Column: This is CNN?

By Eric Naing

I’ll admit it; I am a bona fide political junkie. I turn on cable news when I wake up, check political blogs between classes, read “The Economist” in the bathroom and catch some C-SPAN at dinner. But the one catalyst that drove me to this sad state is CNN, Ted Turner’s pioneering 24-hour news network. I owe a great deal to that channel – which is why it pains me to see how pathetic it has become.

A 24-hour cable news network is both a revolutionary and flawed concept. Viewers are given non-stop discussion of (theoretically) everything that is going on, something even those new-fangled blogs can’t do yet. But as a business, 24-hour news networks are prone to pointless fluff stories and patronizing gimmicks.

CNN used to be something special. It used to be something I respected, something I learned from. But what once was my cable equivalent of the New York Times now has become People Magazine – celebrity gossip, flashy graphics and irrelevant human interest stories. I thought things were getting better, especially after Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart single-handedly destroyed the show “Crossfire,” CNN’s political version of professional wrestling. Unfortunately, things seem to be getting worse.

The newest jewel in the CNN crown is “The Situation Room” hosted by the “iron man of cable news,” Wolf Blitzer. This “bold” new show features Blitzer tackling the big stories of the day while awkwardly standing in front of several giant screens. Supposedly modeled after the White House situation room, CNN’s new show confuses and disappoints.

Blitzer tries to remain composed while different screens show different stories dramaticized by bombastic music straight out of a John Williams soundtrack. All this, plus the news scroll at the bottom, leads to a serious sensory overload.

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    But even more frightening than Blitzer and his plasma screens is the growing cult of Anderson Cooper. His show, “Anderson Cooper 360,” has made a big splash on the cable news world, but the bigger story is the non-threatening, genial boy wonder who hosts the show.

    In a clear sign of the network’s direction, CNN recently replaced the admittedly frumpy but always thoughtful Aaron Brown and his insightful show “NewsNight” with a longer version of “Anderson Cooper 360.”

    A member of the wealthy and powerful Vanderbilt family and former host of the ABC reality show “The Mole,” Cooper has amassed a cult of personality that rivals Mao Zedong. CNN consistently touts him as the new face of cable news. Cooper is everything a cable news executive could want. He’s young, attractive and tech-savvy, perfect for attracting the lucrative younger demographic.

    He’s also a shameless self-promoter, and his show is a veritable breeding ground for fluff human interest and celebrity gossip stories sandwiched between glitzy computer graphics. To his credit, Cooper woke up the bulldog press with his reporting on Katrina. But he seems to have reverted to doing stories on candy store-owning entrepreneurs now.

    Cooper’s show, along with “The Situation with Tucker Carlson” and “Connected Coast to Coast,” both on the embattled MSNBC, point to an alarming future of cable news – wishy-washy hosts, shameless and awkward attempts to attract a tech-savvy audience, partisan screaming matches and fluff stories.

    With the retirement of Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather and the sad passing of Peter Jennings, we indeed are in a new era of news. The days of hard-working reporters and actual journalism are behind us. With Fox News in the lead and everyone else struggling to follow, televised news has become a sad mix of shallow magazine shows, acidic political bickering and flashy graphics.

    The Anderson Cooperficiation of CNN and cable news is a troubling trend. News network are sacrificing hard-hitting journalism for entertainment value. At this point, I would much rather getting detailed, relevant news from other sources such as newspapers, news magazines and the Internet.

    I used to love you, CNN, but now I think I’d rather get real news elsewhere instead of hanging with Mr. Cooper.

    Eric Naing is a senior in LAS. His column appears every Monday. He can be reached at opinions@ dailyillini.com.