They Didn’t Start The Fire

From the way so many people in my social media feed, as well as so many others’, reacted to the folly that CNN telecast Wednesday night in the 8 PM hour, you’d think CEO Chris Licht was as guilty of treasonous behavior as the obese orange “Cyrus” he gave a forum to.

He also delivered a rare time period win for the network he is charged with running, under intense pressure to improve, and has a fidicuary responsibility to his company’s shareholders–many of whom are CNN viewers–to do whatever he can to improve a ship that has sunk -16% in total audience and -21% in target demographic year-over-year.

And naturally, when regular time period occupant Anderson Cooper attempted to offer some degree of logical framing for what transpired last night, his head was put on the same spit which Licht’s had been placed upon the previous night, as THE WRAP’s Ross A. Lincoln reported:

The backlash over CNN’s Donald Trump town hall, held Wednesday night in front of an audience made almost entirely of Trump supporters, showed no signs of dying down on Thursday. Which is likely why Anderson Cooper attempted to quell that backlash with a commentary during Thursday night’s episode of his CNN primetime show.

But just like the event itself, Cooper provoked far more criticism than agreement. Cooper, one critic said, acted like “a gaslighting scold.” And the event, another said, is “a desperate ploy for ratings by a network in crisis.” Oops.

The backlash is difficult to summarize, but the main thrust is that critics argue the event was an irresponsible mistake at every level. Complaints touched on the friendly audience, on the fact that aside from any mention of the 2020 election, moderator Kaitlan Collins allowed Trump to lie for minutes at a time with no pushback, and on dangerous falsehoods Trump told about abortion.

All true.  And Cooper essentially acknowledged all that and more.   But what was chastised as a “gaslighting scold” was actually as nuanced and logical an explanation for why it’s essential for all of us to be aware of exactly what we’re arguing about, given how much is at stake for all of us.  Cooper was accused of being, as Lincoln further reported, incideniary in his own right:

Cooper rejected the idea that the event should never have happened. Largely because Trump may well end up as the Republican nominee for President in 2024, the implication being that this very fact makes it imperative to let him speak.

But Cooper then appeared to accuse critics themselves of being narrow-minded. “That audience that upset you? That’s about half the country,” he said — erroneously by the way.

Cooper then, with a hint of smugness, addressed critics as people who “haven’t been paying attention since he left office” and are “enjoying not hearing from him.” Critics, Cooper went on, are perhaps “thinking ‘it can’t happen again, some investigation is gonna stop him’? Well, it hasn’t so far.”

Smug?  Any less so, perhaps, than some of the comments that surfaced in the aftermath, such as these, from, sadly, the most likely of employers and platforms willing to take someone to task for defending his right to do the job he was hired to do:

As opposed to what? Watching the person say the same hateful things and spew the same old lies we’ve heard a thousand times?” Sirius XM host Michelangelo Signorile said.

“It’s so weird. Now the avoidance of flagrant lies, threats of violence and contempt for law and truth is a crabbed ‘silo?’ I sort of prefer to think of it as ‘democracy’ but sure, I’m limited that way,” author Dahlia Lithwick wrote.

“You must listen while a man mocks the woman he sexually assaulted in front of a laughing, cheering crowd OR ELSE YOU LIVE IN AN IDEOLOGICAL SILO!” noted “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” writer Ariel Dumas.

I guess those of us fortunate enough to earn money through liberal media, published books and striking talk shows have a right to their opinion.  Most of us aren’t that lucky.  Personally, I worked for Rupert Murdoch for 15 years and some equally morally bankrupt people over the years.  I don’t apologize for it.  Neither should Licht nor Cooper.

Nor should Kaitlyn Collins, who by many measures performed admirably being thrown to the lions like a piece of meat.  She now is in the same category of “nasty woman” as Megan Kelly was classified as in 2016.  She appears poised to take over the 9 PM hour which Kelly once reigned over.  CNN should only hope she is capable of delivering half the viewership that Kelly did at her peak, which is a LOT more than they’re getting now.

The strategy that went into this pairing has implications far beyond a mere “ratings bump”, as some respected friends of mine observed.  This was as much about establishing Collins, currently part of the wreckage that remains from the ill-fated CNN morning show which Don Lemon helped to sabotage, as a viable contender to a prime time in desperate need of help.  Perhaps in the minds of those who chose to mock her for not out-and-out asking Trump for a confessional on live TV she fell short of her “obligation” as a journalist.  But if the same critics are to believe that the audience was as pro-Trump as they believe based on what they heard, then it’s entirely possible that in doing so she might have indeed incited a riot akin to January 6th, and, believe me, they would have stabbed her first before Mr. Oversized Tie.

