New York Times columnist Ross Douthat weighs in on the “Can CNN be Saved?” argument.
People at CNN see themselves as victims of a polarized political culture – and to some extent, they are. But high-minded self-pity only gets you so far. At a media event in Washington recently, I watched a CNN producer try to persuade a gaggle of skeptical right-wing journalists that the network’s hosts really are objective. (“You’d be surprised how some of them vote!”) Even if they were, it wouldn’t matter. The disinterested anchorman pose worked when TV news ran for 30 minutes every night at 6 p.m. It doesn’t work across hours and hours of prime time, with Campbell Brown blurring into John King blurring into Wolf Blitzzzzzz…
So what might work?
What might work, instead, is a cable news network devoted to actual debate. For all the red-faced shouting, debate isn’t really what you get on Fox and MSNBC. Hannity has ditched Colmes, and conservatives are only invited on Rachel Maddow‘s show when they have something nasty to say about Republicans. There’s room, it would seem, for a network where representatives from the right and left can both feel comfortable, and compete on roughly equal terms. Sort of like they did on … “Crossfire.”
What cable news needs, instead, is something more like what Stewart himself has been doing on “The Daily Show.” Instead of bringing in the strategists, consultants and professional outrage artists who predominate on other networks, he ushers conservative commentators into his studio for conversations that are lengthy, respectful and often riveting. Stewart’s series of debates on torture and interrogation policy, in particular – featuring John Yoo and Marc Thiessen, among others – have been more substantive than anything on Fox or MSNBC.