Tuesday, May 27, 2008

CNN's Historic Editorial Politics

(The following article first appeared in the February 2, 1994 issue of the now-defunct alternative newsweekly, Downtown, when CNN was still controlled by Ted Turner.)

With then-LBJ Foundation Chairman of the Board Tom Johnson, Billionaire Turner and representatives of companies like Time Warner and Tele-Communications Inc. sitting on the board of CNN’s parent company in the early 1990s, it wasn’t surprising that CNN didn’t devote much of its air-time each day to discussing who really was responsible for JFK’s elimination on November 22, 1963, during the early 1990s.

Ironically, a senior vice-president for CNN’s operations during the 1980s named Kitchell was a former director of NBC’s old Huntley-Brinkley Report who “had put NBC’s facilities and crews in action for coverage of the John F. Kennedy assassination” at the time the “Oswald as lone assassin” apparent cover-story was first disseminated by the Big Media, according to CNN: The Inside Story.

Nor was it surprising that some U.S. media critics in the early 1990s didn’t consider CNN’s editorial politics to be counter-cultural or alternative enough. As Jeff Cohen, the former executive director of F.A.I.R., told the authors of Unreliable Sources: A Guide To Detecting Bias In News Media:

“…There’s nothing original about CNN’s talkshow lineup. Opponents of the environmental and peace movements are everywhere on CNN, proponents nowhere…

“F.A.I.R.’s beef with CNN is not that there are too many rightists, but that there are no genuine left advocates…”

Former Village Voice writer Richard Goldstein also criticized Turner and his CNN “alternative media” operation during the 1980s, by writing the following:

“No one expects a cable TV mogul to be modest; but imagine the founders of a real network taking to the airwaves for personal publicity…It also suggests the distinction between Turner’s 24-hour Cable News Network and a major news operation.

“The difference has more to do with sensibility than scale. Even if CNN had a bureau in every bush, its approach to reporting would be provincial; Ted Turner’s New South values would pervade its coverage…Those values include a rigid optimism—the most ominous events are served sunny side up on CNN; a hurricane becomes a warning to wear your rubbers—and preoccupation with sex. It’s no accident that CNN’s most brutal error, broadcasting the name of a sexual assault victim, occurred in its haste to cover a notorious rape trial live. Though it feigns discretion, CNN thrives on the very prurience Turner condemns elsewhere on TV.”

Goldstein also accused Turner’s CNN “of `pilfering formats invented elsewhere,’ of seeing journalism as `a common carrier,’ `as the perfect format for elevators and waiting rooms: newzak,” according to The Sky Barons.

Asked by Downtown in early 1994 for CNN’s response to the criticism that CNN’s news coverage is politically biased and excludes genuinely alternative viewpoints from media access, then-CNN spokesperson Steven Hayworth answered:

“I would reject it out of hand. There are always a variety of viewpoints represented on CNN programs. As a news organization, we are second to none in the range of viewpoints we broadcast.”

Downtown then asked Hayworth how he would respond to the criticism that during the 1991 Gulf War I, U.S. pacifists were given less access to CNN’s airwaves than were pro-Pentagon spokespeople.

“I reject the criticism if it implied that we excluded antiwar viewpoints during the Gulf War. We took an incredible amount of heat for interviewing Ramsey Clark. But you can’t satisfy all the people all the time,” answered the then-CNN spokesperson in 1994.

Hayworth also rejected F.A.I.R.’s criticism of CNN for being politically biased, towards the right, in its programming by noting that CNN had programs in 1994 featuring Michael Kingsley and Jesse Jackson. When Downtown noted in 1994 that one of the criticisms of CNN was that it tended to also deny access to prominent dissident U.S. academics like Noam Chomsky, the then-CNN spokesperson insisted that “I can’t think of any faces that we exclude. We survey people. We look for experts who represent all points of view.”

Asked by Downtown in early 1994 if there was any truth to the charge that CNN wouldn’t let any dissident academic critics of Ted Turner’s business practices appear on its network in 1994, Hayworth replied:

“We report on Mr. Turner to the same degree or in a similar way to how we report on any other U.S. businessman.”

[Yet in 2008 CNN still seems reluctant to let U.S. alternative journalists, radicals and counter-cultural voices get on its screen for any length of time to provide genuinely alternative viewpoints on the news for those cable TV viewers who pay to watch CNN. And it’s still not too likely that Time Warner’s CNN subsidiary will ever broadcast many investigative reporting segments on the 1990s and 21st-century business practices of either the Time Warmer media conglomerate monopoly or U.S. billionaire “philanthropists” like Ted Turner or George Soros].

(Downtown 2/2/94)

Next: Ballad of John Garfield lyrics