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CNN's lowest moment ever
CNN launched on June 1, 1980, and changed the world.
The competition for inclusion on a list of its 100 finest moments would be fierce, and picking the top 10 nearly impossible.
The lowest moment in the history of the network is easy to spot. It just occurred. There is no moment when CNN more thoroughly debased itself, perverted the ethics of responsible journalism, or abused its audience more in the last 43 years. It was an incontestable triumph of expediency over principle and profit over judgement. When the debacle ended CEO Chris Licht delivered exhortations to his crew that were as detached from reality and as deluded as a speech from a fictional Captain Queeg or a real-life Donald Trump.
Licht said Kaitlin Collins delivered “ a masterful performance.” He said, “Kaitlin pressed Trump again and again,” and “made news.” It is an interesting formulation. “Making news.”
Until recently, journalists covered news events and the tumult of our time. They didn’t perform like “rock stars,” and weren’t props on a stage. The greatest journalist of his era understood the contradictions inherent in television journalism from the very beginning. Here is what Edward R. Murrow observed during his famous address to the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner in 1958:
One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and, at times, demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the corporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this. It is, after all, not easy for the same small group of men to decide whether to buy a new station for millions of dollars, build a new building, alter the rate card, buy a new Western, sell a soap opera, decide what defensive line to take in connection with the latest Congressional inquiry, how much money to spend on promoting a new program, what additions or deletions should be made in the existing covey or clutch of vice-presidents, and at the same time-- frequently on the long, same long day--to give mature, thoughtful consideration to the manifold problems that confront those who are charged with the responsibility for news and public affairs.
Chris Licht’s thoughtful consideration helped produced CNN’s 70 minutes of shameful extremist profiteering. Under his leadership, CNN produced its first snuff film. Making news is the definition of propaganda, and that is exactly what the CNN disgrace was. They created a fascist encounter session with a toxic amalgam of imbecility, insanity, racism, misogyny, cruelty, and conspiracy theories pressed together and vomited it over a global audience.
Days before the New Hampshire event, Warner Bros. Discovery president and CEO David Zaslav declared a new era had come to CNN. Mr. Zaslav is deeply committed, and has been recognized for his work remembering the Holocaust. When Donald Trump was lionizing Ashli Babbitt and calling her a hero, did it remind him of Horst Wessel? When Trump promised to pardon the January 6 seditionists and criminals, did it feel at all familiar given Hitler’s approach to the failed 1923 coup after he was released from prison?
Did David Zaslav get a chill down his spine when Donald Trump refused to condemn the Russian war of aggression and atrocities in which thousands of children have been disappeared and shipped east? Does he have the remotest understanding of how the lie was weaponized and turned loose against civilization by the Nazi regime that is now venerated in the open by swaths of Trump’s extremist coalition?
Here is what CNN did. They threw a propaganda rally in front of a packed room, filled to the brim with sycophants who laughed and cheered as Trump further assaulted the woman he had been found liable of sexually abusing and defaming. It was an exposition of depravity and cultural decay that demonstrated nothing other than raising the mildly interesting question around what is rotting faster, the culture at large, or our political and media institutions?
Of course, the lying was completely out of control and utterly, absolutely, completely predictably unstoppable. Maybe next time consideration should be given to a spinning stage with red alert klaxons and smoke dispensers that can activate with each lie. Perhaps a full embrace of the insanity will create a theater of absurdities that is ultimately satisfying to both Trump and CNN’s executives. They can make beautiful news together again as America prepares for the 2024 election. Murrow spoke to this as well:
Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or perhaps in color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, AND PAY LATER.
Maybe, it was because Murrow stood on London rooftops and reported what was happening to Americans during the Nazi blitz that bonded him to the importance of truth and the fragility of the democratic institutions that protect it. He suffered no illusions that freedom was threatened in his time, as it is now. His clairvoyance around our current sorry state is prescient to say the least.
This nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans, determination and faith in the future. If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But in terms of information, we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.
Let us have a little competition not only in selling soap, cigarettes and automobiles, but in informing a troubled, apprehensive but receptive public. Why should not each of the 20 or 30 big corporations--and they dominate radio and television--decide that they will give up one or two of their regularly scheduled programs each year, turn the time over to the networks and say in effect: "This is a tiny tithe, just a little bit of our profits. On this particular night we aren't going to try to sell cigarettes or automobiles; this is merely a gesture to indicate our belief in the importance of ideas." The networks should, and I think they would, pay for the cost of producing the program. The advertiser, the sponsor, would get name credit but would have nothing to do with the content of the program. Would this blemish the corporate image? Would the stockholders rise up and object? I think not. For if the premise upon which our pluralistic society rests, which as I understand it is that if the people are given sufficient undiluted information, they will then somehow, even after long, sober second thoughts, reach the right conclusion. If that premise is wrong, then not only the corporate image but the corporations and the rest of us are done for.
Yes. Done for. Perfectly stated. This is precisely the point. Should Donald Trump’s version of politics, Chris Licht’s perverted news vision, and the current model of taking, lying and manipulating prevail we are done for. Surely, The Washington Post should give serious consideration to abandoning the increasingly trite, passé and delusional declaration on its masthead about “democracy dying in darkness.” It isn’t. It’s dying on primetime CNN under bright lights, with an audience of sycophants making beautiful news with a despot and moderator. When there is no wisdom, patriotism, judgement or sense of duty, the nation will perish. What we are becoming is different from what our ancestors had been.
Or is it? There was nothing new learned from the 70-minute travesty on CNN, but it did remind me of something. Never underestimate the threat, greed, ignorance and a lust for power can create.
Chris Licht’s freak show was an abomination that shamed CNN. That much is clear from the reaction of mortified journalists yoked to a CNN set, and forced to respond to the depravity as if it was virtuous and meaningful.
What is the news? It is the truth about the threat that this country is facing. There is a political movement that rejects pluralism, democracy, civil rights, human rights and America’s ideals. It is a movement teeming with extremists and boiling with violence. It tried to overthrow the government, and opposes the outcome of elections it doesn’t win. It has promised vengeance and retribution against its enemies.
Its name is MAGA. It seeks to take power and burn down the US Constitution. How do we know? Its seditious leader said so. When he lied about it on CNN, the lie rolled over the truth effortlessly. Reporting on this indisputable truth is the job at hand. Instead, Chris Licht has found a partner. Together they are making “news.”