Why Murdoch could prove to be the savior of CNN

Rupert Murdoch at the 2009 World Economic Forum.
Rupert Murdoch at the 2009 World Economic Forum

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Could Rupert Murdoch turn out to be the savior of CNN?

Not directly, of course. After all, his Fox News Channel is a blight upon the civic landscape — a right-wing propaganda machine whose elderly viewers are, according to a 2012 Fairleigh Dickinson study, even less well-informed than people who watch no news at all.

Nevertheless, I felt my pulse quickening last week when I learned that Murdoch is trying to add Time Warner to his international media empire. Among Time Warner’s holdings is CNN. And according to The New York Times, Murdoch would sell the once-great news organization in order to appease federal antitrust regulators.

(Murdoch’s acquisition would not affect Time magazine, a diminished but still valuable news outlet: Time Warner recently set Time adrift after stripping it of most of its assets.Time’s future is far from secure, but at least Rupe won’t have a chance to put Fox News chief Roger Ailes in charge of it.)

As you no doubt already know, CNN in recent years has fallen into the abyss. When I Googled up its increasingly ironic slogan, “The Most Trusted Name in News,” I was taken to a page at CNN.com dating back to 2003, complete with photos of former CNN hosts such as Aaron Brown, Judy Woodruff and Larry King, the seldom-seen Christiane Amanpour and others who evoke a better, more substantive era.

These days, unfortunately, CNN is known mainly for its endless coverage of the missing Malaysian jetliner and for a series of embarrassing screw-ups, such as its misreporting of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act in 2012 and its false report that a suspect had been arrested in the Boston Marathon bombing (to be fair, CNN was not alone on either mistake).

Then, too, there have been a series of mystifyingly bad hires, such as the talentless yipping Brit Piers Morgan to replace Larry King and the creepy Eliot Spitzer to cohost a talk show. Even solid choices like Jake Tapper seem to disappear once brought into the CNN fold. Of course, it’s hard not to disappear when your ratings are lower than those of Fox and MSNBC.

Is CNN worth saving? Absolutely. Its journalistic resources remain formidable. It’s still must-see TV when real news breaks, which certainly has been the case during the past week. Folks who are able to watch CNN International (I’m not among them) tell me it remains a good and serious news source. Anderson Cooper is among the more compelling figures in television news.

But domestically, and especially in prime time, CNN has utterly lost its way — starting at the top, with its self-congratulatory president, Jeff Zucker, who wants us to believe that everything is proceeding according to plan.

The time for a complete overhaul is long overdue. If Rupert Murdoch can help usher CNN into the hands of a new owner that might actually know what to do with it, then bring it on.

Photo (cc) by the World Economic Forum and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Why Anthony Weiner shouldn’t resign

Anthony Weiner

At this moment I think there’s at least an even chance that Anthony Weiner will resign from Congress. The supposed posting of an “X-rated” photo (I haven’t seen it, but Andrew Breitbart, who had said he wouldn’t release it, claims he was set up or something), coupled with the news that Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is pregnant, raise the possibility that we are going to be treated to revelation after revelation. Certainly many of Weiner’s Democratic colleagues want him to resign, if only to change the subject.

But should he? Weiner stands exposed as a pathetic creep, but he’s been accused of no crime. I guess we can call this a sex scandal, although it doesn’t seem that anyone actually had sex. I’ve heard it said that Republicans at least have the decency to resign, but that’s ridiculous. Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford stayed in office after he was caught hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has stuck around despite the revelation that he likes to visit hookers (a crime, by the way, even if you think it shouldn’t be one). On the other hand, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, couldn’t resign quickly enough after his sleazy behavior was exposed. You could spend hours compiling a list of Democrats and Republicans who did or didn’t resign after getting caught up in sex scandals.

The New York Times’ anonymously sourced tidbit that the Clintons, of all people, are unhappy with Weiner shows how ridiculous this has all become.

Unless Weiner is credibly accused of breaking the law, I say he should tough it out. And if party leaders want him gone, then they should recruit a good candidate to run against him in 2012.

What’s next in the cable news wars

Rachel Maddow

Three quick hits on the continued fallout over Keith Olbermann’s departure from MSNBC:

1. It looks like MSNBC’s response has been to give promotions to everyone rather than consider what might work best. The network is feeding Lawrence O’Donnell to the wolf (i.e., Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly) at 8 p.m. And Ed Schultz at 10? Really? Aren’t all his viewers in bed by then?

If I were MSNBC honcho Phil Griffin, I’d move Chris Matthews to 8. Matthews is much maligned (I’ve maligned him myself), but he’s still weirdly compelling after all these years. His energy and passion are likely to hold Olbermann’s losses to a minimum. Let Schultz have the 7 o’clock hour and see what he can do with it.

I agree with Griffin’s decision to keep Rachel Maddow at 9. I realize she would do better against O’Reilly than anyone else, but she’s now the franchise, and protecting the franchise is important. If her ratings were to drop below Olbermann’s, it would demoralize the whole operation. And I’d keep O’Donnell at 10, too.

2. CNN, which has slipped behind MSNBC in the prime-time ratings, has an opportunity to take advantage of the Olbermann mess. I’ll confess I haven’t seen Piers Morgan’s new talk show yet, but the clips look very promising — a huge step up from Larry King.

