“You sound so Putinesque,” she said.

Two hip ladies having lunch were talking—not about the horrors unfolding in Ukraine but about Vladimir Putin, whose personality they found fascinating.

“His big thing is Russia’s return to greatness. There are two problems with that: one, he forgot the costs—in body bags and world opinion; and two, he’s going to lose his Kremlin buddies, who may in fact ultimately do him in.”

“Julia, you sound like a CNN analyst. I want to know how he came to be this way. So I consult my horoscope every week. You know, Putin is a Libra, and here’s what my astrologer said about them: ‘It takes a surprising amount of courage to confess, even just to yourself, that you aren’t where you’d like to be.’ Pass the salad, please.”

“You honestly think he’s going to do that? The grandiose overreacher? His strategic blunders in Ukraine and his basic character flaws will be his undoing. The interesting question is how world leaders were taken in by him for so long. Their blindness to this budding Hitler got us into the mess we now confront.”

“Does Putin have a wife? I don’t even know. Does anybody have any influence on him? The dude was smart enough to protect himself all these years from palace revolts or how much the Russian people are willing to put up with. Looks to me like Putin has worked hard to be a kind of Don Quixote, misled by his romance with the past. People still believe in that kind of fantasy.”

“I’ll have another cocktail, thank you, Gracie. I hope you’re not endorsing this war criminal. He has tried to create a colony of slaves. But he’d rather kill the slaves than free them.”

CNN’s Coverage of Ukraine

For media watchers it’s become almost de rigueur to hate CNN. For someone like me who follows (at a distance) media stories, CNN is by default my major news source. Here in Mexico there are very few other choices for news in English—at least on my cable network: Fox News and Aljazeera are the major alternatives.

CNN’s coverage of the invasion brings to the fore all the good and the irritating things about this news source. For all its faults, CNN still has the reach and the money to provide far and away the best round-the-clock reporting on the Ukraine crisis. Their field reporters are not always sharp and experienced, but most are. The studio analysts are generally worth hearing, with reports from token Republicans and retired generals.

But, my God, the formats they use are deadly, with constant repetitive promos for their people. And they never change. We have been watching the same irksome walk-ons for years of people like Christiane Amanpour, Max Foster, and Becky Anderson. Finally, instead of pricking your interest, they arouse your repugnance. How many times do you want to hear “They can shoot my body but not my dreams.”

Then there are the promos masquerading as soft news. You get corporate CEOs speaking about good causes—meanwhile furthering their company’s PR message. Africa must be filling CNN’s coffers with its constant promotions. It’s become a wholly owned subsidiary of CNN. This stuff is what we used to call infomercials and CNN is chock full of them.

I commented in an earlier post about the network’s so-called talent. They have some fine people, among them Jim Acosta and Jake Tapper (either of whom should take Wolf Blitzer’s place) and Pamela Brown. But Wolfie, like Mike Wallace before him, has stayed on too long. Abby Philips is terrific on empty comments. Anderson Cooper with his awkward delivery is the most overrated anchor in TV. He should stop having babies and take some speech therapy.

After all the Cuomo controversy and then-president Jeff Zucker’s recent demise, the network suffered major losses in viewership. With the Ukraine invasion, however, ratings have greatly improved. Why? Because there is no other place to go for full coverage of the major event of our times. I mock some of their talent but watch CNN at least two hours a day, mostly in the evening.

As I write this, Dana Bash (CNN’s most skillful analyst) is interviewing Sen. Mitt Romney on “State of the Union.” It’s good journalism, and for major news, CNN is still on top. TVNewser points out that

last January was CNN’s most-watched month on record, carried by live coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol (CNN’s most-watched day in history), as well as the presidential inauguration. The network also finished No. 1 on all of cable television that month, beating MSNBC and even Fox News.

With a corporate shakeup coming, perhaps the network can now turn a new face to the public.

Moving forward, what’s next for CNN when the company falls under the Discovery Channel umbrella later this year? Let’s hear from its soon-to-be largest shareholder, John Malone of Liberty Media.

“I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing,” Malone said in an interview that recently aired on CNBC.

Media Quotes of the Day

  • Chris Cuomo in the Washington Post: “There is no division between politics and media.”
  • Goodman on the Cuomos (6 August 2021): ” What a family. Mario is turning over in his grave.”
  • Jeffrey Toobin (with apologies to Thomas Jefferson) :”Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.”
  • from Longboards, a Washington Post commenter: “Do you think CNN and MSNBC’s line up is a coincidence? Do you think their cellar ratings are also a mystery? Jeff Toobin, Don Lemon, Anderson Cooper? It’s a clown car.”
  • Jennifer Crumbley, the shooter’s mother: “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
  • Megan McArdle in the WaPo: “Overruling ‘Roe’ likely wouldn’t generate the female backlash that feminists expect.”
  • Steve Wolf, firearms expert in the New York Post: “Guns don’t fire themselves. . . . If that scene required [Baldwin] to put the gun to his head and pull the trigger, I’m sure he would have taken a look inside the gun. Wouldn’t you?”
  • CDC Science Brief on Omicron: “Omicron has many concerning spike protein substitutions, some of which are known from other variants to be associated with reduced susceptibility to available monoclonal antibody therapeutics or reduced neutralization by convalescent and vaccinee sera.”

