CNN will turn 32 years old this coming Friday, June 1. My wife Chris Curle and I remember well that network’s first day in 1980 because we were there, part of the team of news anchors that helped launch the channel.
CNN is a much different place today. Approaching middle age will do that to a company that some say grew from a spring chicken to become an old crow.
Cheap shot? Yes, a bit. But it’s been a big disappointment to us and some of the other cable news “pioneers” to see the network flailing to find an audience, unable to sustain success, unwilling to be what it pretends to be, an objective, fair source of news.
In the first few years of CNN’s presence, we do not recall any blaring liberal bias in the reporting. Everybody was too busy trying to get the news and air it to spend time trying to twist the truth or tilt the balance.
We did have liberals Daniel Schorr and Larry King to deal with, but their opinions were obvious, unsubtle and often good-natured enough to not contaminate the place.
One of our favorite projects at CNN was doing almost two weeks of live broadcasting from Cuba in 1982. Ted Turnerhad met and gotten along great with Fidel Castro and convinced him to let us do our daily “Take Two” news/talk program from El Morro Castle at Havana harbor.
Those 15 hours of live broadcasts were the first live American TV shows from Cuba since before Castro’s revolution. We had no pre-conditions and no censorship. We had access to an array of Cuban government officials, virtually anybody we requested other than Castro himself, who declined to be interviewed by us. Of the others we could ask anything, live. Sometimes the answers were revealing about the lie that is Cuban “democracy.”
Here’s my best recollection of an exchange from our live TV interview with Castro’s close adviser, the president of the Cuban Parliament, Ricardo Alarcon:
“Why is there no free press in Cuba?”
“We have a free press,” he insisted.
“Well why don’t you tolerate any criticism of the Castro regime in the press?”
“We tolerate free expression in the press.”
“Then why is there none?”
“Why would anyone criticize Fidel and our system?” he asked. “What is there to criticize?”
Generally, CNN back then had no in-your-face political agenda that drove its news coverage. I think the roots of CNN’s tilt to the left were when its Washington D.C. bureau began gaining influence within the company while the Atlanta headquarters’ clout seemed to wane.
As viewership rose and CNN became competitive with the on-air networks, the culture of CNN as a feisty underdog couldn’t survive the siren song from inside the D.C. Beltway.
The era of the scrappy outsiders from Atlanta who never slept succumbed to the aphrodisiac of power politics, where reporting live from the White House or the Capitol overshadows mere mortals and their humdrum lives in flyover country.
Washington’s liberalism is glitzy. And toxic. In short, CNN’s ratings plummet could get worse.
For example, the website deadline.com reports that on May 15, CNN’s prime time ratings fell to a 15-year low.
CNN doesn’t know what it wants to be. You can’t buy credibility and you can’t rent popularity. That’s a pair to draw to and CNN needs to grow a pair.