Monday, June 15, 2009

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised


I got quite a few e-mails over the weekend looking for a comment or two on the situation involving CNN's coverage -- or lack thereof -- of the violent protests in Iran following Friday's election. Chances are if you turned on CNN on Friday night or Saturday, you were treated to the usual reruns of Larry King and other assorted mindlessness that typically populates the network's weekend schedule. Yes, there were the occasional reports from Tehran, many featuring the always-excellent Christiane Amanpour, but overall the coverage of the epochal upheaval in Tehran in the wake of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial defeat of reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was staggeringly lackluster. Many expected rolling coverage of an event that was on par with the Tiananmen Square crackdown two decades ago; they got nothing of the sort. In fact, it wasn't until Sunday's Fareed Zakaria GPS that CNN provided any real in-depth discussion or context to the important events unfolding in Iran.

Now to be fair, the other cable networks didn't exactly rise above CNN's paltry standard. Neither MSNBC nor Fox seemed to break out of the slow-news weekend mindset and go balls-to-the-wall with the rapidly unfolding events in Iran. They've both been hammered in the new media press accordingly.

But for some reason, it's CNN's negligence specifically that feels like a truly unconscionable betrayal to viewers. Twitter users, many of whom began following CNN during its ridiculously over-hyped battle with Ashton Kutcher for the hearts and minds of the Twitterverse awhile back, created and responded in droves to a thread called "#CNNFail" when they realized that the network was dropping the ball so spectacularly. In some ways, the outrage is good news for CNN because it proves that people do in fact expect the network to live up to its promise of being the best and brightest source for television news in the country. On the other hand, the anger of viewers proves just how badly CNN screwed up: Having worked there, I can tell you that no matter the day-to-day ratings, the one code that CNN managers live by is that when breaking news happens, CNN wins -- and wins big. Fox and MSNBC may have their disciples, but by and large CNN is the news network. It has a history and a pedigree in the consciousness of the viewer that simply cannot be topped.

Which makes it an almost incomprehensible disappointment that when those viewers tuned in over the weekend looking for the best coverage of the biggest story in the world at the moment -- and I'm even talking about the people who spend a lot of their time bitching about CNN and the state of television news in general -- they got nothing. Worse, they got their prejudices against what cable news has ostensibly become confirmed in cogent fashion.

CNN and the rest of the cable networks blew it.

And I have a feeling that the repercussions from the failure to do the one thing that can still be expected from these outlets -- the wall-to-wall coverage of a big breaking story -- will be far-reaching indeed.

14 comments:

Peach said...

Al Jazeera English. Good coverage, in depth analysis, understanding of implications of the area, no crazy shouting.

Actually the no crazy shouting is the reason I stopped with most news networks here and switched to Sky, BBC, and AJE.

phdeath said...

I've been sick and out of it the last few days, so I wasn't aware (beyond the bare bones essentials) what was going on.

Now I come to find that network news was sick and out of it, too, so I didn't miss much.

To be fair, though: these networks can certainly be counted on each and every time a high speed chase is being filmed from the air (sigh).

schwa242 said...

During Operation Desert Storm, I blew my final exams during my sophomore year in high school, as I stayed up late at night watching scud missiles rain down on Riyadh streets I used to travel to school when I was younger. It took a while to have CNN surgically removed from my retinas. This is not the same network.

I hate to join in the chant saying that mainstream media is dead and that blogging is the future, because many blogs still get by on rumor without fact checking. Still, as things unfold in Iran, it's been the blogs that seem to actually latch on to this story, process information, and, well, give a shit as to what is going on.

Bill White said...

I was just glad to be treated to re-runs of Huckabee during the weekend.

What more do we need to know about what's going on with Nuclear Iran?
All we need to know is that we have to take Iran out.

Patriotic Vice President Cheney, Super-Patriotic Senator Zell Miller and Billy Ray Cyrus proposed taking out that dirty dictator and guess what? You lazy, bed-wetting liberals shouted them down saying that we're already into too many wars.

The USA cannot be into too many wars. Freedom comes with a heavy price tag and it's worth it to buy the military apparatus that we need in order to protect our interests abroad and on our own soil. It doesn't matter who runs Iran. They'll always hate us and the Hebrews. Therefore, we should invade. Bill White is Right and on this issue, good ole BW knows that this so-called president is going around apologizing to people who want to kill us. That policy alone makes us weak. The jihadists are laughing at us as this president goes off to eat raw duck in France while they build up their arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Mark my words on this lefty blog: We will be attacked and whose fault will it be? It certainly won't be the honorable Mr. Rumsfeld's fault. No, the blood will be on this weak-kneed administration's dictatorial Socialist grubby paws.

God Bless all of you Commie Libs.
I'm going to look for some deer.

-BW

Anonymous said...

What happened to the jet they supposedly have standing by to fly Anderson Cooper to any hot spot in the world to report for CNN? Was the upholstry being cleaned from Klein masturbating on or near Anderson on the jet so much? Couldn't Klein figure out how to make this about Anderson Cooper? Was Anderson Cooper not able to save this part of the world? Oh right, he was arrested there once, so he probably can't go back.

CNN blew it when they hired Klein and Klein blows Anderson Cooper. They may as well get married and close up CNN for all the 'reporting' that get done anymore.

jrm78 said...

I still find it funny the amount of time spent by the traditional news networks pushing Twitter down our throats ad nauseum earlier this year. It was getting to the point where I was thinking that twitter was only for twits and narcissists and couldn't see much utility in it beyond that. Now over the weekend, twitter was running laps around the comatose news networks (I didn't mean that as a slam on CNN, but there it is) with updates and a real man-on-the-street feel to what was going on in real time. Now my respect for twitter has increased tenfold, in spite of some of its limitations to traditional newsgathering operations, while my respect for the news networks has fallen.

Can we now expect the news networks that were recently pushing twitter ad nauseum to be trying to bury twitter and delegitimize it?

(and as one of those weekend e-mailers, thanks for addressing this issue; your insight is greatly appreciated, Chez)

drater said...

C'mon CNN. For crying out loud, The Daily Show had a correspondent in Iran covering the elections. Actually, Comedy Central's been doing a better job covering the news than CNN for some time.

Jacque said...

NPR was on top of this story all last week!

lrxst said...

As another one of the weekend emailers (poor Chez, fated to be inundated with requests to put Joe Klein over his knee again, every time CNN opts for holographic pie charts over boots on the ground) I have to echo the thanks for the insight.

I find jrm78's observation about delegitimizing twitter an interesting one. Andrew Sullivan has been hooting about the death of cable news and the rise of twitter all weekend. While the news from the blog and twit-o-sphere(?) has been riveting, emotionally arresting, part of me wonders now whether or not twitter doesn't need a bit of delegitimising. Delegitimising in the sense that unlike the NYT (yes, yes, Judith Miller...) there are absolutely no professional standards or practices applied to the stream of info coming out of Iran right now. Hopefully this will act as a clarion call within CNN and cause them to reclaim a place within the informed debate of world society that they rightly held.

Matt Osborne said...

CNN's "coverage" seems to be all about reading Twitter posts.

Mas Triste said...

NPR & BBC.

We are possibly watching history unfold.

Anonymous said...

The "news" media has messed up priories these days.

If the fall of communism in Eastern Europe happened today, it would only be reported on after the interview with the American Idol winner or some other celebrity bullshit.

Lisa said...

Wasn't there something said on that one channel with that dreamy Brian Williams (sigh) about correspondent's Visa's not being renewed and good coverage of this becoming difficult, at best?

Izar Talon said...

OK, seriously this time, Bill White IS a parody, right? Right?!