April 5 , 2017
The New York Times Magazine has a scathing piece about how CNN has given up the pretense of news now that Donald Trump is President of the United States.
The piece, written by Jonathan Mahler, begins by explaining the origin of the channel. Debuting in 1980, the network reported news around the clock, with bursts of relevance when big world events occurred. In 1991, for example, the channel began covering the Gulf War with a “live broadcast from the Al-Rasheed Hotel — as the first American smart bombs exploded in the background.” Now, that was good television.
However, “breaking news” didn’t come along every day, which made it hard to justify paying for CNN in the expensive cable bundles. “CNN needed an identity,” wrote Mahler. “Fox was the hearth, keeping the homes of conservatives warm; MSNBC would eventually become the consoling voice of perpetual liberal outrage. But what was CNN?” Of course, Donald Trump changed all that.
You may not realize this but the president of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker, used to be president of NBC Entertainment. In fact, “it was Zucker who… broadcast ‘The Apprentice’ at a time when Trump was little more than an overextended real estate promoter with a failing casino business. That show, more than anything, reversed Trump’s fortunes, recasting a local tabloid villain as the people’s prime-time billionaire. And it was Zucker who, as president of CNN, broadcast the procession of made-for-TV events — the always news-making interviews; the rallies; debates; the ‘major policy addresses’ that never really were — that helped turn Trump into the Republican front-runner at a time when few others took his candidacy seriously.”
Ironically, the ascension of Trump has helped CNN justify itself, and create its own identity. This time, however, it’s not being defined by “news,” but by anti-Trumpism. Mahler describes Trump as “a human breaking-news event.” He writes:
Trump provided drama and conflict every time he opened his mouth. So too did his growing band of surrogates, who were paid by either the campaign or the network, and in one case both, to defend his statements. Indeed, it often seemed disconcertingly as though Trump had built his entire campaign around nothing so much as his singular ability to fill cable news’s endless demand for engaging content. Had Trump lost the election, CNN would probably have returned to its previously scheduled struggle for survival. Instead, it has become more central to the national conversation than at any point in the network’s history since the first gulf war. And the man who is presiding over this historic moment at CNN happens to be the same one who was in some part responsible for Donald Trump’s political career.
Additionally, the article points out this salient fact about the 2016 Presidential election:
The media-measurement firm mediaQuant calculated that Trump received the equivalent of $5.8 billion in free media — known as “earned media,” as opposed to paid advertising — over the course of the election, $2.9 billion more than Hillary Clinton.
But here’s the crux of the piece: though other media outlets certainly gave Trump attention, CNN was the first one to do it in a real, prolonged way.
He was a regular guest in the network’s studios from the earliest days of the Republican primaries, often at Zucker’s suggestion. (For a while, according to the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Trump referred to Zucker as his “personal booker.”) When Trump preferred not to appear in person, he frequently called in. Nor did CNN ever miss an opportunity to broadcast a Trump rally or speech, building the suspense with live footage of an empty lectern and breathless chyrons: “DONALD TRUMP EXPECTED TO SPEAK ANY MINUTE.” The TV News Archive calculated that CNN mentioned Trump’s name nearly eight times more frequently than that of the second-place finisher, Ted Cruz, during the primaries.
Mahler sums it up by writing, “It’s hard to imagine that either Trump or Zucker would be where he is today without the other.” That’s probably a bitter pill for both of them to swallow.
This article was posted: Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 8:40 am