The slow slide of CNN

Michael Hirschorn at New York Magazine says that CNN has become the sick man of broadcast journalism. Things have certainly changed since the early days of cable. 

The rise:

It’s easy to forget that CNN was once revolutionary. Founded in 1980, back when the idea of watching a channel other than ABC, NBC, or CBS seemed exotic (Fox would not start for another six years; Fox News not till 1996), it was, in terms of cultural impact, the Google of its day. Its gonzo “fluid news” style, low-cost methods, and disdain for the woolly orthodoxies of traditional TV news-gathering terrified the big three, and attracted their most forward-thinking journos. And the internal contradictions in Turner’s vision (public service versus profit growth) were for years obfuscated by the extraordinary cash-spewing awesomeness of the cable business. By 2000, CNN was making $300 million, causing Jerry Levin, the CEO of Time Warner, to rank CNN alongside Time magazine as the “crown jewels” of his empire.

And the fall:

It’s hard to see the fervor of early CNN in today’s product, with chummy King cozying up to out-of-date celebrities and the resolutely humorless Wolf Blitzer stumbling through banter with Jack Cafferty. As with USA Today, CNN’s best work and workers (Sanjay Gupta, Christiane Amanpour, Fareed Zakaria) strain to break through a stultifying smog of midmarket general-interestness, neither high-toned enough to feed into upmarket affectations nor downmarket enough to be… fun.

Hirschorn says that what made CNN popular once — its mix of quick news and breezy analysis — has become stale. We’re surrounded by news sources these days, and can pick and choose those that best meet our needs. More often than not, CNN isn’t among them. Why pick up Newsweek if The Economist is sitting right next to it?

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About two dozen Maine women marched topless through the streets of Portland, Saturday afternoon, protesting the different ways society reacts to male and female nudity.

The women, preceded and followed by several hundred boisterous and mostly male onlookers, many of them carrying cameras, stayed on the sidewalk because they hadn’t obtained a demonstration permit to walk in the street. About a thousand people gathered as the march passed through Monument Square, a mix of demonstrators, supporters, onlookers and those just out enjoying a warm and sunny early-spring day….

Ty McDowell, who organized the march, said she was “enraged” by the turnout of men attracted to the demonstration. The purpose, she said, was for society to have the same reaction to a woman walking around topless as it does to men without shirts on.

Except for the fact that society doesn’t have the same reaction, because men and women are different. McDowell might reflect on the fact that the most enthusiastic supporters of her Topless Women Movement are actually the same leering men who followed her with cameras.


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Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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