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.