Sunday, January 8, 2012

CNN Sucks Really Bad

This article is part two in our Sucks Really Bad series. For part one, please see, "Newsweek Sucks Really Bad."

Unless you've spent a lot of time lately sitting in airports or being over 60 and scared to death of Mexicans, you probably haven't been watching CNN at all. Good.

The Daily Show and our national weariness with 24-hour news has made mocking CNN fashionable, but that doesn't mean that it isn't also reasonable. As tired and easy as it is to pause at a cocktail party to inveigh against the spackled shallowness of Snooki, it doesn't change the fact that Snooki is cultural garbage.

If you watched CNN's coverage of Tuesday night's Iowa Caucus results, you saw something of almost zero informational value being wasted at great expense. To achieve the same effect in your own home, take 20 singles, station a dog in front of your toilet, then make it watch you flush them one by one. It doesn't understand what you're doing, and what you're doing is essentially meaningless, but, hey: MONEY TOILET.

CNN doesn't settle for merely one MONEY TOILET. On Tuesday, it had both the MAGIC SCREEN, the SOCIAL MEDIA SCREEN, and, of course, Wolf Blitzer.

Blitzer is a news magician: when anything of substance enters his orbit, he makes it disappear. He spent Tuesday night in an expensive suit throwing softballs and hitting keywords after the break. After one commercial, he even said, "I can only say three letters: Oh Em Gee!"

It's anyone's guess what Blitzer's purpose is, since he no longer primarily soft-pedals Israeli ethnocracy in Palestine or writes sympathetic portraits of spies who so loved Israel that they tried to spy first for South Africa and Pakistan and then took regular payment. He maintains a Dr. House-like trimmed level of white stubble, which makes him look sophisticated yet edgy — like, in his spare time, when he's not busy knowing fuck-all about actual news, he knows fuck-all about motorcycles or free climbing or MMA. He parades around with a pen and a pad of paper like those hopeless souls who go to Home Depot and desperately want the sales assistants to believe they know what they're looking for.

Wolf was not enough for CNN. They hired Ari Fleischer, the former Bush White House Press Secretary who is so repugnantly dishonest that he was still claiming in 2009 that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 attacks and who was judged too incompetent or too toxic to work on Tiger Woods' rehabilitation. Put that in perspective: Woods, a man who apparently sportfucked every C-grade escort in the continental United States, had no use for a man who couldn't plausibly slime the U.S. into a fraudulent casus belli with a beggared, isolated mass murderer. Ari did get a blowjob once, but it wasn't one of those dishonorable Clinton-type blowjobs, and if anything the story sounds more degrading than most of Tiger's. CNN put him on the analyst front lines.

Fleischer was joined by Dana Loesch, radio personality, unlettered intellectual flatline, Tea Party member and Andrew Breitbart stooge. One supposes her presence indicates CNN's determination to reject FOX News' platoon of prevaricating, serially misinformed blonde paleoconservative talking-points fembots with a prevaricating, serially misinformed brunette paleoconservative talking-points fembot. (You know who likes Occupy Wall Street? Nazis! You know what totally wasn't astroturf? The teaparty!) During CNN's coverage, she baldly claimed that Rick Santorum hadn't made racist comments about whites being forced to foot the bill for blacks siphoning money from the welfare state, which prompted Roland Martin to sternly shut her down and say outright that she was wrong. To be fair to her, she did seem to notice and care — not because she was caught saying something absolutely untrue, but because Martin seemed to be violating the rules of TV journalistic ethics by mentioning it out loud.

O, Roland Martin, the poor non-idiot of the CNN crew. Informed, reasonable, black — you could spend the entire night of Iowa coverage just watching his soul die. On CNN, calling on him for his opinion seemed like a gesture of last resort, while on MSNBC, you couldn't hear from anyone other than Al Sharpton for minutes at a time. It almost makes you want to give over to thoughts of conspiracy: nobody wants to hear from the black commentator who isn't immediately undermined by the weight of his own considerable baggage.

