The New Yorker Weighs In On CNN

By Alex Weprin 

The New Yorker has tackled CNN’s primetime woes… fashionably late, it seems.

Nancy Franklin discusses the new 8 p.m. program, which will be hosted by Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker, as well as the the presumed successor to Larry King at 9 p.m., Piers Morgan. She also discusses CNN’s problems more broadly:

CNN is now perceived to be a loser, not just quantitatively but qualitatively, overshadowed by two loudmouth networks, one partisan by calculation, the other by imitation. CNN has tried to carry on as a genuine news outlet, but something’s not working…

When I asked [CNN US President Jon Klein] whether he had any reservations about Spitzer’s character, or worried that significant numbers of viewers (such as this one) thought of him as noxious and, on principle, unwatchable, he didn’t answer directly, saying, “As soon as we see the actual show”-it will debut in early October-“viewers will find out that it’s the kind of show that cable has been missing.”

But what cable has been missing, many argue, is committed, enterprising reporting, except when there’s a war or a natural disaster.

Franklin also spoke to former CNN chief Reese Schonfeld, who has been quite critical of the network’s current strategy, as well as Robert Thompson from Syracuse University about the 8 p.m. program:

[Schonfeld’s] assessment of Spitzer, who, he pointed out, has been a lawyer and a politician for his entire career and has no news experience, is that, “at best, he’ll be another shouter.” At the same time, when it comes to news coverage CNN “has a weak starting lineup, and no visible bench. There’s a feeling of insecurity at the network.” He thinks that a merger between CNN and CBS could be a boon. “Not only do I think that Katie Couric could help them a lot, so could Bob Schieffer.”

Still, the New Yorker piece has its perplexing moments. The article seems to argue that Shirley Sherrod was “yanked around” by Fox News, even though the network handled her case quite fairly. It also says that primetime ratings at the “big three” cable news channels Fox News, CNN and MSNBC “have gone way down,” though it does not say what the benchmark was.