If it’s true we get the media we deserve, what does it say about us that good old reliable, earnest CNN is in a tailspin? According to the latest Nielsens, CNN lost nearly half its prime-time viewers in the last year—coming in fifth place among cable networks in some time slots. So what’s gone wrong at the network that pioneered the all-news format? For starters, with news now a “commodity” on the Internet, a network that still brands itself as foremost about news is almost asking to be an afterthought. And a lineup in which Wolf Blitzer is considered the exciting anchor may just be too bland for our frenetic, short-attention-span culture. But NYU media professor Jay Rosen cut to the core when he observed that with Fox News pounding away from the right and MSNBC entrenched on the left, there’s simply a dwindling audience for a network that offers “the view from nowhere.” (Ouch.)
But must left, right, and nowhere really be our only choices? Every night on Fox and MSNBC, we can watch O’Reilly, Olbermann, and the rest preaching to their choirs, interviewing guests guaranteed to agree with them, and clobbering the other side (and often the other network) with the respective outrage of the day. Poor CNN, meanwhile, achieves “balance” by bringing in specimens from the two camps and letting them sputter at each other. How about if instead, CNN carved out a different niche, reality-checking all those alleged outrages, banning political hacks of all stripes, and reviving the notion that journalism can be sharp and have a point of view without degenerating into propaganda? I’d watch.