 

CNN Is Tottering

“More people watch CNN than any other news source,” they tell us, another assertion of the demented state of the populace. But for world news in Mexico there isn’t much choice. In English it’s CNN International or Fox News. I finally signed up with SKY TV to get both and also to watch SKY’s sports coverage.

It was fun for a while. Then it seemed CNN was dumping ads and promos on us every five minutes. And they have kept repeating the same ones constantly: Africa has apparently taken on CNN as a wholly owned subsidiary; more recently, it’s Japan. And we continue getting the same old promos for their tired anchors like Becky (“It all Stahts Heah”) Anderson.

I just had to boycott much of this stuff. When the commercials came on, I switched to Fox, than back to CNN after getting nauseated with Tucker and his guests. There is no loyalty possible on cable. The news media informs us, corrupts us, and too often deceives us.

The latest instance of that is CNN’s recent two-hour special, “Covid War: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” which came on last Sunday and will be repeated this coming Friday (8:00 ET). Here is a good positive review of the show if you didn’t see it. You should see it.

Six principal doctors, including Fauci, were interviewed by Sanjay Gupta, as the show tries to set the record straight about how the Trump administration politicized the pandemic from the beginning and caused many thousands of unnecessary deaths.

The doctors’ revelations are sometimes gripping, sometimes trite. Yet often they seem trying to rehabilitate their reputations, glossing over past remarks and attempts to placate the Trump crew and keep their jobs. Deborah Birx is the prime example of that, and her remarks testify to the pressure she felt.

Says Vox, “That the Trump White House was engaged in politically motivated wishful thinking instead of trying to save lives was painfully obvious by late March 2020. And yet Birx opted to try and stay in Trump’s good graces instead of telling the public the truth.”

CNN presents all these interviews without much commentary by Gupta. That’s fair enough, but they can’t stand on their own. The truth behind them is multiplex. Despite their possibly good intentions, these doctors functioned as enablers, one and all.

The show’s apologetic one-sidedness is why so many distrust the media. Polarization just gets reinforced. CNN has many good anchors and hosts who respect the multiplicity of truth. Among them are John Berman, Pamela Brown, and Jim Acosta. The network’s well-paid stars like Chris Cuomo and Anderson Cooper are something else.

There is no excuse for Chris Cuomo being on the air, especially after his gigs with brother Andrew and getting special treatment for Covid. His smug, brassy commentary is my nightly invitation to shut him off and, God help me, switch to Tucker Carlson for a change of ego. Anderson Cooper can speak like a robot. He often runs over his own words but gets paid $12 million a year for his drawn-out pauses while thinking up a response to a difficult interviewee.

CNN management may well be facing some hard choices soon lest they forfeit their most-watched standing. Media politics as usual isn’t going to cut it. Indeed, they have demonstrated that media politics makes strange bedfellows.

Major CNN Fatigue: Blitzer v. Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi Blows Up at Wolf Blitzer Over Stimulus: You’re a Republican ‘Apologist’

Pelosi chafes at Wolf Blitzer’s questions on Covid talks

Second stimulus check updates: The differences between Democratic House and GOP Senate coronavirus relief bills

I watch a lot of news, and one reason I signed up for cable service was to get CNN International. I may have lived to regret it. Some of their news anchors (Jake Tapper and Jim Acosta excepted) leave a lot to be desired. Chris Cuomo’s frenetic blather is a case in point. How much hectoring can you take in an hour?

Wolf Blitzer is CNN’s chief political anchor, not notable for his penetrating insights but usually a dependable Democratic apologist. Yesterday for some reason he took out after Nancy Pelosi on the unconscionable delays in getting to a stimulus agreement. That’s all Pelosi needed. Watch some of the exchange.

This went on for close to fifteen minutes, Blitzer hammering away on the notion of a deal at all costs now, Pelosi fumbling through a defense of her position that there can be no deal without the Democrats’ spending priorities. Blitzer was pushy, Pelosi was angry. It was good TV and bad politics.

He argued that the Democrats should accept the latest administration offer because the need was so immediate and pressing. She countered that the caucus couldn’t accept an offer which had such unacceptable spending priorities. She had the better argument but her emotions overcame her. To be charitable about it, they were talking past each other.

Blitzer set the tone by failing to acknowledge her somewhat muddied points. She lost her patience: “With all due respect, you really don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

To me, the interesting thing was why Wolf chose to pick the fight at all. He did sound like a Republican apologist. The parties have been bogged down for months on stimulus issues. The Democrats have moved some on money issues, but the Republicans in the Senate have promised no deal on whatever the Dems propose. Politico put it this way:

The two sides have gotten closer on some issues, such as small-business aid, a new round of $1,200 stimulus checks and testing money, but remain divided over issues like unemployment aid and state and local government funding. But Democrats also point out that they remain further apart on the bigger issues, such as lack of a strategic plan to defeat the virus nationwide.

Perhaps network powers pushed Wolf to hammer home his point of making a deal at all costs, the idea being to goad Pelosi into a response. CNN’s ratings must be down, and maybe they just want to cultivate a more polemical posture à la Chris Cuomo. Let’s hope that’s not true—and that CNN can promote some fresh faces.