Saturday, March 04, 2006

The decadence of cable news

Tim Rutten unleashes a broadside against Nancy Grace in the L.A. Times:

Grace, on the other hand, has no journalistic background whatsoever. Even her employers at the once reliable and now lamentable CNN Headline News are careful to call her simply the "host" of the rhetorical free-fire zone they have created for her. (It's the kind of programming decision that probably would have been forestalled by a slightly more expansive reading of the pandering statutes.) Grace's standing to badger, fawn, scold and grimace her way through 60 minutes of Time Warner's airtime every weeknight rests on just two credentials, which she endlessly repeats: She once worked as a prosecutor in Atlanta and she is a "crime victim" whose fiancé was murdered 27 years ago.

As it turns out, both credentials are a little crumbly around the edges.

He also has a theory about cable's slide into decadence:

Turner has a loose lip and an unsteady personality, but he never wavered in his belief that serious news has a place on television. The same cannot be said of the corporate apparatchiks now running CNN and CNN Headline and cringing before Fox News' success. They're the ones who have unleashed Grace on their Headline network and defaced CNN's regular report with things like Jack Cafferty's bizarre and incoherently histrionic intrusions into the afternoon news and the increasingly demagogic Lou Dobbs' second rate imitations of a Howard Beale rant.

These desperate acts have been triggered by CNN's inability to come even close to matching Fox in the ratings. The commercial genius of Rupert Murdoch's network, of course, resides in Roger Ailes' intuition that the talk radio model could be transferred to television, thereby avoiding the expense of real reporting while cultivating viewers with a taste for conservative partisanship and, more important, entertainment

As with most nostalgic myths, this one glosses over the less edifying bits of history. It is true that Murdoch and Ailes built Fox prime time around a talk radio and tabloid model. But the serpent was in the garden long before Roger met Rupert. Turner gave us Crossfire and Larry King. Greta got her first show on CNN. CNBC wallowed in the OJ trial and the Jon Benet Ramsey case in a way that Rush Limbaugh never did.

What remains striking is the evident lack of courage and imagination at MSNBC and CNN. Instead of trying to find a viable model for serious news, they meekly imitate the Fix recipe.

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