It's not like the left in general got much help from this panel anyway. The only occasional bailout Martin received came from the Cajun Nosferatu, James Carville, who is usually no help to Democrats at all. While he calls an entertaining horserace, his stock in trade is a more sober version of the culture-war and demographic abstractions than those his fellow panelists usually trade in. As soon as he departs from the numbers, CNN's flattening of debate means that his homespun schtick amounts to the same absence of substance but greater style. His presence also says everything about their conception of politics.

Consider: CNN's idea of political balance was a panel consisting of a Bushie clown, a Tea Party bozo, a centrist Democrat operative who helped do an end-run around the progressive wing of the party to "triangulate" away from labor and blacks to a "center" in the 1990s — and, finally, poor, permafucked Roland Martin. This was "balanced" in the same way that a yardstick can span three feet — yet, on the left end, have a marking of 1 INCH and on the right end have a marking of 1 MILE. There's a middle there, in the media's abstracted math, and it doesn't matter to them what kind of see-saw real geometry creates.

Then there were the analytical satellites — who, Donna Brazile's limp centrism aside, further exposed CNN's dedication to "the liberal media" by hiring every second-rate Cleon Skousen currently stoking race war in the United States on behalf of Wall Street. Alex Castellanos spouted vague impressionistic nonsense while looking like a cross between Hercule Poirot and Mr. Belvedere that hadn't been let out of the closet for the last 20 years. Standing next to him was none other than Erick Erickson, who edits RedState.com, which provides slightly more upmarket "Obama is a Stalin Nazi" editorials for people who consider World Net Daily too obvious. He also regularly publishes this sneering grotesque.

Mary Matalin was on the ground in Iowa, saying things about candidates' appearances and how she felt about them. Were they appealing, were they warm, did she like them? Take an email from your aunt about fabric swatches she's considering for her new sofa, change the names to GOP candidates, and you could generate Matalin's analysis. (Matalin is married to Carville, which proves that Democrat-and-Republican matches can work, if both of you suck hungrily at the same power-teat and make sure that neither of you have anything to say.)

Meanwhile, Piers Morgan chattered on like your uncle. You know the one: the guy whose opinion on any topic grows in inverse proportion to his knowledge of it. The analogy ends there, though, because, unlike Morgan, your uncle probably does not belong in prison. Morgan kept interrupting other "analysts" to say things like, "Now, but I think Americans will like Rick Santorum," which is a provocative conversation starter, provided that no one you're speaking to has spent more than two minutes reading anything about Rick Santorum.

Morgan is another damning example of Americans' willingness to assign gravitas to anyone with an English accent. He clearly knows nothing substantive about the candidates; his estimations devolve to his personal reactions, and he's shallow about even his own solipsism. Say what you will about England's journalism, but if we shipped them a self-satisfied dipshit editor bedeviled by massive career errors, subpoenas for wiretapping and general insipidity, they'd put him on a reality show called, Who Wants to Meet a Massive Asshole? (The show would be a runaway success.)

This, then, was the fearsome news team CNN deployed to teach you nothing you couldn't learn by hitting REFRESH on the page of a blog in between levels on an FPS game or while watching NCAA Football.

CNN's crowning moment came when they had to telephone a middle-aged Iowa woman and wake her up to get the caucus results. There they all were, standing around, listening to the voice of a regular person. Blitzer, Morgan, et al. Anderson Cooper even showed on screen, doing that thing where he squints and looks really concerned. With the CNN MAGIC WALL and SOCIAL MEDIA SCREEN and its anchors and analysts and set, there must have been at least $20 million staring back at you, all of it waiting on an Iowa worker, who gave them the story.

30 comments:

  1. SELLING OUT THE PROGRESSIVE WING OF THE PARTY? ZOMG!

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  2. "nothing you couldn't learn by hitting REFRESH on the page of a blog in between levels on an FPS game or while watching NCAA Football."

    GET YOUR SPY CAMERAS OUT OF MY HOUSE! I bet I could take any of the CNN people at TF2 while providing better commentary, though.

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  3. I think I'm starting to lose my taste for slicked-up loathing featuring oh-so-clever metaphors and righteous repulsion. None of it elevates the dialogue or does any more for anyone reading it than CNN does for folks watching. I'm not even sure it manages to be funny because it's working too hard to make sure you don't see how much it also wants to be right. (Here comes the John Stewart defense..."I'm a comedian!"). Neh, you're another symptom.

