What’s Wrong with CNN?

16 Jan

What’s Wrong with CNN?


CNN presents itself as the most ‘trusted name in news’ available to the TV viewing public. Of course, this claim of integrity is to be greatly valued if the news channel lives up to such a standard when fairly scrutinized. Democracy, in the complex circumstances of modernity, depends on trust to remain viable. In an important sense CNN seems trustworthy. To the best of its ability it appears to search for and impart the truth with respect to its coverage. Unlike the American president, it does not lie or deliver ‘fake news.’ And for most issues it gives both sides of the story, and doesn’t keep shifting the goal posts to alter the narrative.


But is this record of honesty enough to make CNN trustworthy? I think not.

In recent months, and really ever since the 2016 presidential campaign, CNN, along with the rest of the mainstream media, has been Trump obsessed. At least, compared to Fox, CNN adopts a highly critical stance in evaluating the daily episodes in this ongoing cruel and dangerous Trump soap opera. Surely, such an irresponsible and unscrupulous leadership deserves probing criticism and extensive coverage, but not at the price of erasing the rest of the world as well as much of the news agenda on the home front. This is what CNN has done, at least on the coverage provided by its national channel. CNN International is more inclusive in its coverage, but for CNN in the United States, it has seemingly decided that this is ‘the Trump Century’ rather than ‘The American Century.’  Such an obsession is a travesty on the reality of our 21stcentury world, and a distorting service to its devoted watching audience.


It is quite astounding to tune into the nightly broadcasts on CNN featuring Anderson Cooper, Andrew Cuomo, and Don Lemon as successive anchors. They not only devote their entire coverage to the latest revelations of the Special Counsel regarding various aspects of the interaction between the Trump entourage and Russia, but they repeat one another, somewhat varying only the talking heads, most of whom are invited to make recurrent guest appearances. Not only this, but these news commentators seem in such an uncontainable self-congratulatory mood that they have initiated a new media trope. Instead of ending their program and proceeding to the next one, these familiar faces exchange lengthy and supportive comments with one another on the latest Trump maneuver, laughing with undisguised appreciation of each other’s ironic takes. I find this to be an increasingly tedious display of irrelevance. If this is what it means to be trusted, I might soon opt for some version of the untrustworthy. Indeed, allowing Trump to suck up all the oxygen is not so different over time than falling in line as Trumpsters would wish. This devotion to Trump may be the work of the market advisors that call the shots at CNN, which makes it both understandable, and in its way, even worse.


Erasure of all that is newsworthy but non-Trump is only part of the problem. Distortion and indoctrination are also present, especially when the Trump news touches on the Pentagon, CIA, Wall Street, and Israel. Here the celebrity anchors rely on experts who are loyalists of the ‘bipartisan consensus’ (what traditional Republicans and establishment Democrats agree about, except for tactical nuances) that has dominated American approach to the world ever since 1945. This has meant taking neoliberal post-Cold War capitalism, global militarism, and the special relationship with Israel off the table of responsible debate. Most of CNN’s experts are retirees from the upper echelons of the national security establishment, stalwarts of Washington think tanks, or senior advisors to recent presidents. Never do we hear from a single progressive voice, nor even from those that believe the crisis is structural, requiring thought and action outside the box. Alan Dershowitz is welcome to talk in defense of the Trump presidency or Israel, but never Noam Chomsky. It is this leaning to the right that most makes CNN untrustworthy in my eyes. It shuts out the light with respect to the most compelling issues facing the country and the world, and limits news coverage to fifty shades of gray.


In many respects, theNew York Timesshares this deference to this anarchronistic bipartisan consensus. It is more useful than CNN because it realizes that ‘all the news fit to print’ includes happenings in the world other than the Trump escapades. The Timeseven occasionally gives space sometimes to left-leaning critics, and its own opinion writers include Michelle Goldberg and Paul Krugman, both of whom are ready to challenge some of those fixed orthodoxies that have imposed their discipline on American policy regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in control of the White House. Of course, the right is also amply represented by the generally thoughtful conservative musings of David Brooks and the more abrasive forays of Bret Stephens. Yet when it comes to Brexit, Syria, Yemen, and Latin America the news coverage of the Times is invaluably comprehensive and generally reliable except if it touches on such no-go zones as Venezuela or the BDS Campaign.


Also, CNN in America is treated as the poster child of the mainstream media. MSNBC, its main supposedly liberal competitor, is only marginally better. MSNBC also drones on and on while doing its version of ‘the daily Trump show,’ and invites the same sort of dreary guests who make their living inside the Beltway, and hence burn few bridges to the portals of power in Washington. We might have hoped that dissident TV as provided by Vice or Al Jazeera would fill the void, but somehow they have not so far risen to the challenge of offering a different slant on what transpires day by day.


