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Harry Shearer

Harry Shearer

Posted: July 6, 2006 06:40 PM

CNN Presents--Celebralism

I finally realized what CNN's up to after experiencing much of Wednesday night's AC360. My first question is, what took me so long? A program name that owes more to MTV than Murrow is a pretty good tipoff. But, for at least the third time in a week, CNN pegged its "news" coverage around a sprawling--and plug-filled--celebrity interview. This time, it was Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, who I'm sure are lovely people and whose hearts are in the right place. That said, their interview, laced through the two hours, added nothing to what anyone sentient knows about the story of New Orleans and the Gulf, but it did provide several opportunities for AC (why give him more of a name than the show title does?) to plug their benefit concert, coincidentally being held that very evening, in NO, and, more lucratively, their cover story on next week's People. The latter plug, ushering us with lovely swiftness into the ethics of celebralism, omitted the usual nicety of pointing out the co-ownership of People and CNN; why muck up a good plug with old-skewing ethics nonsense?

But even the "news reports" that spiffed up the otherwise 20/20ness of the occasion had been declared a content-free zone. Thus, Joe Johns' "Keeping Them Honest" segment on what happened to the $5 billion citizens donated after Katrina omitted any reference to the scandal that ripped through the Red Cross in the wake of its less-than-stellar response. And, yet again, you could sit through the entire two hours and learn almost nothing--all right, nothing--about why the city flooded. But you did see Faith and Tim walking with AC through the Lower 9, and then sitting with him in an interview setting in which, weirdly, he was better lit than they were.

Obviously, given Larry King's frequent interviews with Star Jones last week (they couldn't have just been one interview fiendishly rerun, could they?), the Age of Celebralism is not just an AC problem.

The problem, for late-tuner-inners, is that advertisers are so crazed about attracting the youthful demographic that news programs and channels will try literally anything to young up the viewership. The Golden Age of Television News--Cronkite and Murrow, Huntley and Brinkley--was marked by a similar demographic tilt (Cronkite's show teemed with Preparation H commercials), but was differentiated from now only by less frantic ad agency and network efforts to young it up.

Let's face it: the only way to get young folks to watch news is, as CNN has discovered, to take the news out.

You take AC, I'll take DC.