“I know it’s preposterous — but is it preposterous?”
— CNN host Don Lemon
I pretty much gave up on CNN back in 2014, when I read an interview with then-new honcho Jeff Zucker, in which he explained that CNN’s news/business model, built to compete with ratings juggernaut FOX News, was going to be picking a single story and doing saturation coverage across all of its programing, from news to commentary. The case study for that plan was the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, enroute from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing Capital International Airport.
Certainly, the disappearance of an airliner is newsworthy, but beyond the initial incident and its immediate fallout, there was simply no verifiable information to report. That didn’t stop the Zucker-era CNN from blathering on and on about it. I very nearly Elvis’d my TV when Don Lemon queried eminent experts in the field as to whether a black hole had swallowed the plane.
OK, you want to turn your network into a joke, have at it — I’ll just step away.
CNN’s decline accelerated in 2016 when the Zucker model was turned to an obsessive focus on Donald Trump. Again, newsworthy, but the coverage was (by design) over the top. The network abandoned any pretense of dispassionate, non-partisan journalism and made a fetish out of unhinged pearl-clutching over Trump’s every gesture and utterance. Which, incidentally, played directly to Trump’s insatiable, attention-seeking narcissism. Trump got hours and hours of free campaign advertising out of CNN’s obsessive saturation coverage.
What is really disgusting about all of this is that Trump and Zucker needed each other for what they both care about more than anything else — ratings. The whole CNN/Trump drama is nothing but frenemies providing a mutual handjob, which is revealing about how corrupt the whole politico-media complex really is.
The Trump-fixation era at CNN saw the rise of two other preening narcissists, the insufferable Jim Acosta, and the unwatchable Chris Cuomo. I quit watching the network entirely several years ago because I simply could not bear to watch Cuomo strutting while sitting down.
The network ended up taking Fredo for a boat ride on the lake after it became clear that he had not only been working the phones on behalf of his scandal-besieged ass-grabbing brother, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but lying about it to his boss and colleagues.
It seems, though, that Fredo is smart, not dumb like they say, and he managed to capsize the fishing boat even as the fatal shot was fired. He took down the Boss of Bosses, outing Zucker’s romantic relationship with his “closest colleague,” Allison Gollust, who still has a job at the network — for the moment. It seems that Zucker held out against paying Fredo the $18 million remaining on his contract, and Fredo hired a junkyard dog lawyer to go bada-bing! on his ass.
I don’t actually care about the scandals. I mean, this is nothing compared to Becki Falwell and the Pool Boy or Russian Sausage King Nailed With Crossbow Bolt in Sauna.
What really gets me is that the Zucker-led decline of CNN has contributed materially to a near fatal collapse of the media ecosystem. I have to live and work in that media ecosystem, in my day job as a newspaper editor. You might think that the palace intrigues at 10 Columbus Circle, New York, New York are too far removed from a little town in Oregon to matter much — but you’d be wrong. A lot of people don’t differentiate between and among “media” and the jackassery of Cable TV news — CNN, FOX, MSCNBC, the lot of ’em — affects how people view what we do for a living, even at my small-town newspaper.
The massive lack of trust that the cable networks have fostered through their abandonment of fundamental journalistic standards percolates down to the local level and into all forms of media. Sadly, in some cases, I’ve seen local news outlets mimicking the behavior of the big shots, much to all of our detriment.
Jeff Zucker has a lot to answer for, and an affair with his colleague is the least of it. Maybe poetic justice will strike, and he’ll get swallowed by a black hole. I know that’s preposterous — but is it preposterous?