Cable News Is Broken…

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi writes about what has turned me off of cable news…

Last year was a busy one for Hank Bargine, a freelance TV-news cameraman based in Colorado. The networks kept calling as the presidential candidates crisscrossed the country on the campaign trail. Bargine worked and traveled constantly, shooting rallies and other political events.

Now? Things are as slow as Bargine can remember in his 20 years as a news photographer. Bargine estimates he’s worked about 20 percent as much as he did last year. And he has no doubt what, or who, is responsible. “The Trump factor,” he calls it.

As in: The cable networks, in particular, have devoted so much time and attention to President Trump in his first six months in office that they have little time or interest in covering much else. Cable news has been so packed with Trump — wherever he might be, whatever’s he’s doing — that stories far afield from Washington don’t make the cut.

The current Trump-centric focus is an extension of the 2016 campaign, when the cable networks drew criticism for devoting disproportionate amounts of airtime to Trump, the candidate, at the expense of his political rivals. The networks — addicted to the improved ratings that all things Trump brought their way — seemingly couldn’t help themselves. “These are very good times for us, and the money is following,” CNN President Jeff Zucker said in February.

If anything, 2017 has been more of the same — much more.

I’ll say.

There’s been a direct 1:1 correlation between the lack of output I have lacked to put out on this blog since the beginning of 2016 and the decrepit state of cable news.

Unlike Mediaite, TVNewser, and just about everyone else in media writing who has kept up with covering cable news and its incessant obsession over every Trump detail, be they pro or con, taken to absurd levels of scrutiny, I am completely apathetic about the whole thing.

To devote time to the latest Hannity ass kissing of Trump or the Joe and Mia fight or Tucker Carlson, Eric Bolling, and Jesse Watters’ hystrionics or CNN’s endless panels of too many people (many of which shouldn’t be there to begin with) on Trump news or MSNBC’s A, B, C, D, and E Trump centric blocks and squeezing six people on the screen all the time (even though only one is talking at any given time)…

…to write about cable news and its off kilter, out of proportion everything Trump does is news mantra and to do so with a straight face as too many of my colleagues have is to give legitimacy to something I find inherently illegitimate.

So that’s why I haven’t been blogging much. When you restrict your attention to areas cable news isn’t paying much attention to anymore, you don’t have a lot to write about.

Not that I expect others to follow suit. Ad dollars are at risk. I don’t make money doing this so I can afford to go take a powder purely on principle. Mediaite can’t. TVNewser can’t.

But just because I refuse to play ball and treat cable news’ lack of self-restraint and piss poor journalistic judgement as “the new normal” doesn’t mean I can sit by and watch cable news presidents take victory laps for said bad behavior…

“We’re reflecting the biggest story of our lifetime,” said Zucker in an interview on Thursday.

No on two counts. You aren’t reflecting the biggest story of our lifetime…you are unabashedly chasing ratings in a niche area in lieu of a global journalism approach. And this isn’t the biggest story of our lifetime.

But cable’s reliance on Trump is as much a programming strategy as a reflection of the news of the moment. Zucker acknowledges that the audience’s response to all the Trump news on cable validates the approach. Only a few years ago, “writers wrote that cable news was irrelevant, that it was being overtaken by the Internet,” he said. “The fact is, cable news has never been more relevant or more successful than it has been for the last two years.”

First of all few were writing that cable news was irrelevant and being overtaken by the internet because it simply wasn’t the case. It was the case for the broadcast networks nightly news shows but that story has been written and re-written going on for a decade now. Most were writing that print journalism was irrelevant and that it was being overtaken by the internet. That one may still bear out.

Cable news is more successful…I’ll give Zucker that. But that is not saying much either. I can make cable news very successful if I had my anchors all go topless. Doesn’t mean I should.

But cable news itself has never been more irrelevant than it is now for everyone but ideologues and political junkies. It is broken. People tune in not because they get informed…no they find the news faster via the internet…People tune in because they want their bubble-ish world views affirmed and for the entertainment factor of watching two sides disagree with each other.

