A Noticeable Shift Is Seen as CNN Pulls Back From Tilting at a Favorite Windmill

Photo by Jason Mendez/Invision/AP, File

Tied in with other major developments at the network, CNN’s coverage is already apparently shifting.

The one-time leader and sole creator of 24-hour cable news outlet, CNN has fallen in recent years — and not just on hard times. It is amazing to sit back and consider that the channel that quite literally revolutionized broadcast journalism has been reduced to less than a competitor — to a distant also-ran in the ratings. It has been years now since the channel has sunk to Hallmark Channel-levels in the ratings, and the recent spate of scandals has compounded the trauma.


One of the ironies seen from Jeff Zucker’s outlet is the perpetual whining taking place about how Fox News is not a valid news network. The complaints about coverage, bias, and faulty journalism have been a constant across the broadcasts, not just with the obsessions exhibited by Brian Stelter and his ward, Oliver Darcy, delivering their dispatches from The Foxcave. The irony of this is how often CNN would forego covering the news in order to complain how Fox does not cover news properly.

Things might be in the course of changing as we speak; it remains to be seen if it is for the better. It appears that, during the past few weeks of massive internal executive changes, some on-air alterations are subtly taking place as well. Over at Mediaite, Colby Hall has made a bit of a discovery regarding the content seen on CNN in the past few weeks.

In January, CNN mentioned “Fox” on-air an average of 100 times per week. But in the first three weeks of February, the average number of “Fox” mentions dwindled by two-thirds down to 34. If one looks at average daily mentions, Fox was uttered roughly 13 times per day from Jan. 1 to Feb. 2, and five times per day, on average, since.


That February 2 date is significant, as that was the date Zucker shocked his minions by announcing he was stepping down from his post as network president. Since that historical marker, CNN has backed off of the throttle on the Fox criticism vehicle. Making this all the starker was the past week seeing particular focus on Fox News and its handling of the latest report from the Durham investigation. Had there not been that elevated coverage of accusing the competitor of overreacting, the numbers regarding the diminished focus on Fox would be even sharper.

This would point to a couple of realities emerging from the ever-evolving telenovela in Atlanta. The first is that the stated reason for Zucker’s forced exit – his unrevealed yet widely known affair with a staffer – was the justification, but not the basis. Just ahead of the Chris Cuomo suspension, then firing, I suggested that both he and Jeff Zucker could be facing a reckoning, based on the fact that Warner Media was taking a more direct involvement in the network, and that corporate standards with WM were more rigid and clearly laid out. CNN has been positioned as a problem needing to be addressed.

This was further revealed when, weeks after Zucker’s receiving of walking papers, his paramour, Allison Gollust, was summarily dismissed with the stated reason being not her involvement with Zucker but her actions in putting Andrew Cuomo on the air and arranging favorable coverage of the governor. So we see that the Warner influence might be felt already at the network with Zucker being removed. 


Now Hall, in his coverage at the media outlet, has some daft conclusions. He suggests that CNN was actually helping the fortunes at Fox by constantly covering them.

How does a rival network report the political rhetoric of a competitor without promoting the competitor? If the consistently absurd and asinine comments made by Tucker Carlson are covered regularly on CNN, eventually many viewers are going to tune into Fox News at 8 p.m.

It is far more than a stretch to suggest CNN was boosting Fox in any significant way. Before he left the network, Chris Cuomo was the highest-rated host, but you had to expand the cable news ratings chart to the top-30 for him to scratch out a position. Hall also suggests that it was hurting CNN’s fortunes when they engaged Fox in the bitter commentary that supposedly originated with them. This is not only a myopic read (just look at the facility with which the Hitler/Nazi comparisons emanate from CNN hosts) but if it is strictly a Fox trait, then the fact they have soared in the ratings should have led to a noted rise for CNN as well.

While it has only been weeks since the seismic shift in CNN’s executive division, it appears a tidal change is also coming over the news side of things. It remains to be seen if this is a rising case of lifting all boats, or things will continue to ebb, giving off a distinctive low-tide aroma.



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