of them is a figure of Walter Cronkite-like stature with their own style and management of the day's important stories. Sorry, that's only what you want people to think. I'm not saying that personalities aren't important, but if you're a news channel, the news should be the star, not the anchor.
3) Covering Pop Culture, Be Classy - Even 60 Minutes interviews actors, filmmakers, musicians and artists. But they don't, however, talk extensively about flash in the pan reality stars, internet memes or things that are trending on Twitter. Hint: if its something that you might find discussed in a magazine in the super-market checkout line, leave it be.
4) You're a 24-Hour News Service, Have More Than 30 Minutes Worth of News - Obviously, there's an exception to this rule if you're talking about a headline news channel like CP24, but for everyone else, as a general rule, the news you see at 4 pm shouldn't be the same news you see at 9 am. Except it usually is. Why not use the extra hours of the day to do more in-depth reporting, or investigative reporting, or reporting on stories not getting - or hardly getting - any mainstream attention; for example, the Idle No More movement broke out as we were all titilated by the site of a monkey in a winter coat. And just because an issue might take longer than 3-minutes to give proper weight to, doesn't mean you can't do it justice. You're a 24-hour news network! Why can't segments be 5, 10, 15 minutes long on a single story?
5) It's Okay to be Prosecutorial - There was a discussion on Reliable Sources on an episode following the Newtwon shooting where Howard Kurtz asked if anchors were being too tough on representatives on the NRA, perhaps erring on the side of biased against the NRA? Well, duh! We are talking about a lobby that equates limits on gun purchases or restrictions on assault rifles as attacks on the foundation of liberty. Somehow, most free countries in the world are able to get by without "street sweepers" being available at the local Wal-Mart, and you know what? We don't have nearly as many (if any) mass shootings. And by the way, can be appreciate the fact that they're a lobby and shouldn't have nearly as much power that they do? Power that might be mitigated if the media punched a few more holes in them. The point of a journalist is to get answers to questions, not get the answers people feel like giving through a press secretary or press release, or talking points. A courtroom prosecutor isn't labelled as biased when cross-examining an accused criminal on the witness stand, why should the media talking to a newsmaker?
Bonus - I would consider it a mitzvah if we could never mention the name "Kardashian" on the news ever again. Unless one of them blows something up, dies horribly, or runs for office. God forbid.