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the top 27 things that are wrong with cnn's election coverage

i've used it before, but i love it.
you could ask me: why are you still watching cnn election coverage when you know damn well that it's awful? and i would have to respond that i ask myself that same question once every ninety seconds or so as i am watching it. i far prefer watching msnbc, which is unsurprising, but i also know that they've established themselves as defenders of the progressive/ democrat camp. for that matter, i'd watch a full day of john oliver, stephen colbert and jon stewart if the option were available to me and it would be both more entertaining and more informative.

however, i try to make an effort to expose myself to at least some views that are different than my own and fox news is utterly unbearable to me. so that leaves me with cnn. although they pretend to occupy the middle ground, while fox and msnbc man the "fringes", the fact is that cnn is more supportive than either of their biased counterparts of the status quo and an agenda set by elites. i would argue that by disguising what i'd call their prejudice against serious investigative journalism, they are actually more damaging to public discourse than the obviously partisan options.

i think that it's important to have a major news outlet that tries to separate itself from partisan politics and take a neutral approach. other countries make it part of the mandate of their national broadcaster to "keep the government honest" and serve as a critic on behalf of the people. [living in canada, i've been watching what happens when successive governments act like petty children and start to starve the public broadcaster of funding in order to silence perceived opposition. it's not pretty.]

asking a private, for-profit corporation to fill the role of objective observer is tricky, but i have nonetheless come up with a list of things, all of which undermine the neutral positioning that cnn claims to occupy.

1. they are allowing the two established political parties to dictate the issues and scope of the debate. almost all guests parrot party lines and nothing more. they also buy into using terms like "obamacare" rather than the proper name, the affordable care act, with the full knowledge that the change in terms itself affects perception of the bill.

2. they rely too heavily on openly partisan commentators to provide content, which further narrows the range of opinions available.

3. they do not always identify the partisan affiliation of guests if they are not currently active in politics.

4. they are almost entirely focused on a few senate races and don't try to inform voters about other issues on local ballots.

5. they censor candidates' more outrageous statements as if they are not representative of their opinions. i believe this stems from the belief that occupying the middle ground means winnowing out the more extreme statements, but this presents a dishonest view of candidates.

6. they refuse to consider perspectives from a non-partisan perspective. for example, the case of a democratic speaker commenting on the appearance of a republican candidate is being considered only in terms of how it might swing votes. hosts have even questioned whether or not the statement was sexist. clearly it was and it could have been used in order to question the entrenched sexism within the entire american political system.

7. they still haven't learned to use social media. there is a nation of people just waiting to offering information about what is happening on the streets and in polling stations, people equipped with cameras who could offer a full day's stream of stories, but they insist on maintaining a traditional, top-down model.

8. they challenge their guests enough. if you're going to fill your airwaves with partisan chatter, you'd better damn well make sure they are getting their facts straight, but there is never a question as to where they're getting their information.

9. their hosts seem uninformed. with the notable exceptions of chris cuomo and [increasingly less often], anderson cooper, hosts seem to take the position that they should not offer comment on issues. they've clearly mistaken expressing knowledge or understanding of a subject with compromising objectivity. facts are not objective.

10. they don't analyse the data they have at their disposal. it is not enough to give barack obama's declining approval numbers- they need to dissect why voters disapprove of him. how much of the disapproval comes from progressive voters who have been let down with his policies. even when they showed him being heckled for inaction on immigration, this question wasn't raised. this is just one example of an embarrassing phenomenon: with the reams of data they collect, cnn can't seem to do anything with the numbers.

11. they aren't asking people what their specific policies are. this is particularly evident when they speak to independent candidates, where they only seem concerned with knowing with which party they intend to caucus.

12. other than the affordable care act, they aren't talking about issues that have come up in the last two years, only in the last couple of months. remember sandy hook and the people who deserved a vote? cnn doesn't. for that matter, remember the bankers who ruined the economy in 2008 and never served a minute in jail? cnn doesn't. or any of the issues raised in the occupy protests- the increasing disparity between the very richest and the rest of the country?

13. they're still talking about ebola as a political issue. that's just irresponsible.

14. they aren't offering meaningful information, even on issues they've deemed important enough to talk about. if the affordable care act is a big deal [and in this case, i'd agree that it is], where is the data on what it has done so far? are more people getting health care coverage? has there been a net increase in premiums? have junk insurance policies been driven out of the market?

15. they aren't discussing efforts to exclude certain voters. whether or not you believe that this is a partisan issue [although it is], there is no question that voter turnout, especially in midterm elections, is abysmal and that reports of widespread voter fraud have been debunked. trying to lower the number of people who can vote in an age when the country should be implementing strategies to encourage participation is something that should warrant careful analysis.

