CNN Follows Playbook That Partisanhip Works

Bill O’Reilly appears to have won. Same for Keith Olbermann. Arguably the two seminal drivers of the fiercely partisan programming that fills prime time on Fox News and MSNBC have received an endorsement from CNN -- the network that had maintained a holier-than-thou approach to unabashed advocacy. Of course, the nod to their success also holds for their bosses who let them run with it: Roger Ailes at Fox and Jeff Zucker at NBCUniversal.



Yes, the same Zucker now heading CNN. Continuing with Zucker’s statements upon taking over the network, CNN executives have indicated the dogmatism from the right-leaning O’Reilly on Fox and leftist Olbermann on MSNBC wouldn’t be part of CNN. (Olbermann left MSNBC several years ago.)

Now, at least partly, Zucker appears to be harkening back to how under his aegis, Olbermann took a strong stance against Gulf War II and MSNBC became a leftist haven, with viewership that passed CNN. It's hard to debate that ranting drives ratings.

This fall, CNN will be launching a show with big-time zealotry – or re-launching one. “Crossfire,” which ran for 23 years with the likes of conservative Pat Buchanan and leftist James Carville engaged in vigorous debate, is returning. CNN has made it clear it isn’t looking for academic-style polemics with who it's chosen as a flag bearer on the right: Newt Gingrich.

Perhaps it will hire boxing announcer Michael Buffer to do the intro with his famed: “Let’s get ready to rumble”?

A gifted debater, Gingrich might articulate hard-right positions more skillfully than anyone, often with delicious snarkiness. He’ll be joined in the conservative corner by S.E. Cupp, who has a role on GBTV – Glenn Beck’s network -- and also offers a rightist counterbalance on MSNBC.  

The left will feature Van Jones, a favorite Beck target, who Republicans got fired as green jobs advisor in the Obama White House for previous political activities. Among them: he reportedly signed a petition that the Bush administration may have "deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war."

Jones’ leftist colleague will be Stephanie Cutter, who worked as a deputy campaign manager for President Obama last year. A comment about her in the New York Times read: “She is an old-school, take-no-prisoners political operative. Losing is not tolerated.” 

It should be noted that CNN is looking to feature ranters on opposite sides, unlike some Fox and MSNBC ratings drivers. In a statement announcing “Crossfire’s” return, Zucker said the show will be “the forum where America holds its great debates.”

That provokes as much of a snicker as O’Reilly offering the Fox “fair and balanced” tagline. Zucker’s smart, so if injected with truth serum, he’d probably offer up a wide smile, too. After all, why would he want high-minded debate?

In a culture where Americans say they don’t like mud-slinging, but probably would be bored without it, “Crossfire” resembling Lincoln vs. Douglas would likely bomb. Even the respectful and insightful Shields-Brooks segments on PBS would probably wallow on a cable news network.

Somewhere Jon Stewart might be thinking, “I thought I killed it forever.” The original "Crossfire" was canceled not long after he appeared on it blasting partisan programming, accusing "Crossfire" of “hurting America” and calling host Tucker Carlson a “d*ck.”

Then-CNN president Jonathan Klein took the extraordinary step of telling the New York Times: “I agree wholeheartedly with Jon Stewart's overall premise.” Klein told the paper that in a post-9/11 world, people want information more than opinion.

Fast-forward eight years and Zucker seemed to agree as he hired ABC’s Jake Tapper and referred to him as the new face of CNN. With Zucker, CNN has tried to make information have more pop, though.

Opinion has actually played a notable role on CNN this year as Piers Morgan has mounted an anti-gun crusade on his prime-time show. But the new “Crossfire” is likely to follow the cable news playbook that had Sen. Jay Rockefeller saying he’s like the FCC to ban Fox and MSNBC.

A signal how much CNN is acknowledging the interest in their kind of programming will come in whether “Crossfire” appears in prime time? (CNN won’t say when it will run.)

Scheduling in the evening might offer the potential irony of Gingrich going head-to-head with O’Reilly. 

3 comments about "CNN Follows Playbook That Partisanhip Works ".
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  1. Kevin Killion from Stone House Systems, Inc., June 26, 2013 at 3:29 p.m.

    All in all, that was a pretty balanced article, which is a difficult task for some media writers. Watching the radical Van Jones and the eclectic conservative Gingrich battle it out could make for some interesting television. I doubt it will reach the high point of television political debate, however -- that would be William Buckley's Firing Line program.

  2. Stan Valinski from Multi-Media Solutions Group, June 26, 2013 at 4:28 p.m.

    I agree Kevin. David did a great job of writing "from the middle". He refrained from the editorial adjectives that are all too prevalent today. Too many writers are trying to make brownie points with the corporate masters. The Phoenixed Crossfire could be fun but let's see some of the young voices worked in. As we saw during the last GOP Primary too much Newt is not exactly compelling entertainment.

  3. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications, June 27, 2013 at 5:43 a.m.

    I love a good debate, however, for me its 'presentation' that counts for almost everything. There are good shows on television that I will not watch, that have a news crawl and women in clown make-up, meaning greasy lips...

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