CNN: It’s Not News, But What is It?

Chris Cillizza’s political “analysis” is a prime example of CNN’s fall from grace.

What is a news organization? Is it a public service designed to inform the public about significant events? Or is it just a business making money off sensationalism? I’m not sure what CNN considers itself, but in the Trump Era, its become a sad shadow of its former self; a parody of Fox News at its worst in the Obama years.

CNN has become nothing more than an outlet for clickbait, with Chris Cillizza offering probing analysis of “The 65 most outrageous lines from Donald Trump’s longest campaign speech ever”. What’s so outrageous, you wonder? Apparently Trump saying things like: “Remember when I first started this beautiful trip, this beautiful journey, I just said to the first lady, ‘You’re so lucky I took you on this fantastic journey.'”

“I wonder if Melania Trump would describe herself as ‘so lucky,'” Chris speculates. Well, she went from being born in Yugoslavia under communism, to Paris fashion model, to first lady of the United States of America, so yeah, she probably would. The list is literally just Chris Cillizza pulling random quotes from Trump’s rally and making sarcastic comments about them. Such probing journalism! Does he get paid per click, I wonder?

CNN’s hiring of Cillizza in 2017 was symptomatic of its fall from grace, as the network turned from serious journalism to anti-Trump tabloid. Cillizza’s 2017 “second-by-second analysis” of a handshake between President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron was an embarrassing low point. In 2014, Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, criticized modern political journalism as catering to “political junkies” who view politics as a game, rather than providing information so average voters can make up their minds. He held up Chris Cillizza as a prime example of this new type of journalist.

But who is Cillizza’s audience for his CNN blog? CNN promises that he “cuts through the political spin and tells you what you need to know,” but is anyone really informed by sarcastic remarks about random quotes from a Trump rally? Does anyone really believe Cillizza has some brilliant insight about a handshake that no one else can see with his or her own eyes? The contrast between how CNN advertises Cillizza’s brand and his actual output is laughable.

In 2017, Lyz Lenz observed at the Columbia Journalism Review, Cillizza has long been “a punching bag for fellow journalists who tend to be less adept at stacking up digital clicks—somehow maintains an affable, enthusiastic obliviousness even as he tosses out apocalyptic scenarios about the state of democracy.” Lenz’s observation provides an answer: CNN employed Cillizza over more seasoned, traditional journalists because Cillizza’s articles bring in website traffic, which in turn drives advertising revenue.

News outlets hemorrhaging money and desperate to find a way to be profitable online have turned to two strategies to stay afloat: hide behind a pay wall, as the Washington Post has done, or turn to clickbait and sensationalism, as CNN has done. Churning out daily articles like “Donald Trump’s 199 wildest lines of 2019,” “How ‘Merry Impeachmas’ became a thing,” and “The 30 most blistering lines from Donald Trump’s unhinged letter to Nancy Pelosi” has paid off, with CNN remaining strong in the digital realm. With its broadcast news arm floundering in the ratings, CNN needs its digital presence to stay viable.

But at what cost? CNN has sacrificed its journalistic credibility at the altar of clicks and page views. I remember when CNN was the source for cable news, now it’s fallen behind even MSNBC. CNN viewership for November was down 36 percent over the same month last year. There’s just no reason to tune in, nothing that distinguishes CNN from other networks. All it has left are page views from impulsive social media users who see a sensational headline and are compelled to read the first paragraph before moving on to something else.

Information comes fast and furious these days, and people don’t have time for BS. At some point the executives at CNN will have to face the music that they’ve run that once prestigious organization into the ground. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.

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