Some would argue that it's actually been a slow, sad downward spiral, but it still feels like CNN went from being a serious news network to a national laughingstock almost overnight. The reason for this, of course, is that the final nail in the network's coffin was so relentlessly hammered home by the network itself. CNN's obsessive, carnivalesque coverage of the search for Flight 370, at the exclusion of every other story on the planet, rightly earned it a steady stream of mockery. But it was clear from the very beginning of the surreal hysteria the network created around the story that new president Jeff Zucker didn't care one bit what any of CNN's detractors thought. He was just happy that somebody, somewhere was finally talking about CNN again (even if it was to mercilessly ridicule it) and that people were finally tuning in (even if it was to watch a trainwreck). Zucker made his bones being a boy wizard with a bag full of flashy gimmicks and quick-fixes and he's exceedingly proud of that.
With that in mind, it won't surprise anyone to learn that he's not just willing to defend CNN's insane Flight 370 coverage, he's downright boastful about it. As far as Zucker's concerned, there's nothing at all for him or anyone else at CNN to be embarrassed about. On the contrary, audiences should get used to silliness of that magnitude being the new normal at the network. Why? Because it draws ratings -- and that's all that matters. In an interview with Mashable late last week, he made clear not only his thoughts on CNN's Flight 370 coverage but on why his network exists in general and whom he feels it should cater to. Not serve -- cater to. In one sentence, Zucker managed to sum up everything that's wrong with the corporate news media.
"I think that if people want to be critical of CNN for over-covering a story, that's totally fine with us," CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker told Mashable. "Clearly, the audience has spoken and said that what CNN did was correct."
There it is. The end justifies the means. All that matters is that people watched. It doesn't even matter what they were watching -- what CNN was giving them -- so long as they were watching. Screw journalistic integrity and screw the notion that the mission of a news organization should be to give the people what they need, not necessarily what they want (because the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo have big audiences too). Screw the idea of a television news organization of record, one that exists to be a standard-bearer and broadcast rather than narrowcast to a niche audience of dumb rubberneckers who think a black hole may have swallowed a missing airliner. The numbers are the only concern. All other considerations are incidental and expendable, up to and including CNN's once-bulletproof reputation.
What Zucker is admitting is that CNN is officially dead and buried and that he doesn't care at all about that. It's a sad state of affairs for the network, for the press in general, and undoubtedly for those journalists who work behind the scenes at CNN and are having to put their names and faces to this stupidity -- stupidity their boss is actually proud of because, what the hell, people are watching. Zucker has just made it clear that CNN has no responsibility to journalism in general nor to its audience. As long as that audience is willing to watch crap, CNN will go right on feeding it to them.