Incidentally. I wonder how many of those who chose to whine online saw the report that Mediaite’s Charlie Nash dropped last night that chronicled the first-hand observation of that crowd:

The floor manager came out ahead of time and said, Please do not boo, please be respectful. You were allowed to applaud,” claimed Republican political consultant Matthew Bartlett in an interview with Puck News senior political correspondent Tara Palmeri on Thursday.

“And I think that set the tone where people were going to try their best to keep this between the navigational beacons, and that if they felt compelled to applaud, they would, but they weren’t going to have an outburst or they weren’t going to boo an answer,” he said.

Bartlett claimed that, while many in the audience applauded and cheered the former president, “there were also people that sat there quietly disgusted or bewildered.” He estimated that while around half of the audience expressed vocal support for Trump, the other half sat in silence. Bartlett also alleged that Trump repeatedly “lost the audience” when he spoke about topics like January 6 or the results of the 2020 election, despite the appearance on CNN that the audience was consistently on his side.

But why would anyone want to let facts get in the way of what they heard watching TV?

Or how many of them have actually taken the time to read about the guy whose influence is far greater than that of them on not only CNN, but, indeed, the cable industry in general?  As Vox’s Peter Kafka wrote last year. if one is truly looking for someone to blame for disrupting their Wednesday night, consider the overwhelming influence that Dr. John Malone has on every layer of management:

(T)he bigger question floating over one of the world’s largest and most important news organizations is why it’s changing. Is it because the CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, its new owner, wants an overhaul? Or is it at the behest of a conservative billionaire investor in the company who sits on its board?

That billionaire is John Malone, a legend in the cable TV business and one who has deep and longstanding ties with David Zaslav, the CEO of WBD. People close to both men insist that Zaslav is remaking CNN because he wants to for both business and editorial reasons, and not because Malone has told him to.

But complicating that narrative is the fact that Malone has repeatedly wished, in public, for CNN to remake itself. And his prescription happens to sync with the new CNN agenda: a plan to steer the channel away from what Malone and others call a liberal bias they say muddles opinion and news. And to shift it toward a supposedly centrist, just-the-facts bent.

If David Zaslav is Yosemite Zas, then Malone is Professor Charles Xavier of X-Men.  He’s not a George Soros, nor is even a Murdoch.  But he does know how to make a lot more money than anyone else in this discussion.  There isn’t ANY cable television industry, or any technological successor to it, without him.  There’s not a single successful person I’ve met in my decades in the industry that at some point hasn’t filtered their career path through the WWJD filter.  In this case, it’s “What Would John Do?”,

And that includes David Zaslav. Which means it includes Chris Licht.  Which means it includes Anderson Cooper and Kaitlyn Collins and the floor manager at St. Anselm’s College.

And for anyone else who may think it’s within your right to bitch about how and why they made the choices they did ask yourself–if your very livelihood depended upon it, would you have the financial and personal resolve to go rogue?  And even if you did, would you have done so on the kind of stage and set of circumstances CNN was charged with Wednesday night?

For anyone who chooses to no longer watch CNN after this Town Hall, bluntly, unless you were a Nielsen household and indeed watched every single night before this, they’ll get along just as well without you.  And if even a fraction of the million or so ex-FOX News viewers do indeed land on CNN, even temporarily, to check out Collins and Cooper because, for once, they weren’t shouted down for having a contrary opinion, then the chances that Licht could somehow keep his job for a few more weeks is enhanced.  As I’ve repeatedly said and continue to chide the excuses for researchers that apparently now control the narratives at FOX News and elsewhere, there’s a very simple analysis called audience flow that can quantify empirically exactly where the Tucker Carlson audience has gone.  They all haven’t gone to Newsmax.  And they do buy products and subscribe to MVPDs.  They’re as valuable to those who run CNN, and investors like Malone, as anyone, and likely more so than infrequent viewers who snub their nose at the likes of Licht and Cooper.

I wish those that take people to task for doing the exact same thing they often have to do were capable of letting others do theirs, or at least be smart enough not to blame them for anything that might or might not occur as a result.  But I know all too well there’s little chance for any such justice.  Believe me, in other areas of life, I learn that every single torturous minute I am awake these days, thanks in part to the color green.

As for you complainers, you can always watch a scriped drama on Netflix.  At least for now.

Until next time….




1 thought on “They Didn’t Start The Fire”

  1. This is very good. Like me, you take an uneasy center tack in the culture wars, not beholden to any monolithic thought machine. Good for you.


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