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  4. Currently living in Ioway, I'm still stunned by the shitstorm that blew through last week. I haz a serious sad for the folks of New Hampshire now. well, at least the regular folks there, not the OMG! fucktards actually following the "debates."

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  5. I think I'm starting to lose my taste for slicked-up loathing featuring oh-so-clever metaphors and righteous repulsion. None of it elevates the dialogue or does any more for anyone reading it than CNN does for folks watching. I'm not even sure it manages to be funny because it's working too hard to make sure you don't see how much it also wants to be right. (Here comes the John Stewart defense..."I'm a comedian!"). Neh, you're another symptom.
    Wow. If I thought I was above the fray, here it turns out that you're +1 level of Above The Fray above wherever I was. That's like, so elevated. Also, thanks for letting me know what my motives are—I would never have hovered airily enough above the discourse to have understood my own aims.

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  6. @Mobute: Sure, the "neh" guy was really obnoxious, but he has some semblance of a point. We get CNN is awful, or at least those of us who will ever "get" anything do. Eloquently pointing out the hows and whys of their ineptitude doesn't "elevate the dialogue," or whatever he said.

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  7. @Anonymous: Wow! That's a perfect impression of a stupid person.

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  8. Um, that was directed to the first Anonymous. (Why doesn't anybody use names anymore?)

    Anyways, since I'm posting again, I might as well ask: Anonymous "Neh", what exactly is Mobutu a symptom of? Since you say he's "another symptom", what are the other things that are also symptoms? Why exactly did you think this article was intended to elevate the dialogue, instead of being a humorous rant published by someone using the name of an African dictator as a nom-de-plume?

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  9. We get CNN is awful, or at least those of us who will ever "get" anything do.
    Hey, fair enough. But, look, not everybody exists at the same point on the savvy/exhaustion spectrum as you do. (The same things that can be tired or familiar to you can be novel and fun for someone else, and writing to the vanishing segment of topics that nobody's heard about is a losing proposition.) Most people don't watch cable news except on special occasions or big events. As fun as the Daily Show is, it's only watched by 1/150th of all Americans. So when a lot of people turn on CNN, it can feel vaguely shitty instead of specifically shitty, something not-quite-right that they (rightly) don't have the time or the absence of priorities to scrutinize and define.

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  10. Being the original anonymous poster...Really, my comments were not addressed so much at this post or Mr. Destructo specifically as they were at the entire spectrum of discourse (you know, out there, in the ether). I wasn't trying to impugn the efforts here, so much as I was just bitching in general about wandering around the internet with a lamp, looking for an honest opinion that doesn't just rely on packaging. Even though I agree that CNN sucks, what else do you offer? Behind the style, what was really said here? Behind the style, what is anyone saying anywhere, and can they say it without being dismissed by the legions of professional snark-snipers? The entirety of discourse is vapid and its embraced the vapidness.

    None of which is to say that my first post didn't deserve the response you gave it, especially if it felt directed at you specifically. But it does sort of say that the response doesn't ask any questions, try to explore or understand; it just critiques and is worth about as much as the content that inspired the post to begin with. Which is the same as saying I've done that myself here, and started the circle all over again.

    Hence the opening to my original post..."I think I'm starting to lose my taste for" this. We need another approach to move forward.

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  11. @Mobute Non-"neh" here. I agree, maybe it's just because I read you a lot that I feel I'm informed enough to not feel the need for this post as much. You are doing good work breaking down their shittiness.

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  12. This article had both jokes and was really right about things, and I enjoyed reading it. Who's the killjoy?

    I struggle not to be consumed with rage every time I have to be exposed to CNN (at the airport, naturally) and anyone articulating the reasons for that anger makes me feel a little less alone in this sea of 1984 insanity.

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  13. Man.

    Fuck Piers Morgan.

    It's kind of disgraceful that he's an (apparently) respected media commentator / interviewer in America now. Come on America. We're better than this.

