The New York Times took an in-depth look at CNNs’ obsessive coverage of Flight 370, the Boeing 777 that has gone missing for over a week. While the third-place cable news network has seen a surge in ratings, there has also been a surge in mockery aimed at the network’s speculative guesswork and sometimes outright goofiness.
The Times reports that CNN Chief Jeff Zucker is all-in on the missing plane and sent a memo to producers demanding wall-to-wall coverage. The problem for the network has been a lack of real news about the airliner, which has resulted in airtime being filled with reporters sitting in flight simulators, panels of talking heads speculating (sometimes wildly), a ton of information that turned out to be wrong just a few hours later, and anchor Don Lemon holding a toy airplane and even speculating that the supernatural might have occurred.
Commenters on social media over the last several days cited the toy plane as an especially egregious example of vamping instead of adding anything substantive to the coverage, along with a reliance on some commentators known more for chasing conspiracy theories than analyzing air disasters. The comedian Bill Maher, referring to the CNN founder, posted on Twitter: “Ted Turner wishes he was dead so he cld roll over in his grave.”
Tom Rosenstiel, the executive director of the American Press Institute, a research center devoted to analyzing media, said, “Even a great story and a great mystery can become exploited. There were periods where the coverage entered into fantastical territory.” Mr. Rosentstiel said he was not speaking only of CNN, but the cable news coverage in general, which he described as “an architecture for the news that is, at times, hard to fill.”
CNN is in a tough spot. When the left-wing network isn’t in the ratings dumpster, it is usually, as is the case here, being laughed at over whatever story it has temporarily ridden to less embarrassing ratings. The ratings surge CNN enjoyed with its repeatedly bungled Boston Marathon bombing coverage came at a terrible price to the network’s reputation as the place to go when serious news breaks. People are still scratching their heads over CNN’s decision to go all-in with the infamous poop cruise.
Obviously, CNN prefers less-embarrassing ratings over respectability. The network is even worse, though, when it doesn’t have a poop cruise or missing airplane to obsess over.
In-between big stories, especially over the past couple of months, CNN has moved to the left of MSNBC. The result has been a ratings catastrophe but that hasn’t stopped the network’s left-wing obsession with identity politics and outright Christian-bashing. While MSNBC has actually put a stronger focus on news (especially in the morning hours), Zucker has encouraged his anchors to display more attitude, which has only resulted in less real news coverage and a lot more left-wing opinions and a ratings collapse.
The worst of all worlds came together during CNN’s obsessive, dishonest, race-baiting coverage of the George Zimmerman trial.
It should also be pointed out that when it comes to CNN, the term “rating surge” is relative. A fantastic ratings day for the former-Most Trusted Name In News is a disappointing day over at Fox News.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC