Thursday, June 02, 2005

Pass the Kool-Aid

CNN is celebrating its 25th anniversary this week. Judging from posts on various TV news bulletin boards and chat rooms, it's a somewhat glum birthday. And with good reason. Over the past five years, the network has been dethroned in the cable news wars by Fox News Channel; ratings are down, ad revenues are largely stagnant, and there's been constant turnover among senior managers and executives.

Against that backdrop, CNN welcomed its founder, Ted Turner, back to its Atlanta headquarters today for a speech to the network's beleaguered employees. In his remarks, Turner alluded to lofty goals he established for the fledgling news network back in 1980. "I wanted to be the New York Times of the airwaves, not the New York Post," he recalled. "That's what we set out to do, and we did it."

Turner also advocated increased coverage of international and environmental stories, with less emphasis on what he termed "the pervert of the day." When moderator Christiane Amanpour asked why sensational stories deserved less airtime, Turner observed "somebody's got to be a serious news person, somebody's got to be the most respected name in news and I wanted that position for CNN."

Of course, Ted lost control of CNN during his merger with Time Warner more than a decade ago. However, during a question-and-answer session that followed his speech, the media mogul demonstrated that he may be losing control of his mental faculties as well. At one point, he claimed partial credit for ending the cold war. When Amanpour asked if he honestly believed he had a hand in it, Ted replied "I'm absolutely certain I did."

Pass the Kool-Aid. It's one thing to wax nostalgic about your professional career, but it's quite another to distort history. Ted may believe those televised "Russian-American town hall meetings" helped end the cold war (wonder where Vladimir Pozner is these days?), but in reality, it was the leadership and vision of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II the brought down the evil empire.

One more thing: "The New York Times of the Air?" Give me a break. In its early days, CNN was ridiculed as "chicken noodle news," a low-rent outfit that was sneered at by the broadcast network's news divisions, and more than a few local stations. Ted was also criticized for using non-union crews in cities like New York and Washington, D.C., squeezing every dime to save costs. For much of its early history, CNN was awash in red ink, losing millions of dollars every year.

But to it's credit, CNN was different in those days. The network worked hard to cover breaking news and generally played it straight in terms of its editorial slant. There were only a few network TV veterans among the ranks of CNN's on-air reporters and anchors. Many came from local stations or radio networks. On many occasions, CNN simply re-broadcast local coverage of breaking stories, figuring it was cheaper, and the local stations were better equipped to report news in their own backyard.

Unfortunately, the gritty, aggressive CNN of the 1980s soon morphed into a self-absorbed clone of the broadcast networks. New reporters, producers and anchors were recruited from the major networks, and CNN soon adopted the same leftist slant in its reporting. By the mid-1990s, CNN was virtually indistinguishable for ABC, CBS, or NBC. Not that anyone at CNN cared; the network dominated cable news ratings, and the ad revenue kept pouring in.

Of course, we know what happened to CNN. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes decided there was room for a cable news network that offered a more balanced perspective, and Fox News Channel was born. Barely a decade later, FNC is the king of cable news, and CNN--and its founder- -still can't figure out why.

Happy birthday, CNN. Circle the wagons and follow Ted's advice; keep offering more of your lefttist, globalist, elitist news coverage and watch your ratings continue to implode. At this rate, you won't be around for a 50th birthday celebration in 2030.

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