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.