To Be Real

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

CNN's in fourth place. No surprise there.

Because by playing the other guy's game, you lose. It's the failure of many a formerly conscientious endeavor to fall victim to the undertow of fast trends and easy money.

And it's the typical result in a world where the corporate approach to life, liberty and the pursuit of profit dictates virtually everything.

For, Fox News is the Jesus Christ of Unregulated Capitalism, the progeny of an all powerful corporate godhead, whose message of universal consumption and tribal division is disseminated by media apostles in the form of twinkling pixels and brain-softening kilohertzs; Fox's power, far from being self-generated, is instead imbued by virtue of its target herd's aversion to pain and suffering (i.e., independent, empirical thought) and so effective is this sinful symbiosis that even the most ethical among us throw up our hands (after throwing up righteous streams of bile) and join in or just plain cadge onto the low-brow largesse.

CNN started out by merely being good (remember?), an antidote to the hoary network news bureaus and their paternal renderings of the day's events. And they were on cable, which made them less slick than their network forefathers, and thereby somehow more genuine by implication alone. They sent their correspondents all over the place, even employed people of color or varying percentages of body fat.

And they broadcast their brilliance 24 hours a day, baby. Never would we be at a loss To Know again.

But like all things, if it's working, there is money to be made and good intentions to be exploited. With success comes hubris and imitators and competition and eventual madness.

Enter the Fox, who took CNN's premise and promise and rewired it to appeal to a vast, disgruntled demographic which felt robbed of their memories of a golden era, when America was on top and certain people knew their place. Fox uses news as a delivery system for right wing doctrine, which trickles down from their suitably vulpine CEO. And CNN, having been so shrewdly, so rudely unseated, tried to assume the profitable characteristics of its rival and, like its similarly fraught, formerly triumphant cousin NBC, finds itself at the bottom.

Every week, it seems, we are treated to episodes from Theatre of the Blatantly Disingenuous, an American version of the patently hilarious panto that is a staple of the English stage, where men dress as women and women dress as men and morality is writ in crayon and outrageousness prevails and the audience cheers and boos with conscious abandon.

Only here, the broadly drawn characters have an audience that actually believes their cartoon histrionics.

It's no different than if David Koresh had had advanced broadcasting technology at his disposal, sequestered his more telegenic acolytes and used them to helm the "news" from Branch Davidian HQ to the audience held captive by the church's lethally compelling rhetoric of angels and demons.

If CNN, as indeed any person of organization of note, wants to reclaim its former promise, it needs to stop trying to imitate its competitors and be what it once was: real.