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  14. So..."Neh" commenter...let me try and wrap my head around this. You are fatigued by media criticism, and you are trying to find something that offers something more constructive rather than simply mocking media personalities or trying to capture the essence of their flaws. If I have that right, it's a totally understandable kind of fatigue. But the entire point of media criticism, and especially that which twists the discourse in a way that highlights the absurdity (revulsion becomes humor by transubstantiation and a few clever turns of phrase), is to induce that fatigue so that SOMEONE will hopefully be inspired and quit fucking about and take journalism more seriously. In my opinion. I think.

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  15. Really, my comments were not addressed so much at this post or Mr. Destructo specifically as they were at the entire spectrum of discourse (you know, out there, in the ether).
    Well, I can't really reply to that. That's the ether's job.

    I wasn't trying to impugn the efforts here, so much as I was just bitching in general about wandering around the internet with a lamp, looking for an honest opinion that doesn't just rely on packaging. Even though I agree that CNN sucks, what else do you offer? Behind the style, what was really said here?
    Hey, it's cool. But, as I said above: your exhaustion with the discourse isn't the normative or baseline exhaustion. A lot of people wrongly assume that CNN executes its brief competently or fairly, and it doesn't. It's uncritical, usually uninformative and ideologically very bent schlock. While the Daily Show hips *some* people to the notion that CNN is absurd and silly some of the time, they're largely unaware that its unrepresentative of the American political spectrum, entirely subservient to power and shallow in its approach to events.

    Hence the opening to my original post..."I think I'm starting to lose my taste for" this. We need another approach to move forward.
    Again, you might feel entirely bored and over-familiar with the above and ready to move forward, but plenty of people aren't at your stage of evolution or whatever you might style it as. I'm sorry I don't offer a programmatical way forward, but I think the critique implicitly offers reasonable bases for others' dissatisfaction and approaches or acknowledgements that they might demand.

    Also, full disclosure and perhaps a way of mollifying you here: this piece was originally slated to be 800 words and posted on another website that is much more of a generalist site with less of a media-focus attitude. That publishing got scuppered by circumstances outside the piece, and I understood and accept that. So I posted it here because it seemed silly to waste it. However, since I was posting it here, I fleshed it out with more links and more discussion. That might account for its not being as full a discussion of the issue as you might like. It was one thing to supplement the content, but breaking its structure to make it address two different things would have made it a very awkward read.

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  16. Really, my comments were not addressed so much at this post or Mr. Destructo specifically as they were at the entire spectrum of discourse.

    Ah, there's your problem! Not to put too fine a point on it, but in general when somebody says something that appears to be a response to what another person said, the assumption is that it is a response to what the first person said. For instance, if the person I'm having dinner with says "Pass the salt", I assume that he's talking to me and not addressing the entire spectrum of an abstract, non-physical object.

    Maybe your dinners are different. I don't know.

    Now, you say that media criticism is vapid and that there must be a better way of changing the media. Well, there is. Unfortunately, neither you nor I nor Mobuto is a television producer nor do we have influence over the selfsame. Unless you're proposing violence, our power ends exactly at the written word - the media criticism that you're shitting over.

    Though, come to think of it, if you want to go TP Blitzer's house, I would totally be up for it. That would really stick it to "the man".

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  17. Dude, I'm being all conciliatory and junk here, and then you're riling shit up afterward.

    Although I am a huge supporter of your water brand.

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  18. Spot on.

    Regarding all the fatigue over media critique, when something is bad and it keeps being bad, we need to keep pointing out the badness until it goes away.

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  19. Tangent: It's absurd and an obvious conspiracy that Al Jazeera English isn't available all over the country. As far as original, thoughtful TV reporting goes it's pretty much untouched by anything in American media. That includes, obviously, its reporting about the US. I live in DC and thank my lucky stars every morning that I can watch AJE's coverage of world events, instead of relying on HLN or CNN or MSNBC.

    Sometimes I think the whole country would be better off if we took a break from our omphaloskepsis* for a minute and looked outside. Looking outside certainly helps me check my own inbred-American self-centeredness.

    *YES! I USED IT IN A SENTENCE! ABSURDLY BUT CORRECTLY! I've been waiting about eight years to do that. Thank you all, it's been wonderful.

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  20. I love that dog/MONEY TOILET line.

