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CNN’s “Newsroom” Problem

The new Aaron Sorkin series “Newsroom” is getting a pasting from most critics and deservedly so, but it was a media column rather than a television review in today’s New York Times that went right to the heart of the problem about much of today’s media. David Carr’s piece in the paper’s business section today discussed how Sorkin’s “valentine” to the TV news business seems to be an appeal for the embattled real-life CNN to rise above the battle for ratings and stick to the exalted task of presenting real news rather than low-brow fare and amped-up partisan opinions. But the problem with that premise is much the same as the problem with Sorkin’s show.

As Carr points out, Sorkin cheats on his premise, because his idea of a righteous diet of straight news rather than the partisanship of right-wing Fox News or left-wing MSNBC is a catechism of left-wing advocacy. But CNN’s slide in the ratings that Carr aptly compares to a toboggan ride on a snowy hill is not due to the public’s lack of an appetite for quality news programming. It stems from the same hypocrisy that allows Sorkin and HBO to pretend their liberal show is an expression of centrism. Just as viewers will quickly realize the pretense that the desire of Sorkin’s fictional news anchor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels) to return network news to the halcyon days of Walter Cronkite is a crock, so too do most Americans understand that most of the hosts on CNN tilt to the left and are disgusted by their pretense of objectivity.

Much of the mainstream media flatters itself that their shrinking audiences are due to the low-brow tastes and stupidity of the hoi polloi whose attention they must fight for. But the reason why audiences prefer Fox and MSNBC to CNN is that they have shed the false façade of objectivity that is at the core of liberal journalism. They are sick of liberal coverage being passed off as objective journalism and prefer the open bias they find elsewhere.

Nor is this faux objectivity of recent vintage. A recent biography exposed the lie at the heart of the myth of Walter Cronkite’s legend when it spoke of his partisanship, bias and even the dirty tricks he used against politicians he didn’t like. But don’t hold your breath waiting for liberals like Sorkin to fess up to the fact that what they really want is a return to the era when their side had a virtual media monopoly, with the three major networks and the top daily newspapers on their side.

Carr understands that Sorkin is fooling himself, but as a staffer for a liberal media giant like the Times that similarly masquerades as a source of purely objective news, he thinks CNN should stick to its quality reporting and not worry about losing its audience to its tawdry competitors. The reality of CNN and the Times is just as skewed as HBO’s fiction.