CNN Modeling Fox News With Good Old Fair And Balanced Fascism-Enabling
There’s a big "Lex Luthor buys the Daily Planet" vibe at CNN these days. As new CEO Chris Licht seemingly reshapes the network into a safe space for Republicans, he’s steadily purged any pesky voices that have confronted Donald Trump’s fascist movement. He canned former "Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter, a radical moderate, and veteran White House correspondent John Harwood, an actual journalist.
This is reportedly part of Licht’s “strategy shift” intended “to present a new, more ideologically neutral CNN.” Supposed “neutrality” is still an ideological position. If a major political party is a garbage fire of anti-democratic lies, responsible journalism must call out and condemn those lies, not simply fan the flames.
It would appear Licht has an ideological agenda of his own, and as Matt Gertz at Media Matters has observed, CNN’s remaining on-air talent is getting with the new program.
Reporting on the cancellation of Stelter’s show on August 18, the Associated Press included this inauspicious paragraph: “Licht has made it known internally that he’s not interested in conflict between CNN and Fox News on the network. The CNN ‘New Day’ anchor Brianna Keilar had also attracted attention for detailed critical pieces on Fox, but they have stopped since Licht took over.”
The next day, Hollywood Reporter recalled that Licht had promised advertisers in May that he would “reimagine” CNN’s morning show.
No one likes to have their job “reimagined” when they have mortgage payments. This might explain why Brianna Keilar seems to have shamelessly jumped on the “both sides” bandwagon. After President Joe Biden’s “democracy in peril” speech,she tweeted, “Whatever you think of this speech the military is supposed to be apolitical. Positioning Marines in uniform behind President Biden for a political speech flies in the face of that. It’s wrong when Democrats do it. It’s wrong when Republicans do it.”
\u201cWhatever you think of this speech the military is supposed to be apolitical. Positioning Marines in uniform behind President Biden for a political speech flies in the face of that. It\u2019s wrong when Democrats do it. It\u2019s wrong when Republicans do it.\u201d— Brianna Keilar (@Brianna Keilar) 1662078352
This is like criticizing the prosecutor atJeffrey Dahmer's trial because they had mustard stains on their shirt. It’s an absurd distraction from the more serious food-related offense.
“Whatever you may think of the speech” is Keilar’s attempt at neutrality. Because in this understanding of "neutrality," the "objective" journalist has no opinion one way or another about the existential threat to democracy that Biden discussed. However, she quickly takes an actual position, that it was wrong for Biden appear with uniformed Marines during a “political” speech. (No one would’ve suggested that George W. Bush’s speech after 9/11 was “political.”)
Keilar isn’t simply reporting on the right-wing reaction to Biden’s speech. She’s expressing her own opinion, but masking it underneath a veneer of neutrality. Gertz noted that Keilar “followed up her tweet the next morning with an on-air segment, then authored a lengthy analysis piece for CNN’s website headlined, 'Biden’s use of Marines during Philadelphia speech adds to debate over politicization of the military.'"
She “reported” on a criticism she herself created and advanced. The Marvel “She-Hulk” sitcom recently satirized this form of “journalism.” A reporter asks the Jennifer Walters character if it's true the Avengers rejected her as a potential member. She doesn’t respond, but a different anchor on the scene immediately reports how “some people have said” the Avengers rejected Jennifer Walters as a potential member.
Stelter and Harwood challenged Trump and his Republican enablers over the “Big Lie,” a term Licht has reportedly forbidden from his airwaves. Keilar challenged Biden and Democrats on some low-key petty shit, but that’s apparently how she remains in Licht’s good graces.
CNN’s new parent company is Warner Bros. Discovery, and one of its board members, John Malone, suggested last year that CNN should model itself after Fox News. One might argue that Democrats could probably use their own weapon of mass propaganda, a rapid response outlet that promotes friendly narratives and relentlessly attacks the opposition. A liberal Fox News could advocate for Democrats and go after Republicans, while actually telling the truth.
However, Licht seems to interpret “more like Fox News” as providing a friendlier environment for right-wing hacks and MAGA extremists. Make Marjorie Taylor Greene feel welcome, perhaps. Maybe treat Stephen Miller as a honored guest instead of someone who committed human rights violations.
It’s two ultimate one-two punch: Fox News remains Fox News and CNN normalizes an increasingly fascist Republican Party. Everybody wins, if “everybody” is limited to the attendees at a Klan rally.
Except for how CNN doesn't actually win, because Fox News already exists and CNN is already a joke in Fox News viewers' minds, and it's not at all clear there's even a demographic for this, so this looks like a pretty godawful business strategy on Licht's part too. The end.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."