The CNN That Was

CommentaryThe demise of CNN+ after less than a month has led to unfettered gloating on the right. It might be more appropriate for conservatives to reflect on the debt they owe to what actually used to be the “Most Trusted Name in News,” long before that now-dubious slogan was coined. CNN’s new streaming service could only convince about 150,000 people to pay a modest $5.99 a month for “more than 1,000 hours” of premium content; a mere 10,000 people were watching the cable giant’s new service at any one time; CNN had believed it could ultimately gain subscription payments from nearly 30 million viewers worldwide. This after apparently spending $300 million launching the service and between $100 million and $200 million on advertising. Consider the channel’s resoundingly successful past. It was CNN anchor Bernard Shaw—a black man who had been anchoring a national prime time nightly news program since 1980 (in the purportedly systemically racist United States)—who in 1988 asked a simple, emphatic question that ended up turning that year’s presidential election in the favor of the Republicans, revealing Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis’s robotic lack of humanity and insensitivity on law and order. Back in the 1980s, CNN was the king of news, and had there been a way to offer a “CNN Plus” for a similarly attractive price, it would have sold subscriptions like hotcakes. Americans would have been happy to pay $2.25 a month for, say, extended questioning of politicians by columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, more argument between left and right on “Crossfire,” and longer interviews of stars by Larry King. The fact is that a big reason for CNN’s initial success—in addition to live coverage of major events with more detail than the Big Three networks, like the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion—was its willingness to give voice to those neglected by the Big Three. Crossfire was an even-handed debate show where conservative direct mail genius Richard Viguerie and Marxist firebrand Christopher Hitchens were equally welcome; Evans and Novak, originally sympathetic to Rockefeller Republicanism, and Evans long personally close to the Kennedys, had by 1980 subscribed to the tenets of supply-side economics. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now a staple on Fox News, but in the early 1980s CBS, NBC, and ABC would seldom, if ever, interview the then-rising GOP star; you had to watch CNN. This was the era of the federal Fairness Doctrine, when those who opposed the liberal mindset of network media news had to file legalistic requests for airtime, and then might get several minutes in a plain, unexciting format that grabbed the imagination of few viewers. But CNN gave the likes of counter-feminist Phyllis Schlafly regular gigs. To the news divisions of CBS, NBC and ABC, debate was an alien concept; the public could trust the wise analysis of their anchormen and correspondents, and rest easy. Had this bias not been the case, the Fox slogans “Fair and Balanced” and “We Report. You Decide” would never have resonated with the public and attracted millions of viewers. With CNN+, CNN clearly misread the appetite of the public, who don’t seek more news from a famous name, but rather reporting that can be identified with by ordinary Americans who aren’t seeking revolutionary transformation in the country. This is clear from the success of Fox Nation, Fox’s paid streaming service, which seems to be doing swimmingly in its fourth year. Moreover, Newsmax and One America are in a sense “Fox Pluses,” with Newsmax sometimes exceeding Fox viewership in younger demographic groups, and One America gaining votes of confidence from major corporate players. In a time when it has become trite to observe that the country is divided, it might be of value to reflect that the success story of CNN had everything to do with acknowledging Americans’ differences, and airing them through the relatively new medium of cable television. Had CNN+ been less about talking at viewers, instead of the original CNN vision of giving differing views a way to reach others, it might have had a better chance. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Follow Thomas McArdle was a White House speechwriter for President George W. Bush and writes for IssuesInsights.com

The CNN That Was

Commentary

The demise of CNN+ after less than a month has led to unfettered gloating on the right. It might be more appropriate for conservatives to reflect on the debt they owe to what actually used to be the “Most Trusted Name in News,” long before that now-dubious slogan was coined.

CNN’s new streaming service could only convince about 150,000 people to pay a modest $5.99 a month for “more than 1,000 hours” of premium content; a mere 10,000 people were watching the cable giant’s new service at any one time; CNN had believed it could ultimately gain subscription payments from nearly 30 million viewers worldwide. This after apparently spending $300 million launching the service and between $100 million and $200 million on advertising.

Consider the channel’s resoundingly successful past. It was CNN anchor Bernard Shaw—a black man who had been anchoring a national prime time nightly news program since 1980 (in the purportedly systemically racist United States)—who in 1988 asked a simple, emphatic question that ended up turning that year’s presidential election in the favor of the Republicans, revealing Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis’s robotic lack of humanity and insensitivity on law and order.

Back in the 1980s, CNN was the king of news, and had there been a way to offer a “CNN Plus” for a similarly attractive price, it would have sold subscriptions like hotcakes. Americans would have been happy to pay $2.25 a month for, say, extended questioning of politicians by columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, more argument between left and right on “Crossfire,” and longer interviews of stars by Larry King.

The fact is that a big reason for CNN’s initial success—in addition to live coverage of major events with more detail than the Big Three networks, like the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion—was its willingness to give voice to those neglected by the Big Three. Crossfire was an even-handed debate show where conservative direct mail genius Richard Viguerie and Marxist firebrand Christopher Hitchens were equally welcome; Evans and Novak, originally sympathetic to Rockefeller Republicanism, and Evans long personally close to the Kennedys, had by 1980 subscribed to the tenets of supply-side economics. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now a staple on Fox News, but in the early 1980s CBS, NBC, and ABC would seldom, if ever, interview the then-rising GOP star; you had to watch CNN.

This was the era of the federal Fairness Doctrine, when those who opposed the liberal mindset of network media news had to file legalistic requests for airtime, and then might get several minutes in a plain, unexciting format that grabbed the imagination of few viewers. But CNN gave the likes of counter-feminist Phyllis Schlafly regular gigs. To the news divisions of CBS, NBC and ABC, debate was an alien concept; the public could trust the wise analysis of their anchormen and correspondents, and rest easy.

Had this bias not been the case, the Fox slogans “Fair and Balanced” and “We Report. You Decide” would never have resonated with the public and attracted millions of viewers.

With CNN+, CNN clearly misread the appetite of the public, who don’t seek more news from a famous name, but rather reporting that can be identified with by ordinary Americans who aren’t seeking revolutionary transformation in the country.

This is clear from the success of Fox Nation, Fox’s paid streaming service, which seems to be doing swimmingly in its fourth year. Moreover, Newsmax and One America are in a sense “Fox Pluses,” with Newsmax sometimes exceeding Fox viewership in younger demographic groups, and One America gaining votes of confidence from major corporate players.

In a time when it has become trite to observe that the country is divided, it might be of value to reflect that the success story of CNN had everything to do with acknowledging Americans’ differences, and airing them through the relatively new medium of cable television. Had CNN+ been less about talking at viewers, instead of the original CNN vision of giving differing views a way to reach others, it might have had a better chance.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Thomas McArdle was a White House speechwriter for President George W. Bush and writes for IssuesInsights.com