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  21. @Mobutu: Hey, that's the type of guy I am. I have no love for navel-gazers who deliver an argument to nobody in particular and then get upset when people actually respond to them, retreating behind axioms and half-truths. They're the bottom-feeders of philosophy. Freshmen straight out of Philosophy 101 are more coherent and at least occasionally have some insight (even if they smell like dirty bong water). One does not debate with vermin; one simply calls it what it is and moves on.

    But you know what isn't vermin? Crystal Geyser® Natural Alpine Spring Water® - quality taste and freshness.

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  22. okay, so i nearly choked on my food and spit up my Coke on about 9 occasions while reading this. this post reads like a "Best Of" of snarky and caustic (but on point) commentary that my mind grapes desperately need on a daily basis in order to survive, filled with so many great quotable lines ("Informed, reasonable, black — you could spend the entire night of Iowa coverage just watching his soul die"). top shelf stuff. keep it up.

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  23. Neh" here, coming back late...

    @Mobutu Thanks for the response. I understand where you're coming from, and I appreciate the thought and work that went into the piece. I just have a hard time getting as worked up or outraged about this stuff as I used to. I keep thinking, Ignore it and it will go away. Yes, I know, wishful thinking, but what's the alternative? Getting blue in the face over something so patently and obviously awful, and then getting going behind that to realize that, yes, it's CNN's fault, but it's also the fault of the viewers, the ones that constitute ratings? I've done that, too, and it just leads me back to my hermit hole. For what it's worth, the responses about the level of fatigue are far more interesting and insightful to me than the original. The spectrum of fatigue is something I'd read about in another post, though I suspect it will end with the realization that people aware enough for that kind of insight have always been with us, complaining about one thing or another, that we've always been in the minority, and that none of that is likely to change.

    and @CrystalGeyser

    Troll me again sometime, but with better lines. Because if I came across as a Philosophy 101 navel-gazer, you came across as a Political Science 101 narcissist who thinks that an attack is the best way to avoid actually discussing a topic.

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  24. I once read an anecdote by somebody who claimed to have run into Wolf Blitzer in a grocery store. They said he asked for some help figuring out whether or not a carton of broth included vegetables, like the photo on the packaging.

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  25. @Anonymous Neh:

    Hey, I'll be happy to have a discussion in a dignified manner, just as soon as you start one that's more complicated than "O woe is me - this is all so vapid. Can't anybody entertain such a deep person as myself?"

    That's right. It's on now, motherfucker. You just messed with the wrong aspy Internet tough guy, 'cause I literally have nothing better to do today.

    Your argument is so incoherent it makes Kierkegaard read like Hume.

    You're such a wet towel you make Mitch McConnell look like 50 Cent.

    You're so lackadaisical, you still haven't answered my questions way at the beginning of this whole thread.

    You're so ignorant you thought Wolf Blitzer was a mixed drink.

    You're so dumb you don't know the difference between Fluttershy and Rainbowdash.

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  26. If nothing else, James Carville, Cajun Nosferatu, is awesome and was worth reading every single word of the article

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  27. @CrystalGeyser,

    I'm not sure how I feel about the flame war, but I had to print that just because of the My Little Pony thing.

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  28. "I'm so tired of that line of criticism" is not a valid response to a valid line of criticism.

    It's the teenage equivalent of responding to "clean your room" by saying "I'm tired of you telling me to clean my room" and using it as justification for leaving your room dirty.

    It's an intellectually lazy, invalid, time wasting response.

    This piece was awesome. Keep up the good work.

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  29. You are a good writer. So good, in fact, that I suspect your day-job involves some level of professional writing. This stuff deserves a wider audience. Clean up the language and I'm sure you'll get a ride in mainstream aggregators -- unless you already are in another capacity and this is just an outlet.

    Good post.

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  30. LOL, i really enjoyed this! and couldn't agree more! say it again, mobutu!!!

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Et tu, Mr. Destructo? is a politics, sports and media blog whose purpose is to tell jokes or be really right about things. All of us have real jobs and don't need the hassle that telling jokes here might occasion, which is why some contributors find it more tasteful to pretend to be dead mass murderers.