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.

Advertisements

Maybe CNN’s ratings aren’t the real issue

Following a report earlier this week that CNN’s prime-time ratings were continuing to crater, there’s been quite a bit of talk about how to get the original cable news net back in the game against the Fox News Channel and MSNBC. My “Beat the Press” colleague Kara Miller has some thoughts, and, as previously noted, Michael Calderone of Politico interviewed a bunch of media observers, including me.

But here’s a counterintuitive idea. Maybe we’re all making a category error. As former CNN host (and Media Nation favorite) Aaron Brown tells Calderone, CNN remains a “highly profitable business.” CNN posits itself as a news alternative to the partisan, opinion-driven talk-show line-ups offered by Fox and MSNBC. In that sense, maybe the three cable news nets aren’t really competitors at all.

The problem, of course, is that CNN’s prime-time line-up also consists mainly of talk shows, though not very good ones. The other night I briefly tuned in the best of the bunch, “Anderson Cooper 360,” and saw Dr. Phil talking about the Phoebe Prince tragedy. I nearly injured myself in my haste to change the channel. (By the way: I like Cooper, but think he’s being misused.)

What I’d like to see is a smart, analytical approach that makes sense out of all the news tidbits we accumulate throughout the day, unafraid to call out lies and misrepresentations but nonpartisan in its overall approach. Something, frankly, like Brown’s old program, “NewsNight,” canceled to make way for “AC360.”

And, yes, it’s time for Larry King to get his gold watch. No Larry-bashing from me: the man has a lot to do with the success CNN has enjoyed over the years. But all things must eventually come to an end.

Given that CNN continues to make money, maybe everyone would get off the network’s back about its poor ratings if it were offering not just an alternative to Fox and MSNBC, but one that is compelling and smart.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.