People told me 2018 couldn’t possibly be worse or weirder than 2017 No? Look at this headline. Look at it.
That’s in the Washington Post today, the paper of record in the capital of the most powerful country on Earth. I spent three hours watching CNN primetime last night and it was wall-to-wall sh*thole, 98 percent lip-quivering outrage with a dash of embarrassing Trump sycophancy from the likes of Jason Miller tossed in to add some spice. It’s hard to choose one shining moment from the display — Anderson Cooper got weepy over Haiti at one point and Don Lemon opened his show by declaring, “This is CNN Tonight, I’m Don Lemon. The president of the United States is racist.” But I think the sh*thole whiteboard from Chris Cuomo took the cake:
I don’t know what CNN’s going to do with itself for the next three years. Watching last night I realized the magnitude of their problem whenever Trump pops off by saying something outre or offensive. Fox News has no problem; they’re in the tank for Trump by and large so their viewers expect them to spin for him. MSNBC has no problem either; they’re in the other party’s tank so viewer expectations are likewise properly adjusted. CNN’s problem is that their niche is supposed to be — emphasis on “supposed to be” — straight news without the opinionated tilt of their competitors. “At CNN, we don’t do opinion, we put the story out there and we try to stay in the middle of the road,” said, uh, Don Lemon a few years ago. But that’s no longer true in the Trump era. All three primetime anchors last night, Cooper, Cuomo, and Lemon, began their hours with straightforward condemnations of Trump. The news had to wait for a few minutes until they’d made clear to the audience how disgusted they were with him.
And it grated on me even though I agreed with the criticism, by and large. “If we could harness it somehow,” I thought, “CNN anchors’ outrage at Trump could be an amazing source of renewable energy.” I’m their target audience in a sense, someone who’s too skeptical of Trump to stomach Fox but too conservative to stomach MSNBC. But because I still have “straight news” expectations for CNN, watching Cooper et al. emote irritated me to a degree that the same emoting on MSNBC, a more left-wing network, wouldn’t have. If I were watching Rachel Maddow call Trump a racist, no sweat — it’s Rachel Maddow and that’s what she does. But the sputtering from Cooper and the rest was too much to take. They’re no more sanctimonious than Maddow or Lawrence O’Donnell is, but because sanctimony isn’t supposed to be part of their “brand” it’s much harder to digest. It makes me wonder if that’s a contributing factor to why Trump himself is forever whining about CNN yet seems never to mention MSNBC, a news channel that’s more stridently opposed to him and gets better ratings to boot.
How do they solve that problem? What do they do when Trump says or does something obviously crass or stupid or self-defeating? If they sermonize, they alienate people like me who are looking for straightforward coverage without a statement of civic virtue from the anchor. If they play it straight, they alienate the viewers who hate Trump and don’t want his nonsense “normalized” by having it treated as garden-variety ho-hum news — and there must be a lot of viewers like that, since most conservatives interested in cable news are watching Fox. Maybe the problem will solve itself as the network “rebrands,” however inadvertently. The more they come to be known as anti-Trump, the more viewers will expect sermonizing and the less it’ll grate when Cooper and the rest deliver. Eventually it’ll become as easy to stomach as it is when Maddow does it. They’d better figure it out, though, because we’re not even through year one of Trump’s presidency and they seem already to have reached a point of near-total exasperation. There will be worse shocks than “sh*thole.” How will they cover them? How high can the outrage meter go? They don’t want to “normalize” Trump but this is going to be “normal” for the next three years.
I had the thought last night that they would benefit from having a comedian hosting during one of their primetime hours, as dark humor would break up the monotony of the brow-furrowing. But comedians aren’t up to the task either. Samantha Bee and Seth Meyers are shriller than Lemon and Cuomo are. Unless they can figure out a way to get a smarter, subtler comic like Dave Chappelle to anchor at 9, they’re stuck.
Grabien has a nice montage of CNN anchors getting crazy with the sh*thole cheez whiz yesterday but I can’t embed the vid. Instead, here’s a fun moment from Lemon’s program. “Why is a counterterrorism analyst on to rant about Trump’s ‘sh*thole’ comment?” you ask. No idea. Because he cleared the outrage bar, I assume.