One of the great tragedies of living out of the US is the loss of quality TV news in English, as well as the TiVo system I used to cruise through it. If you want to see how yesterday’s luxuries become today’s needs, try TiVo withdrawal ! After a year in Korea, I still miss it terribly.
I always thought US TV journalism was pretty weak, but I realized when I moved to Korea how much I actually consumed at the end of the day when I relaxed. I miss PBS the most – particularly Lehrer, Frontline, and Charlie Rose. I also miss BBC News and C-Span’s Q & A and book/author shows. I miss less the Sunday talk shows. The greats (Russert and Brinkley) have passed. I always thought Stephanopolus was a free-rider on Clinton who made good afterwards in the worst ‘Washington system’ sorta way: handsome, connected, but somewhat empty and a lightweight, i.e., perfect for network news. I suppose your dork quotient skyrockets when you say that you miss C-Span. Hah!
Anyway, I have been thrown back on CNN International – which is another way of saying that I don’t watch the news much anymore. (I don’t understand Korean enough yet to consume local news.) CNN International has that vapid, shallow feel to it that is perfect for airport lounges when you are bored with your novel and your flight is delayed. But as a regular news source, its pretty awful.
I never consumed a lot of cable news before. CNN struck me as infotainment, Fox as propaganda, and MSNBC as empty. Hence, John’s Stewart’s jokes about cable news seemed right to me, but I never really knew. Now, after being stuck with only CNN for a year, I do know how right his lampoons are. Why is CNN awful?
1. CNNI is terribly repetitive. It not only repeats the same show frequently, but it basically repeats the same story line throughout various broadcasts all day long. 15 minutes with CNN is enough to tell your their basic 5 points for the day. So unless you actually want the fluff side shows like Larry King or the movie shows, its lots of recycling interspersed with non-news like the weather or sports.
2. It is quite trendy and silly. Michael Jackson’s passing became a 24-hour pseudo-news-athon of idiot interviews, overhyped conspiracy theories, and family exploitation for air time. WHO CARES ?! Not only was it all fairly pointless, it also helped save the Iranian regime by taking away the spotlight from that almost revolution. Trading Iran for Jackson was a massive failure of journalistic integrity. No wonder TV news is in delcine. Also noticeable is that awful journalistic habit of extrapolating a trend or wave from a just few cases of something. For about two weeks in May, it was all swine flu, all the time – complete with lots of hyperventilating and lurid counterfactuals, when there was not much actual news to report. So we’d learn about the day’s swine flu events in a few minutes, and then get a burst of bust of commercials with creepy music and shaky images telling me to ‘stay with CNN’ in case it becomes a ‘global epidemic’! I can’t wait for this summer when a few shark attacks off South Africa or California are turned into a global shark bite pandemic! Ahhh!
3. The side shows really are fluff. Larry King strikes me as a pretty talented guy, but he interviews quite a lot of dull, conventional-wisdom-recycling guests. Who picks these people for him? How many more movie stars, preachers, or participants in high-profile court cases do we need to hear? And when did celebrity blather, and paid-for advertising masquerading as journalism like ‘Inside Africa,’ become news?
4. There are a lot of commercials of national or corporate brand promotion, and for soft ‘investigative’ shows. Usually some reporter tells me that if I watch the ‘Middle East Revealed,’ I will learn who the ‘movers and shakers’ of the Gulf are. Really? A series of sanitized interviews with bankers or government media liaisons uncritically citing optimistic FDI and export statistics? Yawn. The commercials are even worse. It all blurs an into undifferentiated fluff of advertising for tourism and investment; apparently I will discover my true heart gambling in Dubai or kayaking in Cambodia.
5. Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour are egomaniacs whose faces are all over the network. Have the PR people at CCN found that viewers care more about seeing them than the actual news they speak of?
6. What is with relentless self-promotion? Most of CNN’s commercials are for the network itself. Its marketing is embarrassingly fluffy multiculturalism, stressing silliness like the ‘continuing human story,’ with trite juxtapositions of suffering children and joyous celebrants somewhere set to mawkish music. Insulting and stupid.
7. Who taught these journalists to speak in such dramatic language? It is never ‘a billion dollars,’ but always ‘a Billion Dollars,’ which great stress on the labial ‘B.’ Jobs are never ‘cut’ on CCNI; they are ‘slashed.’ Economies don’t ‘decline,’ they ‘collapse.’ I think this is the result of Fox News remaking of the news into a Michael Bay action movie.
In short, CCN International seems to pander to those who would like to see themselves as international or cosmopolitan, but not in a particular challenging way. CCNI is like the TV version of the International Herald Tribune – call it IR for undergrads. It makes you feel sorta international and jet-setty to be reading/watching it and be seen reading/watching it. Aren’t you cool when you look up when CCNI tells you the weather in Hong Kong or Bahrain? Preferably this occurs in the airport lounge with your Blackberry on the table so the cute business traveler babe next to you will see how cosmpolitan you are. But you’re probably not going to Hong Kong or Bahrain, because you’re not really a ‘player.’ You’re just in the airport because you are going on a vacation somewhere…