I’ve always liked Anderson Cooper better than “Anderson Cooper 360.” Whatever’s wrong with the show can be fixed. And here’s what’s wrong: inconsistency (you never know whether you’re going to get a solid newscast or tabloid trash) and the two-hour length, which has led CNN to use much of the 10 o’clock hour to flog what’s coming at 11.

The solutions are fairly simple. Cut the newscast to an hour, rebroadcasting Piers Morgan at 11; and up the intelligence quotient.

CNN executives will still need to deal with the toxic-waste pit that is “Parker Spitzer” at 8. I’d move John King’s politically oriented newscast to that slot and cross my fingers.

3. Barring any unexpected bombshells, Bill Carter and Brian Stelter’s take on why Olbermann left seems pretty definitive. But though Comcast, the incoming owner of NBC Universal, appears to have its corporate hands clean, my expectation is that at some point the company will blow up MSNBC.

Maybe it will happen soon. Maybe it won’t happen until Comcast wants to curry favor with a new Republican administration in the White House. But it will happen.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The dull disaster that is CNN’s “Parker Spitzer”

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that CNN’s newest program, “Parker Spitzer,” hosted by Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker and former New York governor (and noted pervert) Eliot Spitzer, isn’t just awful — it’s also awful in a painfully uninteresting way.

Another dumb move by CNN

Why would anyone at CNN think it was a good idea to give a prime-time talk show to former New York governor Eliot Spitzer and Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker? There is only one reason anyone thinks Spitzer will be a ratings winner, and it’s not his non-existent journalism background or even his sharp analytical mind.

I’m not going to rehash what I’ve said before about CNN; you can read it here if you like.

Briefly, though, CNN touts itself as a profitable, news-driven alternative to the ideological talk shows on Fox and MSNBC. So why act as though your every programming decision is based on ratings? If CNN is truly in a different business from Fox and MSNBC, then what does it mean to say CNN comes in “third”?

Given that there is almost no way CNN can have an impact at 8 p.m. against the O’Reilly-Olbermann juggernaut, Jon Klein and company should have tried something radical. Like news. How about an hour of CNN International, which everyone who has traveled overseas tells me is exponentially better than what’s on the three U.S. cable nets?

Spitzer reportedly to resign

The Times is now reporting that New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is expected to resign this morning.

I’ve been thinking about why, in the post-Bill Clinton era, Spitzer can’t just brazen out what is at its heart a sex scandal. I think there are three reasons. (There are always three, aren’t there?)

  • The hypocrisy angle. Spitzer is simply too closely associated with having gone after prostitution in the past. He can hardly argue that it’s a victimless crime now. By the way, it turns out that the 2004 bust I referenced yesterday still hasn’t come to trial.
  • The money angle. The thousands of dollars Spitzer spent on prostitutes came from one of three sources: (a) his personal funds; (b) campaign contributions; (c) taxpayer dollars. If the answer is anything other than (a), he’s got big, big problems.
  • The jerk angle. Judging from the coverage, it seems that no one can stand him, and that the Democrats will be just as happy to see him depart as the Republicans. He can’t survive something like this without allies, and apparently he has none.

That said, we should remember that few people believed Clinton could survive revelations of his scandalous behavior with Monica Lewinsky. If Spitzer decides suddenly to dig in his heels and stay, who’s to say he can’t survive — provided his answer to the money question is the right one?

What Spitzer may be waiting for

The New York Times reports that Eliot Spitzer won’t resign as governor of New York today. Why would he prolong the agony? Here’s a guess: When investigating corruption involving public officials, the feds sometimes consider it a victory if they can merely force an elected official out of office.

If I recall correctly, former Massachusetts House Speaker Charles Flaherty’s resignation from office was part of the agreement he worked out with federal prosecutors. Spitzer knows that once he’s stepped down, he’s lost all his leverage. Better to negotiate from a position of — well, you couldn’t exactly call it strength at this point. But at least he’s still got something to barter away.

Why Spitzer has to go

Alan Dershowitz explains in today’s New York Times:

“Men go to prostitutes — big deal, that’s not a story in most parts of the world,” Mr. Dershowitz said.

But he also said he had been surprised when Mr. Spitzer prosecuted a prostitution ring in 2004.

“I always thought he was somebody who would come down on crimes with real victims,” Mr. Dershowitz said. “Prostitutes aren’t victims — they’re getting paid a thousand dollars an hour, and the johns aren’t victims. What upset me the most was that they wiretapped thousands of e-mails and phone calls. In an age when terrorism needs to be stopped, they’re devoting these kinds of resources to a prostitution ring?”

Here is the Times account of that 2004 bust — 18 people arrested thanks to Spitzer’s efforts, apparently for doing nothing worse than what Spitzer appears to have done. I couldn’t find any follow-up stories. Does anyone know if any of them went to prison?

Priceless

This is why New York Post editors make the big bucks.

Update: Give that reader a prize. I missed this last night, but it came from Richard, who suggested “HO NO! SAY IT AIN’T SO!” (Thanks to Jeff Inglis.)

Citizen journalism (?) and Spitzer

The ever-classy New York Post is letting its readers write headlines for the Eliot Spitzer story. A sampling:

  • HYPO-QUIT!!!!
  • The “Emperor” Has No Clothes!
  • ELIOT MESS!
  • Love Potion for Client #9

Those last two aren’t bad. But I’ll bet the Post itself comes up with something better for tomorrow’s edition.