What is at stake goes beyond trust. It concerns what we need to know if we are to act responsibly and effectively as engaged citizens. What we need to know goes to the roots who we are collectively as a people, and what are the real threats to our security, and even our civilizational and biological survival. We should all know by now, or should know, that we live in a political system that is more accurately identified  as a ‘plutocracy’ than a ‘democracy,’ especially when it comes to political parties and the electoral process. Many have long been aware that the TV and print media, along with publishing, is market driven, and corporatized. As a consequence, political discourse is limited to center/right dialogues.


The main trouble is that we need center/left thinking to challenge the bipartisan consensus that has always been center/right, incorporating market and ‘deep state’ bureaucratic forces. In part, the left has lost its voice after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was persuasively (mis)interpreted in the West in ways that designed to wipe socialism off the political map of societal option. At present, climate change, global inequality, emerging technologies of war, artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, and nuclear weaponry are posing unprecedented challenges that are global in scope and bioethical in depth. In view of this there exists a need for an untethered political, moral, and cultural imagination as never before. We find imaginative innovative responses in pockets of resistance scattered around the country and the world. The recent midterm American elections produced a few women winners with radical messages, which suggests that the national body politic is not yet readied.


Yet until CNN listens, most of the rest of us will not hear or heed what needs to be known and done. At best, we will take refuge in struggling for feasible change unaware that what is necessary is not feasible within existing political and economic structures. At worst, we will be herded by demagogues into death camps or maybe stay alive by some mixture of escapism and denialism.


What we urgently need is a politics freed from the constraints of the feasible,and energized by an awareness of the necessaryand desirable.



11 Responses to “What’s Wrong with CNN?”

  1. Don E. Scheid January 16, 2019 at 6:12 pm #

    Hi Richard,

    I was glad to see your critique of CNN. As a person whose first aspiration was to be a journalist, have become more disenchanted with the way CNN presents the news. I agree they are Trump obsessed and the self-congratulatory remarks are entirely out of line. You have nailed CNN’s failings. And no I am not a Trump supporter; he is the worst thing to ever happen to the office of the President. –Don E. Scheid

    • Richard Falk January 17, 2019 at 7:45 am #

      Thanks, Don, for these affirming words, and it would never have crossed my
      mind that you could be a Trump supporter! With warm greetings..

  2. roberthstiver January 17, 2019 at 2:12 am #

    My age and mentation these days rarely allow me to enjoy the ruminations of Dr. Falk and too many other balanced and mature perspectives, but “CNN” caught my eye here, and I’d like to relate one recent incident that bears on what I term a consistent, tightly managed and controlled pattern of “faux news by omission” by CNN (and surely by the rest of the MSM). Disclosure: I am unable to watch any lengthy segments of Anderson Cooper or Chris Cuomo or Don Lemon (or the rest of the carbon-cutout anchors who preen and pretend to be “journalists”). My viewing is limited to snippets sandwiched between the ubiquitous commercial breaks; thus, if any reader can refute my below contention, I will welcome the critique/constructive feedback.

    I think most readers will recall the end-November 2018 CNN peremptory cashiering of Temple University’s Prof./Dr. Marc Lamont Hill (hope I have his name correctly) for his temerity in calling attention to the Palestinians’ plight during a speech at the UN commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People. I read brief print-media and copious blog-type reports of CNN’s action, to include Prof. Hill’s reaction…but I noted nothing on (e.g.) Cuomo’s or Lemon’s programs over the next few days. I wondered, of course, if Cuomo or Lemon might be moved to give fair coverage (or any coverage) by “breaking news” commentary or by panel discussion. I took it upon myself to contact Cuomo (as part of a CNN search), to admit to him that I cannot watch his programs from start to finish, and to ask him to inform me of any coverage he had provided on the Prof. Hill incident. (I was unable to contact Lemon directly in a similar manner, so I asked Cuomo to intercede with Lemon) on my behalf [note: I was accustomed to seeing Prof. Hill frequently on pundit panels anchored by Lemon…]. I followed up, over the next 10 days or so, to Cuomo with at least five reminders of Cuomo’s contact-page assurance that he likes to hear from viewers. I have, then or since, received NO RESPONSE from Chris Cuomo, and thus my conclusion is that he has no response worthy of the response of a professional journalist (put another way, I think Cuomo has demonstrated to me that he wears no clothes).

    Unless someone corrects me, may I expect that readers will agree with me as to CNN’s selective coverage of news — or, as I write above — CNN’s “faux news by omission”?

    A final disclosure: I am convinced, as a passionate pro-Palestinian advocate and decades-long Middle East hand, that “faux news by omission” is a major and tragic fact of “news” life with respect to ANY factual, objective domestic or international coverage of Palestine, Israel, Zionism, AIPAC, The Zionist Lobby, the Zionist-Occupied US Congress and executive branch, neoconism…with, of course, spillover into areas such as Iran, Lebanon/Hezbollah, Syria, Iraq….

    • Richard Falk January 17, 2019 at 7:51 am #

      Thanks, Robert, for this illuminating comment. I surely should have included a reference to the disgraceful
      dismissal of Marc Lamont Hill, and the silence of the self-important trio of CNN anchors. Your word ‘preening’
      captures their nightly manner. And ‘faux news by omission’ is an important way of understanding why most viewers
      are content with false images of reality. If I have the time/energy I will revise or supplement my indictment of CNN.