16. they aren't calling voters on their bullshit. while i don't agree with fox news commentators that basic knowledge tests should be required to vote [although i would hope that one of the questions they'd approve would be "where was president obama born?"], i have some sympathy with the idea that voters should be informed. lots of american voters have ideas that are embarrassingly wrong and rather than trying to pander to the idea of the noble voter, cnn, with their corps of experts, should be willing to tell people when they're being dumb.

17. they aren't discussing the corporate involvement in political campaigns. it's fine to mention that sheldon adelson is pouring money into defeating a certain motion, but what's more important is to discuss what corporate backers candidates have and to whom they will be indebted after their election.

18. they aren't revealing their own potential conflicts of interest. it's fine that they mention when their parent company is implicated in a story, but that's not enough. they need to make it clear to the audience when major advertisers like the american petroleum association and koch industries are involved.

19. they're not acknowledging that certain groups may have more difficulty voting than others. low-wage workers, generally paid by the hour, may not have the luxury of losing a half-day's pay to stand in line to vote, which means it's easier for middle and upper class, disproportionately white voters to get to the polls.

20. they're repeating the same stories over and over again. what's the point of a twenty-four hour news channel if it's just the same hour of "news" read by different people?

21. they aren't reporting other news. one of the most common complaints that non-americans have about americans is that they know almost nothing about the rest of the world. part of providing a reasonably objective viewpoint, surely, is to give some sense of context about what's happening elsewhere.

22. related to #21, but different enough, i think, to warrant it's own point: they aren't taking advantage of the opportunity to talk about how the american system compares to other voting systems, how participation rates differ, how voting trends differ, what america could learn from others and what others could potentially learn from america.

23. they are uncritically accepting the bogus position that both political parties have become more extreme. it is certainly true that republicans have been pushed increasingly to the right, but the fact is that democrats have as well. progressive voices, despite increasing in number, are more frozen out of the two-party system than ever.

24. they aren't talking about how americans feel about certain issues when they aren't presented in a partisan framework. the affordable care act is an example, sure, but what about raising the minimum wage? marriage equality? gun control? it's important to identify how people, not parties feel about this, especially in cases where it looks like people might be voting against their own interests.

25. they're not talking about the gridlock and shutdowns in congress. sure, they're mentioning how people are sick of it, but they aren't talking about what caused it and what concrete proposals have been brought forward to fix the current situation. candidates may say that they'll reach across the aisle, but we need to know on what issues specifically?

26. they're allowing guests to bully each other and make discussions about who can scream loudest. hosts repeatedly allow guests to talk right over each other, as if this somehow equivalent to quality debate. it isn't. if they're going to behave like children, treat them like children. tell them to wait their turn the first time it happens and shut off their mic if they do it again. if you want your network to have dignity, respect has to be a precondition of participation.

27. they're not talking about the issues that congress will have to deal with over the next two years. in the midst of the chatter about isis and ebola, there's no talk about what all-american issues need to be dealt with. where are we at on that immigration legislation? how about the question of net neutrality and restriction of consumer choice when it comes to telecommunications providers? the implications of continued drought conditions for the american food supply and for thousands of farmers? and yeah, that gun control stuff you promised to discuss... these are issues that will [or should] be debated in the next congress, so why aren't we hearing about them?

ok, those are seriously just the first things that came into my mind. i think i could go on, but i'd actually like to get this post finished today.

i really hope that americans make an informed choice today, but if they're relying in any way on cnn, i don't see how they could.


Martin Rouge said…
There are many things that could be mentioned here, but I'll go with the USA-focus of whatever "coverage" they're providing. They don't cover the rest of the world in any sort of comprehensive manner, because they are, for one thing, addicted to sound bites, and they operate with the basis that Americans don't care about what happens outside the country, a viewpoint that they have fostered themselves.

The second point I would bring up, very much in link to the first relates to doing some sort of comparative analysis of the electoral process outside their borders. They're not going to do it, on the accepted dogma that the USA is the best country on earth, that their system is the best there is, and that they are the only ones to stand for freedom, and all the other nations are either corrupt or ineffective. The only mentions of voting problems by any sort of right-wing media is the legend of widespread voter fraud (as mythological as the Reagan -era welfare queen), while the left points out cases of corporate interference and genuine corruption... but never in a way that would cause a serious, Watergate-level shakedown.

CNN stands by the status quo to preserve it's bipartisan standing, which is to say that they support both parties in the same way, supporting the very failures that are causing it to collapse. Ted Turner is not proud of them at all.
Kate MacDonald said…
Yup. Those are pretty much points 21 and 22.

Ironically, after the red tide arrived last night, they had a panel of media/ political experts mediated by Anderson Cooper and the analysis was... not bad at all.

They didn't overcome either of the shortcomings you mention, but they did talk more in depth about voting numbers and demographics (albeit briefly), they had a rational discussion and the discussion was largely free of party talking points. I think that part of my annoyance with them is that I do feel they have the talent to do better, they just aren't using it.

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