LA Times: CNN corrupt, incompetent, and self-serving

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Ben Cohen
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When one of America's major, corporate owned media outlets allows direct and clear criticism of another of those outlets, one (such as I, who did not see the debate) must wonder what level of incompetence CNN has risen to given the previous manner in which they have conducted themselves since the departure of Bernard Shaw in 2001.  It is a shame, and I believe a crime, to conduct business in such a way when they stakes are literally life and death.

From the LA Times:

CNN: Corrupt News Network

A self-serving agenda was set for the Republican presidential debates.

by Tim Rutten

December 1, 2007

THE United States is at war in the Middle East and Central Asia, the economy is writhing like a snake with a broken back, oil prices are relentlessly climbing toward $100 a barrel and an increasing number of Americans just can't afford to be sick with anything that won't be treated with aspirin and bed rest.

So, when CNN brought the Republican presidential candidates together this week for what is loosely termed a "debate," what did the country get but a discussion of immigration, Biblical inerrancy and the propriety of flying the Confederate flag?

In fact, this most recent debacle masquerading as a presidential debate raises serious questions about whether CNN is ethically or professionally suitable to play the political role the Democratic and Republican parties recently have conceded it.

Selecting a president is, more than ever, a life and death business, and a news organization that consciously injects itself into the process, as CNN did by hosting Wednesday's debate, incurs a special responsibility to conduct itself in a dispassionate and, most of all, disinterested fashion. When one considers CNN's performance, however, the adjectives that leap to mind are corrupt and incompetent.

Corruption is a strong word. But consider these facts: The gimmick behind Wednesday's debate was that the questions would be selected from those that ordinary Americans submitted to the video sharing Internet website YouTube, which is owned by Google. According to CNN, its staff culled through 5,000 submissions to select the handful that were put to the candidates. That process essentially puts the lie to the vox populi aura the association with YouTube was meant to create. When producers exercise that level of selectivity, the questions -- whoever initially formulated and recorded them -- actually are theirs.

That's where things begin to get troubling, because CNN chose to devote the first 35 minutes of this critical debate to a single issue -- immigration. Now, if that leaves you scratching your head, it's probably because you're included in the 96% of Americans who do not think immigration is the most important issue confronting this country. We've got a pretty good fix concerning what's on the American mind right now, because the nonpartisan and highly reliable Pew Center has been regularly polling people since January on the issues that matter most to them. In fact, the center's most recent survey was conducted in the days leading up to Wednesday's debate.

HERE'S what Pew found: By an overwhelming margin, Americans think the war in Iraq is the most important issue facing the United States, followed by the economy, healthcare and energy prices. In fact, if you lump the war into a category with terrorism and other foreign policy issues, 40% of Americans say foreign affairs are their biggest concern in this election cycle. If you do something similar with all issues related to the economy, 31% list those questions as their most worrisome issue. As anybody who has looked at their 401(k) or visited a gas pump would expect, that aggregate figure has increased dramatically since Pew started polling in January. Back then, for example, concerns over the war outpaced economic anxieties by fully 8 to 1. By contrast, just 6% of the survey's national sample said that immigration was the most important electoral issue. Moreover, that number hasn't changed in a statistically meaningful way since the first of the year. In other words, more than nine out of 10 Americans think something matters more than immigration in this presidential election.

So, why did CNN make immigration the keystone of this debate? What standard dictated the decision to give that much time to an issue so remote from the majority of voters' concerns? The answer is that CNN's most popular news-oriented personality, Lou Dobbs, has made opposition to illegal immigration and free trade the centerpiece of his neonativist/neopopulist platform. In fact, Dobbs led into Wednesday's debate with a good solid dose of immigrant bashing. His network is in a desperate ratings battle with Fox News and, in a critical prime-time slot, with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. So, what's good for Dobbs is good for CNN.

In other words, CNN intentionally directed the Republicans' debate to advance its own interests. Make immigration a bigger issue and you've made a bigger audience for Dobbs.

That's corruption, and it's why the Republican candidates had to spend more than half an hour "debating" an issue on which their differences are essentially marginal -- and, more important, why GOP voters had to sit and wait, mostly in vain, for the issues that really concern them to be discussed. That's particularly true because that same Pew poll reported findings of particular relevance to Republican voters, the vast majority of whom continue to support the war in Iraq.

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