  3. Beau Oolayforos January 17, 2019 at 9:48 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Could it be that our nature, as political animals, is to resist flattery, and relish controversy? So the CNN roundtables, along with, for me, the circuses of Daly, Colbert, Maddow, etc, might well cause boredom…they’re preaching to the choir, or re-hashing facts that are already available to all. Pediatricians do not recommend TV for young children; in the internet age, it is eminently dispensable for adults also. On the plus side, you mention Paul Krugman, who seldom (never?) fails to amuse and instruct.

  4. down with zionist warmongers January 18, 2019 at 1:49 pm #

    To all anti Zionists and imperialists:

    The Cambridge public library, a propaganda center, has invited another war criminal to form public opinion in support of Zionist criminal plan in the middle east. The speaker is the war monger, Zionist propagandist BERNARD- HENRI LEVY.


    This imposter who has taken many photos with the terrorists in Libya, Sudan, Syria and elsewhere has been invited to Cambridge public library in Massachusetts on February 20, 2018 to present more platforms to the Zionist baby killers who have captured majority of centers of powers in Europe including France and the United States including the CONGRESS, THE SENATE, THE WHITE HOUSE , THE media, TV and print, using their $$$$ money.

    BHL supported and promoted wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Iran and is promoting Oded Yinon criminal project for ‘greater Israel. Thus, he is one of the Zionists who is promoting wars, creating chaos, using the traitor kurds and the ISIS to PARTITION THE REGIONAL STATES in the Middle East for the Zionist interest. He is pushing for a second Israel in the region, ‘kurdistan’, to erect Jewish empire.

    This Zionist propagandist who is called A FRAUD in Europe and elsewhere, MUST BE STOPPED.


    Please Send your letter to Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts to condemn their politically motivated action.


    Why doesn’t this Zionist promote the case of Catalan region in Spain? Why the west is so silent on Catalan and supports Spain brutal action, but are using their trained terrorists to kill Muslims, to create chaos to partition the Middle Eastern countries for the interest of a criminal tribe?
    They will take this wish into their graves.

  5. Clif Brown January 19, 2019 at 11:04 pm #

    Amen, but let me expand the criticism.

    I spent 23 years in broadcast TV working for ABC. I don’t understand why anyone watches the news. The coverage of any story except for disasters will be superficial and short. It was always a lesson to me that if there was a technical foul up that caused a loss of air time during any show, it was lamented but not a crisis. If, however, such a foul up occurred during a commercial break, all hell would break loose with management running to the control room to find out RIGHT NOW exactly what had happened, why and who was responsible. You can be sure profuse apologies to the client would be issued along with a make good of the commercial at no charge.

    It was laughably obvious that the priority was selling stuff, and everything else was effectively candy to fill the air time between commercial breaks. The idolizing mail that would come in from viewers regarding the anchors who simply read scripts whipped out by “news writers” made me want to gag. Finally, I could stand it no longer and quit. Even the great pay and numerous benefits couldn’t quiet my horror that I was spending my life’s work to get such drivel out to the public. Now, 20 years later, I pat myself on the back for leaving, as I think it saved my sanity.

    Now, with the internet offering so many alternatives that depend on readers/viewers sending in donations, hence being free of covering for this or that business, how can any intelligent human being turn on the TV for news? There is thoughtful, in depth, status quo threatening material at the click of a link. TV news is, more than ever, entertainment but it has been for many decades.

    Prof. Falk, your essay is well put and appreciated, but anyone really interested in seeking the truth of any issue as best it can be determined, is not watching mainstream media. I compare it to snacking on pretzels and beer. It goes down so easy though the calories are empty. MSM TV watching calls for no thinking and is a very hard habit to break particularly when the viewer becomes fond of the appearance and mannerisms of this or that glib talking head. It’s a shame, but if the reality available via the internet cannot lure people away, nothing can. The proof that Americans have been fooled from the start of commercial broadcast TV in the late 1940’s is that it was called then and still is called “free TV”

    • Richard Falk January 21, 2019 at 9:54 am #

      Dear Clif Brown:

      Thanks for this perceptive, important comment that deepens the discussion I hoped to raise. It makes
      me wonder why I continue to watch CNN & MSM despite ‘knowing’ what you describe, which is a m mixture of
      manipulation and dumbing down. I will think further, but my immediate answer is habit, convenience, and
      the importance of keeping track of what the gatekeepers want us to believe. Also, we are all seduced by
      the visual presentations of reality, which is not available to us if we rely purely upon online news sources.
      Also crowdfunding is a kind of necessary annoyance that raises new ethical questions that have not been resolved.

      I am grateful to you for identifying the deeper roots of the present media malaise.

      Best, Richard

      • roberthstiver January 21, 2019 at 12:43 pm #

        I am also appreciative of Mr. Brown!


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