People want to hear over and over again how bad Trump is doing on MSNBC and CNN. They want to hear about the latest dysfunction in the most dysfunctional White House of all time. They want the mindless endless speculation and prognostication from the know nothing cookie cutter paint by numbers panels that appear incessantly like penguins lining up to jump off an ice flow.

People want to hear over and over again about why Trump is getting a raw deal on FNC. They want the Hannity ass kissing, the Tucker Carlson elitist smugness, and the Fox and Friends brown nosing. They want to hear about Seth Rich. They want to know about the latest threat and outrage from the now impotent Hillary Clinton. They tune into a network full of fake news journalists to hear people scream about fake news. They tune in to watch mindless conservative pundit-toids beat up on feckless liberal zombies incapable of independent thought.

How is journalism served by any of this?

It’s not. And no amount of chest beating and self-crowing by Jeff Zucker is going to change that…not to mention this bit of self-serving banality from Phil Griffin…

“We try to squeeze in major stories that need to be told,” MSNBC President Phil Griffin said Thursday, “but there is one story that is dominating.” Besides, he adds, “We don’t want to do 20 stories with drive-by reporting. [Cable news] is much better when it picks a few and goes deep, looking at it from all sides.”

Or, in MSNBC’s case, picks one with a few variations on the one, and drones on about it ad nauseam.

There is one story that is dominating because you decided to make it dominate. This self-fulfilling prophecy that is the Trump phenomenon has always been a media generated issue. The supply has always come before the demand.

Most of the White House’s daily briefings have been devoid of real news value and yet cable news has covered them live far more times in the past six months than ever before in a similar timeframe. Not for the news. For the entertainment value.

Journalism works best when it presents as much of the news as possible and lets the reader/viewer digest the whole picture. It fails miserably when it cuts back on story count in order to pursue one lucrative but narrow demographic.

I haven’t seen cable news lose itself this badly and fail the viewer so utterly since the Florida recount. In that case, as with this one, cable news took a legitimate story of national import and perverted the hell out of it, losing all perspective and judgement while turning it into a spectacle designed to entertain rather than meaningfully inform.

For 40 something days we were inundated with images and words that we have since long forgotten.

We are due for at least another three and a half years of off kilter Trump coverage on all three cable news networks. Have a nice day…

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4 Responses to “Cable News Is Broken…”

  1. […] ICN: Cable news, never more irrelevant and blinkered, is broken. […]

  2. I have to agree with Inside Cable News that cable news is broken. I for one am really turned off of it.

  3. The dance between Trump and CNN is particularly egregious. Everybody knows FNC is mostly Trump State Television (including pro-Trump opinion hosts inexplicably also anchoring newscasts), and MSNBC is completely anti-Trump save for Hugh Hewitt with a weekend morning show which may or may not actually exist.

    But there’s a game going on where CNN does incessant Trump segments with an unending cycle of Trump propagandists on the panel yelling at people, while Trump pretends they’re soooo unfair and “fake news”. As he calls on Jim Acosta to give him the business so he can point and yell FAKE NEWS some more. It’s a reality show produced by Jeff Zucker and starring Donald Trump. It’s embarrassing.

  4. I can understand where Spud and Farhi are coming from and it’s true that cable news has become Trump News 24/7. I also understand that cable news is not going to change this format until covering Trump ‘s every move and tweet starts losing them ratings. Where I disagree is when you say this not what cable news should be doing.

    A cable news channels first, and some would say only, goal is to get higher ratings and make more money. We can’t hold cable news channels to a higher standard than History, A&E or Discovery networks.

    My second point is that covering the Trump administration is providing massive amounts of legitimate news. Trump says or does about two stories every week that in any other administration would be the equal to stories covered in the early days of the Florida recount, Monica Lewinsky or Watergate scandals.They’re compelling stories and every bit as historic and worth covering as those three stories.

    I don’t worry much about cable news being taken over by by Trump coverage, either pro or con, for the next year or so so. It’s how the system works. The thing that really scares me is the take over of local news by far right billionaire broadcasters like Sinclair Broadcast Group that use local news broadcasts as an insidious outlets for alt-right propaganda. This is already happening, is far much more dangerous than cable news covering Trump all the time. Media reporters and blogs aren’t screaming from the rooftops about that outrage and they should be.

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