Saturday, June 24, 2006

CNN bought by Fox

A Newsflash for CNN
By Nancy Greggs

You probably haven’t noticed, but there seems to be a growing trend among people who are interested in the news – they don’t watch your network. And as slow as you are to pick up on things like that, you might have checked out your ratings recently. You see, there’s actually a connection there.

I realize I’m giving my age away, but I actually remember when CNN was the go-to network when you wanted to find out what was happening in the world. Of course, that was back in the day, before your studios were equipped with direct-feed fax machines to Karl Rove’s office.

As someone who used to be glued to your network once upon a time, I thought I’d give you a few helpful hints on how NOT to be the laughing stock of TV news journalism in future.

“Fair & Balanced News”
Before that phrase fell into disrepute, its simple meaning was delivery of the news without bias towards a political or personal agenda on the part of the newscaster or the network. It does NOT mean that if you are interviewing someone who just circumnavigated the globe in a hot-air balloon you are duty-bound to grant equal airtime to someone from The Flat Earth Society to explain how the alleged feat is a physical impossibility.

In addition, not ALL news stories are subject to the ‘balance’ issue; to whit, if you are covering yet another Republican money-laundering scandal, you need not ignore the story because you cannot find an equally guilty Democrat. Just sayin’.

“We GET IT (even if YOU don’t)!”
Never talk down to your audience. You have to try to talk UP to them, because the average viewer is more intelligent and well-informed than any of your current newscasters will ever be.

For example, when in the midst of an interview, it is not necessary for Wolf Blitzer to enlighten the audience at every turn. When a guest mentions Dick Cheney, Mr. Blitzer should refrain from interrupting with choice tidbits like: “That would be the Dick Cheney who, I will just remind the viewers, is the vice president of the United States.” Viewers who aren’t already privy to that information are not watching Wolf Blitzer; they are watching cartoons on another channel.

Giving the Iron Man the benefit of the doubt, maybe he just wants to avoid any confusion; I suppose it’s always possible that Carl Levin and Ken Mehlman are debating the latest statement issued by the OTHER Dick Cheney, the one who runs the shoeshine concession across the street from the Jefferson Memorial.

On the same note, I doubt there is a TV viewer on the face of the earth who doesn’t know what a hurricane is, so please feel free to keep your newscasters indoors, safe and dry. We already know what Jean Merserve looks like hanging onto a railing, buffeted in the wind and rain like a rag doll. So there’s no need to throw John Roberts or Daryl Kagan out there this summer; we get the picture. Of course, you just could put one of your newscasters out in the storm who will actually STAY there, thus eliminating the need for placing everyone in harm's way. Personally, I would suggest Carol Lin, because whoever coined the phrase "Too stupid to come in out of the rain" undoubtedly had her in mind.

“Six Thousand Degrees of Separation”
On the rare occasions you actually stumble onto something that qualifies as news, a simple, straightforward reporting of same is sufficient. You are not required to ‘flesh out’ a two-minute story with six hours of non-stop coverage that is tangential at best, to whit: “At this moment, a disabled jetliner is approaching O’Hare Airport as it prepares for an emergency landing. While the pilot circles for the next few hours, let’s go to our exclusive interview with a Chicago man whose cousin once worked in a factory that produces the kind of luggage that might be in the cargo hold of this very plane.”

Also, a word to the wise: When you are covering an event that may prove disastrous, such as the aforementioned plane crashing into the tarmac killing all on board, you might caution your newscasters to tone down the glee in their voices. We know that multiple fatalities can be spun into a week’s worth of audience-grabbing coverage – but a more serious tone would be advisable.

“Paging Dr. Gupta”
He’s a cutie, I will give you that much. But we really don’t need his medical opinion on every single news item, e.g. “Let’s get Sanjay out here to explain the pitfalls of toenail fungus, shall we?” And I don’t know about the rest of the population, but I wouldn’t let alleged neurosurgeon Dr. Gupta within a mile of my cranium. “I’d really LOVE to remove that brain tumor, ma’am, but I’m due back in make-up in fifteen minutes.” No thanks.

“Laundromat Syndrome”
Here’s a rule-of-thumb that is so simple, even YOUR newscasters can follow it: If it’s something that gets discussed at the local Laundromat while people are waiting for the rinse cycle to finish, it’s NOT news. “Did you hear what Angelina and Brad are going to name the new baby?” “The American Idol results – whadda ya think?” You might try replacing items like this with: “Did you hear what Bush is going to name the new law that allows corporations to dump toxic waste in reservoirs?” “The 2004 Ohio election irregularities – whadda ya think?”

Just a serving suggestion.

“Anderson, We hardly Knew Ye”
I’m sure it was inadvertent, but your coverage of the Katrina disaster was akin to actual news reporting. Anderson Cooper, apparently unable to access the daily White House Talking Points memo off the studio fax machine, was downright vitriolic in his reportage of the non-existent federal response.

So there we were, lulled into a false sense of security that FINALLY you guys had come up with an honest-to-God journalist. But then Anderson was handed his own late-night newscast, and the rest is very sad history.

Last night’s non-stop nonsense was a perfect example. His incessant babbling about a bunch of homeless guys in Miami being terrorists who were about to blow up buildings all over the continental United States (without weapons, ammunition, explosives, or even the necessary funds for a bus ticket) proved once again that Anderson is just another useless hack. It was a classic case of, “And then you go and spoil it all by saying something stupid …” And he did. Over, and over, and over.

You DO have your lighter moments, which I admit I enjoy immensely, like Howard Kurtz starting a sentence with, “Well, as a journalist myself …,” or Glen Beck’s, “Being as CNN is a news network …” God, those guys just crack me up! If they could actually sneak in some real news stories with their snappy repartee, they might give John Stewart a run for his money!

I truly hope I’ve been helpful here, guys, and if you need any more advice, please don’t hesitate to call. Only don’t call while I’m on the ‘net, please. I hate to be interrupted when I’m trying to get some NEWS.
Hey, America, where are we going? And why are we in this handbasket?

Nance Rants

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