Monday, April 5, 2010

How CNN Could Stop Leaving It There

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen is concerned that CNN's attempt at moderate nonpartisanship, also known as the View from Nowhere, isn't working (their prime time viewership was down 40% in the last year). Jon Stewart brilliantly addressed this problem last fall:

Rosen's concern derives from the fact that because CNN operates this way most of the time (they occasionally do some real digging and reveal some truth) they are failing to adequately address the vast chasm of news reporting between the fairly liberal MSNBC on the left and the ultra-conservative FOX News on the right. His answer to this problem is what I consider to be a refreshing and inspired alternate line-up for CNN's prime time block:

  • 7 pm: Leave Jon King in prime time and rename his show Politics is Broken. It should be an outside-in show. Make it entirely about bringing into the conversation dominated by Beltway culture and Big Media people who are outsiders to Beltway culture and Big Media and who think the system is broken. No Bill Bennett, no Gloria Borger, no “Democratic strategists,” no Tucker Carlson. Do it in the name of balance. But in this case voices from the sphere of deviance balance the Washington consensus.
  • 8 pm: Thunder on the Right. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational liberal that mostly covers the conservative movement and Republican coalition… and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are right leaning. The television equivalent of the reporting Dave Wiegel does.
  • 9 pm: Left Brained. Flip it. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational conservative that mostly covers liberal thought and the tensions in the Democratic party…. and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are left leaning.
  • 10 pm: Fact Check An accountability show with major crowdsourcing elements to find the dissemblers and cheaters. The week’s most outrageous lies, gimme-a-break distortions and significant misstatements with no requirement whatsoever to make it come out equal between the two parties on any given day, week, month, season, year or era. CNN’s answer to Jon Stewart.
  • 11 pm.: Liberty or death: World’s first news program from a libertarian perspective, with all the unpredictablity and mix-it-up moxie that libertarians at their best provide. Co-produced with Reason magazine.
I like the idea of Politics is Broken as long as it doesn't denigrate into a "man on the street" format. I'm all for removing the usual crew of talking heads and political insiders from the national discussion but neither do I want to hear what whoever happened to be at the Starbucks on K Street today thinks about tort reform. A show featuring a seasoned interviewer moderating a rotating panel of well educated experts, professors and entrepreneurs discussing the major issues of the day would be a welcome change from the current format of two extremes lying to the camera and going for each other's throats with a largely impotent host ringing the bell at the end of each round.

Thunder on the Right and Left Brained would be a nice compliment to each other and I love the idea of a news show where every guest is in the camp opposite from the host. While the host/moderator of any show holds most of the power they would be outnumbered by their guests and thus forced to bring their A-game to every show. Again, a welcome change from watching a host and whichever guests they agree with ganging up on whomever they're philosophically opposed to or even worse, everyone agreeing and giving each other rhetorical reach arounds for an hour.

Fact Check is my absolute favorite of these show ideas, which is probably why I like Jon Stewart and The Daily Show so much. Cable news viewers are crying out for a program that holds both parties' feet to the fire, not in the pathetic limp-wristed way that CNN tries to now by attempting to make everything equal (a problem I've previously discussed) but rather giving either side more shit than the other if they deserve it at that particular time for that particular issue. Honest political discussion is tragically hampered by the media being so intertwined with politicians that one can hardly figure out who's who anymore. This show would be a breath of fresh air.

Liberty or Death is a good way to wrap up the day: a political news show that argues in favor of less politics, something that no cable news station would ever countenance today. Political pugilism and the horse race aspect of politics are their bread and butter, while these very same things are what is severely hurting the country and poisoning the waters of civil debate. Now of course most of these shows would never have a chance in Hell of being made, mostly for the very same reasons that I and many like me want them to be but I can dream, can't I?


[Update: James Joyner echoes my lament at Outside the Beltway:
Of course, Jay seems to be designing shows for intellectuals when the evidence seems to show that people are really after infotainment. The highest rated “news” shows are either red meat diatribes that reinforce the viewers’ prejudices about people who hold different political views or are smarmy satires that reinforce the viewers’ prejudices about people who hold different political views. There seems to be a pattern there.
Disheartening but true, but mostly just disheartening.]


Kevin Robbins said...

Glad to see the smoke has cleared over here and regular programming has resumed.

Here I thought Fox was the goat fucking network, guess they're just the America fucking network.

Stewart looks as though he may acually lose his mind over this someday and rush to the window to shout that he's mad as hell.

JBW said...

Sorry about the unpleasantness of late ex DLB (and everyone else). As to your comment: if anyone is to be this generation's Howard Beale I hope that it's Stewart, as reticent as he seems to be at the prospect. I can't think of anyone else I'd rather see in that role (OK myself, but my lack of a television show would severely hamper my efforts).

Oh, if only I were rich and famous, then I could change the world...