All right, it’s a grandiose headline, but what CNN might do could at the very least show a way for journalism.
In “How to Fix CNN” in yesterday’s Politico, the only intelligent, original ideas came from Jay Rosen:
[Rosen’s] alt line-up for CNN prime time looks like this: (Please excuse my jokey titles…)
- 7 pm: Leave Jon King in prime time and rename his show Politics is Broken. It should be an outside-in show. Make it entirely about bringing into the conversation dominated by Beltway culture and Big Media people who are outsiders to Beltway culture and Big Media and who think the system is broken. No Bill Bennett, no Gloria Borger, no “Democratic strategists,” no Tucker Carlson. Do it in the name of balance. But in this case voices from the sphere of deviance balance the Washington consensus.
- 8 pm: Thunder on the Right. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational liberal that mostly covers the conservative movement and Republican coalition… and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are right leaning. The television equivalent of the reporting Dave Wiegel does.
- 9 pm: Left Brained. Flip it. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational conservative that mostly covers liberal thought and the tensions in the Democratic party…. and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are left leaning.
- 10 pm: Fact Check An accountability show with major crowdsourcing elements to find the dissemblers and cheaters. The week’s most outrageous lies, gimme-a-break distortions and significant misstatements with no requirement whatsoever to make it come out equal between the two parties on any given day, week, month, season, year or era. CNN’s answer to Jon Stewart.
- 11 pm.: Liberty or death: World’s first news program from a libertarian perspective, with all the unpredictablity [sic] and mix-it-up moxie that libertarians at their best provide. Co-produced with Reason magazine.
All good ideas. But let me suggest a re-organization and a few other ideas.
First, shoot the messengers, i.e., the politicians. OK, not actually shoot them or, God forbid, put them in cross hairs. But minimize them. Healthcare, financial reform, immigration, energy realignment, economic recovery—they all are influenced heavily by what politicians do, but the pols don’t inform the debate. People with expert knowledge do. What do those who study healthcare think will decrease costs? How can those costs be impacted by public policy? How do we approach end-of-life care decisions? The people who can answer those questions don’t go to work at the Capitol. They are academicians, doctors, insurance executives, analysts and everyday people who have faced such issues. Three or four sitting around a table with a journalist who listens—rather than jumps in with his next question—can lead to intelligent debate. Sure, some folks will say that’s what PBS does and they don’t attract more than a couple of dozen viewers. But NPR has its largest audience ever. It’s not what I’m proposing but it’s a beacon of light for intelligent information.
Second, label nothing left or right, liberal or progressive, totalitarian or libertarian. Labels close minds. Once you read “the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities” or “the conservative American Enterprise Institute” readers and listeners have already made a judgment about the idea or viewpoint about to be expressed.
Third, don’t aim to make news; instead engender thought. This, of course, is ridiculous to many journalists. Their job is to report news. Fair enough. But I’m thinking of broadcast programs or long-form print journalism. The economics of the business is such that news organizations may need to change deadline driven news hounds into analysts, not of the politics but of issues. Think what would happen if a Congressman held a press conference and nobody came. It wouldn’t be the end of the world.
Fourth, interrupt talking point messengers. The journalists has no responsibility to let drivel drivel. The goal should not be to be “fair and balanced,” but “objective.” That means telling someone, “That’s not true.” Eventually, you may need to simply banish certain guests. Still, the politicians have a role in my programming, but they don’t own the airtime.
So here are my programs: Bob’s Show, Carol’s Show, Ted’s Show, Alice’s Show. In other words, put the focus on intelligent journalists who can foster insightful conversation. That would include the regular host, perhaps with subject specific reporters joining the conversations. The shows could tackle different topics each day. Hot issues, healthcare for the past year for example, might be a topic each night with each show’s moderator tackling a different aspect of the issue. Think “Charlie Rose.”
And here is where I think Rosen’s ideas fit in:
Begin each show with a fact check segment on the last 24 hours’ most audacious claims or charges (also see last three segments for fodder). The segment should pay particular attention to hypocrisy. Instead of “Fact Check,” call the segment “Truth or Consequences.”
Then the roundtable. Encourage participants to talk to each other. The moderator should interrupt for clarification or challenge, as well as follow a tangent when an answer requires it. Don’t book people who are likely to foment argument for argument’s sake but seek passionate viewpoints.
Then “Thunder on the Right,” with the moderator one-on-one with a conservative politician asking him or her to respond to the arguments just elucidated during the roundtable. Again, the questioner must be willing to say, “Stop the talking points,” or “That’s not true.” It’s OK here to discuss the politics of the issue, of course. Why can’t a good idea get done? How does our political system inhibit tackling big questions?
“Left-Brained” is the mirror image.
And finally, “Off the Wall” or “Out of Nowhere” or “A Third Way” (which is not to be confused with the middle way.) Seek out ideas not enjoying widespread discussion. Let it be a two to five minute presentation in any format that makes sense.
Each of the last three segments are grist for the next day’s “Truth or Consequences.”
“Politics is Broken” is not a recurring program but it is a recurring topic or issue. And by the way, it should have a dose of history, both to put the current political environment in perspective and to clarify what the Founding Fathers founded.
These shows may not fit into an hour-long format. Some topics may need 90 minutes. And CNN, with its broad resources for breaking news, can always preempt the regular line-up to cover such news.
My concern for Rosen’s program ideas is how long will people want to listen, for example, to a program that is solely dedicated to knocking down political myths. That may be too cynical for the most cynical among us.
Journalism was never meant to be fair and balanced between fact and fiction. It’s supposed to uncover truth. As the preamble to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists states:
…[P]ublic enlightenment is the
forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues.