Tuesday, April 4, 2017

CNN Had a Problem. Donald Trump Solved It. (Updated)

TV (and CNN) is the problem, not the solution

I have not watched CNN since the election!

Link above Jonathan Miller, New York Times

In Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community Robert Putnam documented that decline of many different types voluntary organizations. He saw Television as the big culprit.

In 2011 in a PrayTell post Television, Time Use, Lent and the Divine Office, I reviewed the literature on time use. Across 20 developed countries both paid and unpaid work had declined, leisure as the remainder had increased (sleep was constant). In 1960, well educated people (both men and women) had more leisure than less educated people. This reversed by 1990. Less educated people now have more leisure than well educated persons. (No, it is not simply because the less educated are more likely to be unemployed.)

In the US, much leisure time was channeled into television viewing. TV time rose from 9.3 hours per week to 15.0 hours per week for women; it rose from 11.9 to 17.3 hours for men. Increased television time not only absorbed time freed up from paid and unpaid work it reduced the number of hours spent socializing, reading and listening to stereo. Hobbies, fitness and sport time did increase, but not nearly as much as television. 

So we have a lot of people, especially less educated people with a lot of time on their hands watching TV!

Why do people watch so much TV? The answer in the past is that it is readily available. Mahler says the theory of the “least-objectionable program,” that most TV watchers were basically passive consumers governed programming decisions at all of the networks but it became outdate in 2001.
NBC Zucher developed  The Apprentice. According to Mahler it "proved that the era of the 'least-objectionable program' was over. In fact, the one thing audiences didn’t want was neutral programming. They wanted intrigue, cattiness, chaos and Darwinian, winner-take-all battles for success and survival. It didn’t matter what was real and what wasn’t, and the central characters didn’t even need to be likable. They just had to be watchable and, ideally, compulsively watchable."

Extending Mahler's argument, I would say that much of CNN and TV has become the equivalent of Roman Circuses. Viewers are being entertained by people engaging in conflict and/or stress.

Mahler says "What Zucker is creating now is a new kind of must-see TV — produced almost entirely in CNN’s studios — an unending loop of dramatic moments, conflicts and confrontations.“  "Many of the network’s most memorable moments during the campaign were protracted emotional face-offs among paid partisans"  "Zucker is a big sports fan and from the early days of the campaign had spoken at editorial meetings about wanting to incorporate elements of ESPN’s programming into CNN’s election coverage."

Mahler argues that CNN’s original mission to make the news the star was failing. Fox News, with its decidedly nonneutral take was the hearth, keeping the homes of conservatives warm. I would say it was particularly keep older, uneducated males entertained. MSNBC became the  voice of liberal outrage. What was CNN to do?  The beginning was to turn news into BREAKING NEWS.

Mahler : "But then along came a presidential candidate who was a human breaking-news event. Trump provided drama and conflict every time he opened his mouth... Indeed, it often seemed disconcertingly as though Trump had built his entire campaign around nothing so much as his singular ability to fill cable news’s endless demand for engaging content."

Bernie Sanders in Our Revolution, reviews his own campaign at the end of 2015. He was doing well at social media, attracting very large crowds, matching Clinton in amount of money, and outdoing Obama in small donations. He was doing well in local media, but extremely poorly in national media. "In fact between January 1, 2015 and November 2015, we had received only ten minutes combined on the three networks."

Sanders attributes this lack of deserved media attention for his difficulty in attracting groups such as seniors. I can vouch for that. In December 2015 I received an invitation from a Clinton bundler to a private home in the Cleveland area. (I had donated to the Obama campaign). I considered it since I assumed Clinton would be the nominee; Sanders wasn't even on my radar. But I was worried it might be a Clinton vs. Bush race. Clinton seemed not only a step back as the runner up to Obama, but also several steps back to the Clinton presidency. Couldn't we do better? Eventually I noticed Sanders had really developed Obama's small donor strategy, I decided I needed to become involved.     

Mahler: " CNN was the first major news organization to give Trump’s campaign prolonged and sustained attention. He was a regular guest in the network’s studios from the earliest days of the Republican primaries, often at Zucker’s suggestion. (For a while, according to the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, Trump referred to Zucker as his “personal booker.”) When Trump preferred not to appear in person, he frequently called in. Nor did CNN ever miss an opportunity to broadcast a Trump rally or speech, building the suspense with live footage of an empty lectern and breathless chyrons: “DONALD TRUMP EXPECTED TO SPEAK ANY MINUTE.” The TV News Archive calculated that CNN mentioned Trump’s name nearly eight times more frequently than that of the second-place finisher, Ted Cruz, during the primaries."

Initially like many others I assumed Trump would implode. However I began to suspect something  terrible was wrong with the media when Trump successfully boycotted a FOX debate. Then I realized that he was connected to all the media heads, and knew how to pull their financial strings. What I did not realized was that Zucker manages not only the day to day but often minute to minute activity at CNN. To have the guy responsible for the bottom line being in charge of the news eliminates every claim to integrity. I not longer see Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer as competent professionals, but merely stage props and stage hands.

Trump was right; the whole thing was rigged, except he didn't tell us that he was involved in the rigging. Again Mahler: "It’s hard to imagine that either Trump or Zucker would be where he is today without the other. It’s a symbiotic relationship that could only thrive in the world of television, where the borders between news and entertainment, and even fantasy and reality, have grown increasingly murky."
What really disturbed me in CNN's coverage of the primaries was their willingness to focus upon the potential for violence and have their camera ready to broadcast it live. Again at that time I did not dream that a person like Zucker was in control. With him at charge at CNN we have a great potential for domestic violence beginning and then escalating on a grand scale. If we think Trumps tweets and temper tantrums are disturbing wait to that all turns to violence across the nation brought to us by courtesy of Trump and CNN show.

So we not only have the problem of national political reform we have the problem of national media reform. I had always hoped that Commonweal would understand the problem and take initiative in this area.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you that the news agencies who were only too glad to give Trump free publicity to boost their own ratings are part of the problem. We have them to thank, in part, for our present predicament. I don't watch CNN, either. USA Today is a more balanced news site.