CNN Damaging Its Reputation and Brand Value at the Worst Time

I’m not a corporate raider, but maybe devaluing your company by becoming an embarrassment of frequent foibles during a merger is ill-advised?

It was a tough Independence Day for CNN, the Nation’s foremost news organization. After a deepening battle of a personal nature President Donald Trump delivered a tweet (an act out of character for him, to be sure) that served as a shot across the bow. It contained the infamous wrestling gif that has altered the internet forever, and it may have changed the course of CNN permanently.

Network executives seem to have bypassed a reality that their parent company, Time/Warner, is in the process of being taken over by media giant AT&T. There are any number of details that could rear up and send these acquisition deals sideways. One of the target corporation’s boutique properties seen lowering its value faster than a brownstone converted to a frat house could be just the deal breaker.

The past few days have shown the network is operating in a strata of obliviousness and feeling smug within a self-created bubble of protection. In becoming offended by a gif with the corporate CNN logo superimposed over a wrestler’s face all manner of common sense has been jettisoned. First was the insistence the video was some kind of declaration of violence upon reporters. A few of these reporters gleefully detailed that to declare CNN “fake news” Trump used video from a fake sport. Somehow the artifice of WWE still translated to genuine threats of violence,  according to these wizards.

Then in baffling fashion the news net sought out and threatened the creator of the gif. This can only transpire when you are operating from the position of declaring themselves the country’s moral arbiters. Once this news broke the internet thankfully recoiled at the prospect. CNN came under fire from most sides, and the company reacted in puerile fashion. Andrew Cuomo was one example, deleting tweets once his emotional outrage was pointed out to be rather absent of pragmatism. There was irony where he called for people making bold claims to be compelled to back them up by using their own name. Next he immediately went on to defend the network’s use of anonymous sources. The blind spot was Magoo-level.

The only way to get to this stage as a news outlet is to have that path lain for you. During the initial Obama Presidential  campaign we saw a media complex that shifted perceptibly. Sure, past claims of objectivity and unbiased reporting at least carried the patina of plausibility. But the all-in cheerleader show that went on was both embarrassing (though this crowd seems shame-proof) and an indicator of a seismic industry shift. Their guy won, and this seemed to give the journalists a sense of indomitability.

The group charged with keeping the government in check abdicated that role as they ushered in their preferred leader to the White House. They were no longer duty-bound to hold our leader to accountability, and they went from being above the fray to being above their audience. The media complex became the industry of narrative-driving and societal lectures. They also became entitled, while becoming complacent.

During last year’s Presidential campaign journalism’s ostentation reached its apex. In a clear bid to ensure Hillary’s ascendancy they pushed and prodded Donald to the front of the GOP line as the most beatable opponent, favoring the Foghorn From Manhattan with billions in free media airtime. Yet as they tried to torch their political matchstick man Hillary served as such a wet blanket he wouldn’t ignite, and now they have to deal with the creature they have wrought. CNN has been reduced to the villagers chasing the mutant, except as they try to burn the windmill down they are more apt to set themselves ablaze.

Due to the sense of entitlement, and the 8 years of unchallenged power, CNN has been behaving as if they are the unassailable authority on all that is worthy. We saw this during the campaign, when at stadium appearances crowds began to voice outrage at reporters. Laughably, these contretemps became field reports. We were shown video footage of outraged voters pointing and yelling at the press pits. We heard tremor-filled testimonials from shaken reporters, who bravely detailed their experience with people raising their voices. You would have thought they were taking on rocket fire in Raqqa.

These self-important mirror gluttons made themselves the center of the story, and did so when public opinion of journalists was in freefall. There’s a word for that.  That word is not “clever”, by the way.

So here is CNN, spinning its wheels for months on a Russia story and only managing to bury itself past the lug nuts. In the process they have now angered the administration, just at a time when the Justice Department is weighing the merits of the merger. This is the kind of corporate savvy a guy like Jeffery Zucker is supposed to be mindful of as head of the network. The absence of that business acumen is why AT&T is mulling giving Jeff his walking papers  following approval.

Even if that fails to happen, one other reality could appear. The problematic network with diminishing returns and and a tattered reputation, could be spun off and left to fend for itself.