STEVE BOUSER: King Will Help Restore Objectivity to CNN
If you're still old-fashioned enough to prefer objectivity in your TV news, you have an opportunity to vote with your feet -- or your remote.
After the first of the year, you can start watching John King as he takes over the 7 p.m. report on CNN. King, who understands unbiased coverage, replaces Lou Dobbs, who did not. Word is that Dobbs, who abruptly left CNN the other day, is considering abandoning all pretense of objectivity and running for president.
Good riddance, I say.
Lou may be the nicest guy in the world. But his approach to his job, as I've written before, offended me mightily. It wasn't his politics. In fact, I never could quite tell where that in-your-face populism of his fit on the left-right spectrum.
I don't care if he was a liberal, conservative, royalist, Social Democrat or Whig. The thing that bugged me and others in this business was the way this supposed newsman, sitting behind the prime-time anchor desk of what passes for the nation's premier news channel, was allowed to spend years putting his opinionated, bullying nightly spin on most of the big stories of the day, thus dragging the once-hallowed concept of objectivity through the dirt.
Trouble is, there was nowhere else to turn for straight news. Certainly not to Fox News, where Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity continue to let their right-wing slant hang out for all to see. Certainly not to MSNBC, where Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow each spend an hour fulminating on the left and Chris Matthews keeps upstaging his guests by butting in on their answers to vent his own feelings. Not to Headline News, where Nancy Grace makes your teeth stand on edge.
There is a place in the media for opinion, of course. In a newspaper, it is on a page like this one -- not the front page. (Any time you think you've caught us letting opinion slip into our news columns, Dear Reader, let me know.) On TV, the opinions should not be coming out of the mouths of an anchor man or woman who is supposedly telling what's going on.
That's why I'm glad that John King, whose no-nonsense approach long ago won my respect, has gotten the nod to take over Dobbs' spot. King cut his teeth at The Associated Press, which has to provide a neutral account to media outlets of all political stripes, so he knows how to play it down the middle with eminent professionalism.
Unfortunately, he may end up playing to a half-empty house. The waters of public discourse in America have become so contaminated by the self-promoting rantings and journalistic cheap shots of the O'Reillys and the Dobbses and the Olbermanns and the Maddows and the Glen Becks that viewers may no longer want boring old unbiased news -- or even recognize it when they see it.
The ratings don't tell a very encouraging story.
"Talking up his new job, King rejected the notion that CNN may be positioning itself for failure by turning away from opinionated anchoring," media analyst Eric Deggans recently wrote in The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. "Still, some experts wonder if King isn't fooling himself. Armed with ratings showing CNN in fourth place last month behind Fox, MSNBC and sister channel Headline News, they say viewers have accepted the more partisan tone of some cable TV news outlets and may even prefer it."
The idea that Lou Dobbs would even consider running for president (or senator from New Jersey, as he's also considering) is anathema to old-time journalists. Can you imagine Walter Cronkite doing that? Or Tom Brokaw? It's as if the play-by-play announcer suddenly throws down his mike, dons a helmet and runs out onto the playing field to enter the fray.
But the line between observer/commentator and participant has long been blurred and compromised. That proverbial revolving door is in full spin. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee lost no time landing his own talk show on Fox, and Sarah Palin may not be far behind, so what's to keep a "newsman" from going in the other direction?
Soon the idea that a journalist works for his readers/viewers and remains above the fray and has no ax to grind may become as extinct as the dodo, with media and politics merging into one hyperpolarized mess.
All this is bad news, my friends. In more ways than one.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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