The President of the United States might allow us to add the concept of ‘worst man’ to that of best man. It’s hard – very hard – to think of anyone less suited to his office. (Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller? How could an Almighty be so peevish as to put three such unlovely people in the one room at the same time?) This gives journalists a problem. How do we maintain a balance in reporting on a man who seems bent on outstripping himself in nastiness every time he opens his mouth?
CNN is up there with The New York Times as a bête noire of this president. Given his historically great unpopularity, this would suggest that these two arms of the media are just doing their job. (It does make you wonder how a politician elected on what is said to be a ‘populist’ ticket can get to be so unpopular.) But, each of these reporting bodies is respectable, and each therefore may feel acutely the problem of balance.
CNN has in my view come up with the worst possible solution in segments broadcast from Los Angeles anchored by two very sensible and professional journalists, Isha Sesay and John Vause (one of whom is a graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge). In a nation overloaded with qualified neutral commentators, such as the splendid professor from Loyola Law School who appears on this segment, CNN has inflicted on these two journalists the job of trying to extract sense from sundry partisan spin doctors – one giving Republican spin and the other giving Democrat spin. Some at least have the grace to blush occasionally, but you will see immediately one problem – in the events that have happened, what, if anything, do Republicans believe in?
The more significant problem is that what drives most people mad is the polarised spruiking and preaching of soi disant politicians and members of the press. It’s called tribalism. The ultimate bogey man is Fox News. (The Murdoch outfit down here, Sky News, is not as bad, but they are working on their game and they may catch up with the U S model.) The worst of the lot are what are called spin doctors.
But they are precisely what CNN is inflicting on these two fine journalists – and me. It’s an insult to them, and it’s an insult to me. If you wanted an analysis of a contest between the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, you wouldn’t set up a panel consisting of one-eyed desperadoes from the cheer squads of each side. That would really get up our noses. What light could be shed by those galahs?
But that is what we get here – cheer squads. And to show their credentials as spin doctors, we are greeted by men with drop-down smiles like those of Barack Obama, or those that were painted on to the faces of what used to be called air hostesses. One is so inane that he has no recourse but to giggle at himself – nervously and guiltily. And there is much reason for both the nerves and the guilt. The poor man sounds demented at times, as when he raves on about Hillary and Nazis.
It is deeply troubling to watch people grin about something like Charlottesville, Roy Moore, or shitholes. But that’s what we get – until we turn it off in disgust. If the object has been to show that the Republicans stand for nothing, or that the average American voter is easily duped, the segment has prospects. Otherwise it is even worse than morning television. In an effort to convey an impression of balance, CNN has brought itself into disrepute.
Whether or not this kind of thing finds favour in America, it is doubly offensive down here. If we want partisan humbug, we can turn on Fox News. But to get access to either CNN or Fox News, we have to pay a hefty monthly premium to a Murdoch entity that has the rights here. So, in return for paying Murdoch a fee to enable us to avoid polarised claptrap, CNN is inflicting just that on us poor but suspecting Australians.
The issue came to a head the other night – our time – when Isha Sesay was getting the usual brush-off from a sour-pussed Republican about African shitholes. Ms Sesay was moved to announce that she is African and that words matter. That led to another zany pre-recorded political speech. We pay our premium to get accurate news and fair comment. This process serves to annihilate both.
This may just be Rupert’s ultimate revenge, but it is so sad that a respectable broadcaster is his accomplice. It is silly to pile inanity on inanity.