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An Open Letter to George Soros: Buy CNN

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Would you like to turn on a cable TV channel and know that you will never see Pat Robertson, Ann Coulter, James Dobson or Ralph Reed?

Would you like to know that the news program you're watching --- whatever the politics of the network's owner --- presents verifiable facts from respectable sources?

Would you like to watch commentary on the news by experts whose opinions don't come from the daily talking points of either political party?

Me too. That's why I'm writing this open letter to George Soros with one simple request --- PLEASE BUY CNN.

That thought has come to me from time to time over the last few years, as CNN has devolved into an anemic version of Fox News. But it became an incessant drumbeat in my head last week, when Jack Abramoff took his plea and almost everyone on cable bought the Republican lie that this is a "non-partisan" scandal. It is anything but. Although a few Democrats did get chump change from Abramoff, the tribes that hired him, and SunCruz Casinos --- here's a comparison of his "giving" --- Abramoff's ultimate reason for breathing was to advance Republican causes and cement Republican power.

I can understand why Fox News would misrepresent reality --- but why the others?

The reasonable conclusion is not that Fox has such a genius programming formula that everyone else slavishly imitates it. It's that the owners of other cable networks are not much interested in the news business. Except, that is, in a network's ability to turn a profit.

As for telling the truth about Washington's sordid politics --- forget it. These suits know how much they have to lose if they cross the most vindictive administration in our history. Consider the rich defense contracts of General Electric (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC) And those oh-so-valuable government sources that the publications owned by Time Warner (CNN) have cultivated. To say nothing about regulators who might want to take a closer look at television licensing and movie ratings. [At Viacom, which owns CBS, Sumner Redstone, a liberal Democrat, has been refreshingly blunt about his bias --- he announced he was voting for Bush in 2004 because "I vote for what's good for Viacom."]

It's not the sort of charge you can ever prove --- there won't be any memos to leak or e-mails to forward --- but I'd bet the ranch that the owners of the other cable networks have sent the word down: Get with the program. Treat all issues as if there are two, equally plausible positions --- even when "on the one hand this, on the other hand that" programming results in pointless blather or blatant whoring for Republican causes.

I submit there's an audience that wants more than propaganda from cable TV. I believe many millions of viewers want real news --- without spin from any side --- and informed opinion that's clearly labeled. And I'd bet that audience is vastly bigger than the numbers CNN is currently attracting.

The business rationale for a progressive CNN? There may be more gazillionaires on the right, but a large part of the cable audience --- those all-Americans who live in the red states and routinely vote against their own interests --- is about two paychecks from ruin. But in the blue states, they're not doing so badly. Why not give that monied, professional audience a real choice when they flick on their TVs?

And there's a business rationale for Time Warner to sell CNN. Time Warner stock started slumping right after its ill-advised merger with AOL. Five years later, it's still mired in the high teens. Even Google's billion-dollar investment in AOL --- which effectively takes AOL off the block for a few years --- couldn't budge the stock. Something's gotta go. Why not CNN?

And why not Soros as the buyer? On paper, he's the ideal owner for such a network. First, he can afford it --- and can afford to keep backing it until it regains its footing. Second, he may be moving into media ownership; The Wall Street Journal reports that he might buy the film library of DreamWorks. As for the unpleasantness of taking on the Bush Administration, he's surely on every "enemies list" the White House has compiled --- no doubt the government has checked his tax returns (and tapped his phone?) since his multi-million dollar commitment to the Democrats in '04 and his much-publicized announcement that he'd give his fortune if it meant Bush's defeat. Buying CNN represents a sensible way of redirecting his commitment to the Democratic Party --- really, to democracy --- to something more likely to succeed than the community organizing he spent millions on in '04.

What would a Soros-owned CNN be like? Not, please, a blindly "liberal" CNN that gives new prominence to the tired Democratic hacks who currently appear on cable --- that would be as dreary as Fox. But to the degree that the truth these days favors "progressive" positions --- the existence of global warming, the primacy of hard science, support for education and the arts, decent conditions for workers and universal but cost-conscious health-care --- yeah, let's get that on.

The CNN that any sane, alert media person could program in his/her sleep would, in itself, be a news event. Smart. Funny. Human. With more "reality" than all of reality TV --- and a global reach that would help to restore the tattered image of America and American media. In short order, a national treasure. And maybe, just maybe, wildly successful.

A patriotic gesture that's also profitable? That might appeal to an idealistic capitalist. Just as unloading CNN would appeal to Time Warner.

Memo to George Soros: Call Dick Parsons.

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