The Media

‘Elite or Liberal Issues’

Why does CNN devote so little time to covering serious topics such as climate change while spending hours covering a befouled Carnival Cruise?

According to a new report from Media Matters, CNN became hyper-focused on challenging Fox News and this compelled them to abandon ‘elite or liberal issues’ such as climate change because they don’t improve their bottom line.

Peter Dykstra, who oversaw the CNN environmental beat from 1995 to 2008, recalled top CNN executives describing environmental stories as “elite issues or liberal issues” that would not draw a Fox News crowd.

“For the last 10 years, CNN has been battered by competition, primarily by Fox. They have incurred huge losses in ratings to Fox and like just about anyone in cable television, they have altered their programming far more in the direction of entertainment and amusement as opposed to information with redeeming value. That of course does not bode well for covering science,” Dykstra said in a recent interview. “CNN has looked obsessively at how many viewers they’ve lost to Fox.” [...]

Dykstra said that former CNN President Jonathan Klein, who served in that role from 2004 to 2010, was one of several executives who called for a reduction in environmental coverage in order to compete with Fox, even though he believed climate change existed.

“I will give him credit for looking me in the eye and telling me to my face, and he was not the only CNN boss who did this, that he did not consider science and environment coverage to be a high priority,” Dykstra said of Klein, later adding, “It never was hostility, it was more an attitude of ‘that doesn’t work for us, that doesn’t help us beat Fox.’ There was very little if any political push back. In fact, Jon Klein, I recall him saying in editorial meetings on more than one occasion ‘it’s obvious that this is for real, it just didn’t necessarily have a place in CNN’s coverage.’”

This is more or less what many of us have assumed for several years now dating back to when CNN officially partnered with the Tea Party for a bus tour and presidential debates. It’s why they hired the worst of the worst conservatives such as Erick Erickson and Alex Castellanos. And it’s why their ratings have bottomed out over the past year. No one turns on CNN to see a repeat of Fox, and if what you’re looking for is entertainment, the first name that comes to mind is, ordinarily, not CNN.

The rationale for abandoning serious topics in favor of tabloid stories Dykstra outlines reads as an indictment not just of CNN, but of cable news as a whole. And it confirms that there really is no such thing as “liberal media bias.” There is only what you can sell to advertisers. And therein lies why Fox News performs so well. They’ve married faux celebrity with ginned up animosity beautifully. Or terribly, depending on your perspective.

  • lsamsa

    I stopped watching CNN when they decided that Aaron Brown wasn’t the type of journalist they wanted. He wasn’t the ‘be all and end all’…but Aaron Brown was of the Walter Cronkite type of journalist.
    They chose the low road…and continue to do so.

  • GOVCHRIS1988

    Well, this is what has happened to news. Its not news anymore, its infotainment. Designed to garner ratings. Sure, they will throw in some newsworthiness, but they won’t dwell on it long and give us any in depth analysis about the issue for people to ponder over. The reason right wing infotainment works is because they always set up a good/evil fight where they always put themselves as the good portion and anyone that disagrees as evil. I mean, the troll personifies this perfectly. Ignores all the name calling the right does (until called on it by which he will then indulge in the same namecalling that he projected onto us, another facet of right wing infotainment which keeps it thriving) Debate is boring. I mean, ACTUAL debate. Not the cagematch O’Reilly yellfests, but actual debates where ideas are pored through are dead in this country because then it would kill the infotainment division. Plus, actually give us sane politicians that actually know something about civics and government and would promote the practice of participation. But, its much more juicier to figure out whose sleeping with who in Washington, who hates who in Washington, which loon politician believes what conspiracy theory about the President and wants proof dispelling said theory while offering NO evidence to support the loons own claim against the President, and all irrelevant bullshit about which politician likes Snooki.

    Also, they will endlessly pontificate about how hard an issue is and how its worth not getting done because its so hard because inaction basically keeps the infotainment going. To them, A Sandy Hook is a ratings boom which keeps people glued to the flatscreens, not a call to action to help solve the problem. They don’t want the problem solved, because it kills the infotainment complex. Solving gun control, health care, financial reform kills ratings. Have you seen news in countries which has most of its problems situated like Canada and Switzerland. Their news is boring, but its informative and defines itself as informative. Thats what news is supposed to be and its sad that we live in a world where thats no longer the case anymore.

    • Victor_the_Crab

      Excellent, excellent points!

    • Cameron Jordan

      The reason left wing infotainment doesn’t work is because at the first hint of any opinion that differs from their own every attempt at a real conversation immediately ends and is followed by a barrage of foul mouthed name calling (and mouth breathing ala Nicole below with her dumb ass comment). As far as hard issues go, there are none harder than the budget deficit and the size of our national debt and after 4 years of waiting the Senate can’t seem to pass a budget (which they are required by law to do) and there has been a complete lack of leadership on this issue from the left.

