CNN is terrible. A God-awful, wall-to-wall, epic mess. And now, they have, in their hands, the clearest sign yet of how bad things have actually gotten. This past April, CNN posted its lowest ratings in 10 years. The New York Times' Brian Stelter recently noted the slim upside, writing, "people tune in to CNN, the same way they hurry to a hospital when they think they are having a heart attack." But what news channel does CNN have to tune in to, to learn the gory details of its own longrunning, sad disaster? Good news: we are that news channel.
CNN, of course, has a proud legacy to fall back on, as it is the entity that kicked off the tradition of 24 hour cable news channels in the first place, and its coverage of the first Gulf War demonstrated that it had minted real newsgathering mettle. CNN founder Ted Turner, in a meta-theatrical appearance on Piers Morgan's show last night, noted that he "wanted CNN to be the New York Times for the news business." Instead, the network has fallen lower in esteem than the New York Mets, who people actually still watch, on the teevee.
Cue the handwringing! How did this happen, and what's to be done next? Well, if you listen to the people who run CNN, you will learn that they think April's ratings low "isn't much of a problem," and what needs to happen now is that management needs "to come up with a plan to restore momentum."
Shut up, people who run CNN! We have been watching CNN for a long time, because there is a television set in our midst that is constantly tuned to it, out of pity. And we've been noticing for a long time that all of the various innovations and "momentum-builders," combined with the very strange decisions made when it comes to coverage, invariably conspire and combine to make CNN steadily worse.
Here is what you are doing wrong, CNN.
For the better part of the past decade, you guys seem to treat the ticky-tack banalities of the modern world as extra-special gimcracks you just discovered yesterday. You are still reading Twitter to people, on live television. On election coverage nights, your anchors paw at "magic screens" like catnip-tweaked felines chasing after a laser pointer. You made Erin Burnett go out there, on live television, to demonstrate "the flick." Except "the flick" did not, strictly speaking, "work" consistently.
And between all the whooshing and flicking and zooming -- and, when, exactly, did the need to touch the news grow to the point that merely reading it become insufficient? -- everyone on screen is standing around with holographic weebles and political convention simulations. Anderson Cooper, representing your network's last thin shred of self-respect, stood out there on that stage and repeatedly made fun of what was going on around him. (What have you done to poor Anderson Cooper? He is now restaging the old MTV show "Boiling Points" on network television. That is where you have driven him.)
Your debates, CNN? They were a mess. You fully embraced the stupidity of reality television shows, with asinine introductions of the GOP candidates that reminded viewers of the opening credits of "Survivor." And then you asked questions like, "Deep dish or thin crust?" Over the course of a long primary season, viewers gradually grew tired of watching the debates. But they especially grew tired of watching yours.
Shall we continue? Well, there was that time we actually wanted to watch coverage of the May 18, 2010 primary coverage in Pennsylvania, and you guys were airing a Larry King interview with Mick Jagger. Mick Jagger! Why? Why in all the world?
You replaced Larry King with the insufferably thin-skinned Piers Morgan. You replaced Campbell Brown with "Parker-Spitzer." "Parker-Spitzer" was a complete trainwreck, and no one seemed particularly committed to allowing Kathleen Parker to participate in or emerge from the experience with her dignity intact. That show became "In The Arena with Eliot Spitzer." That was on for, like, a week? Now Spitzer is at Current. Surprisingly, we'd call that a lucky break.
Remember that time that Falcon Heene's transparently dishonest parents were caught in a transparent lie right to Wolf Blitzer's face, and Wolf Blitzer was the only person in America that did not instantly recognize what was going on? Or that time General David Petraeus fainted at a congressional hearing, and CNN ran a segment that was, ostensibly, a "closer look at what happens when public figures pass out?" If you recall, General Petraeus' mishap was compared to Marie Osmond's fainting spell on "Dancing With The Stars."
Do you guys recall that until you were shamed from doing so, you planned to send an army of 400 reporters to cover the royal wedding? That was eight times the number of people dispatched to cover the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. We seem to recall that eventually, it was decided that William and Kate would only merit the amount of personnel sent to Fukushima. Which was great! More people to staff that strange morning show where Ashleigh Banfield prank-calls people.
I'm sure we're leaving something out. Like the time your correspondent on the "Royals" beat, Richard Quest, was arrested in 2008 for drug possession when he was found in Central Park with meth in his pocket and a length of rope tied to his genitals. But we think we've made our point. Over the course of many years, CNN, you have made bad decision after bad decision. Your tanking ratings are not an accident. Things have gone exactly as you have drawn them up.
What's the momentum-building solution? Well here's our suggestion. What if everyone showed up for work at CNN tomorrow to find that all of the people who have been making these decisions were no longer there? What if you could free all of CNN's hard-working news professionals from the terrible grip of your toxic decisions?
If you'll permit us to borrow from Joss Whedon, CNN, here's a question for you. Did you know, that in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords?
It is a good death. There's no shame in it. It is a man's death, for men who once did fine works.[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not?]