      The last SOTU address didn’t even touch on this issue except to take a few seconds to lie to us all with some fantasy of having already reduced it by 2 trillion dollars …really? Not on this planet.

      As for the ‘gun issues’ the only solution that has been proven to work is the one that expands concealed carry laws into those states with restrictive gun laws (and the most homicides by gun) and not tighter gun restrictions …we’ve been there and done that and we know they don’t work, can’t work, and will never work …

      Health care is a mess and going to get much much worse as we slide into Obamacare …the plan the majority of Americans didn’t want and ended up with anyway.

      As for the claims against Obama …the only theory we are asked to accept on face value and in spite of the evidence to the contrary is Obama’s because every single bit of real evidence supports the other sides version.

      • Victor_the_Crab

        How’s life in Htrae?

  • Victor_the_Crab

    And it’s only going to get worse, thanks to Jeff Zucker.

  • D_C_Wilson

    I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a wingnut dismiss a story just because it was CNN, which is part of the “Liberal Media” conspiracy. CNN was never going to compete with Fox for the wingnut audience. They only trust Fox. Why would they ever watch Fox-lite?

    • El Rey Blanco

      Well it could be worse …just ask MSNBC whom no one watches

      • D_C_Wilson

        Just out of curiosity, why are you here, Troll?

        • Victor_the_Crab

          Because the more it trolls, the more it can collect enough troll points to purchase a banjo and play it Deliverance style.

  • El Rey Blanco

    With regards to CNN my only thought was “it took them long enough” ….long enough to figure out that left wing news doesn’t sell (someone should send a memo to MSNBC) Talk radio has proven time and time again that the public has no stomach for listening to the name calling content lacking left misinterpret local and national events through their selective reporting of the news that is all geared towards making the right look bad at the expense of the truth. Look at this blog for instance: still beating the “right wing rhetoric was responsible for the Giffords shooting” …a theory that has been wholly and totally discredited while at the same time completely ignoring the shooting by a left-wing nut job (who volunteered at the DC Center for the LGBT Community) at the Family Research Council by a man who has clearly and repeatedly stated that he did it because they were right wingers and he was influenced by the Southern Poverty hate group …can’t we all be against violence without the partisan hypocrisy?

    • D_C_Wilson

      Talk radio has proven time and time again that the public has no stomach for listening to the name calling content

      Yeah, it’s not like the biggest name in rightwing talk radio has a history of calling people names like “slut” or “Moo-chelle”.

      Man, was your brain even functioning when you typed that bit of idiocy?

      • El Rey Blanco

        you obviously have never suffered through one of NorMAN GoldMAN’s epic rants or worse yet Randi Rhodes or the dumb bell Ed Schultz

        • D_C_Wilson

          And I really don’t have any desire to, but that wasn’t point.

          Try again.

      • El Rey Blanco

        and its Mooch – elle because of her propensity for spending millions of dollars of other people’s money on herself …but Moo- chelle is an accurate description of her as well

        • D_C_Wilson

          My aren’t you the clever Troll.

        • nicole

          You’re a real dumbass, trollboy.

    • mrbrink

      Who buys right wing news and radio? Who pays Hannity and Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh hundreds of millions of dollars, even while they help lose elections, sour ratings, and destroy their credibility…?

      They’re paid to spew the idiocy and lies and their destination is Psycho town. Right wing radio and movement conservatism is steeped in violent rhetoric and imagery. There is no intellectual champion on the right who cannot be thoroughly discredited and exposed for their mouth parching lies and sadistic intent.

      Right wing propaganda is a bubble economy that robs the poor slobs who’ve been saturated in Rush Limbaugh and gives you back frauds and clowns like Glenn Beck. It’s trickle up wealth, trickle down stupid. You get no value from any of that for your billions spent. Right wing propaganda throws millions at stupid like it was dancing on a pole.

      Left wing propaganda is more democratic, and at its core far more representative of the free world. It’s got a better sense of humor, too.

  • muselet

    Peter Dykstra, who oversaw the CNN environmental beat from 1995 to 2008, recalled top CNN executives describing environmental stories as “elite issues or liberal issues” that would not draw a Fox News crowd.

    The disruption of long-term weather patterns, widespread drought, accelerated coastal erosion, the displacement of 2.5–3 billion people worldwide (those living within 100km of a coast) and the expansion of tropical diseases into temperate regions are predicted consequences of global warming. Increased incidences of mutations, developmental anomalies and malignancies are known consequences of certain kinds of environmental pollution. Increased competition for natural resources is a known consequence of environmental degradation. These consequences have and will have a disproportionate impact on poor nations. Yet environmental stories were dismissed as “elite issues or liberal issues” by CNN execs.