An open letter to CNN

October 12, 2010

Don’t lose your relevance.
I owe much to CNN. Way back. Far back. When the all-news network premiered, I was obsessed with the notion of 24-hour news. I must have been among the very first viewers in 1985 to watch the premier of “Larry King Live.”

At the time, I was working for an energy company, and in the first week of CNN, King interviewed President Jimmy Carter, who mentioned my employer and the work they were doing on double-hulled ships.
The next day, I came in early to the office, typed up a retelling of the appearance in a memo, and hand-delivered it to the vice president of communications.

A half hour later, he called to thank me. The chairman had called not 10 minutes earlier to find out what the former president had to say. My memo gave all the details. My boss scored big and always remembered my kick save.

Years later, when talking to Larry King, I recited the story. In his trademark raspy voice, he slapped me on the back and asked if he was now entitled to 10 percent of anything I had made over my career.

My love of news, communications, and public relations grew up with CNN. Their cameras brought me the realities of war, deaths, disasters, triumphs, and successes. But today, the venerable franchise is failing.

The latest indignation is the premier of “Parker Spitzer,” an hour’s worth of talking heads with all the pacing and excitement of a local, Sunday morning community affairs program. It is easy to understand why few came to Eliot’s rescue after his disgrace. He comes off as entitled and cold, academic, and more interested in telling you how much he knows rather than engaging his guests or an audience.

Eliot’s sidekick, the syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, appears unsure, dispassionate, and unable to counterweight Spitzer’s more dominant personality or forced smiles. Their chemistry? It’s like mixing air and water. Nothing really happens.

Adding to CNN’s growing risk is the approaching retirement of King, scheduled for Dec. 16. His replacement, Piers Morgan, is best known to American audiences as the cantankerous judge on “America’s Got Talent” and a contestant on “The Apprentice.”

That’s all a far cry from the energy and vision of the original CNN, when bad boy Ted Turner financed a start-up network on junk bonds and gave his guys free reign to recreate the news industry. The formula has all but been picked apart and bastardized by competitors, including Faux News and MS Can’t Believe. The slower moving, more centered CNN seems all so quaint at time when partisanship parades as news, and commentators emerge as political folk heroes in the names of Stewart and Beck.

As for CNN, it seems hell-bent on continuing a quiet slide into irrelevance, which would be a huge loss for moderate voices, who, like myself, grew to love the pace and storytelling of real news, instead of what masquerades as such in the chaotic era of media.

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Frank Freudberg
8 years 6 months ago
Thanks Greg for this post and putting into words what I've been thinking for sometime now. I see you didn't reference the Rick Sanchez incident, and maybe that incident doesn't impact the points you made in your post. But to me, rushing to judgment and firing Sanchez is yet another example of how CNN is slowly losing its grip on managing its own product. I never liked Sanchez very much, but that's due more to his corny, homey, self-inflated style rather than something I didn't like in the content of what he said. One of Sanchez's complaints is about the… Read more »
Greg Matusky
8 years 6 months ago
Good point, Frank. I wrote about Rick Sanchez and his role in the Pastor Terry Jones fiasco in an earlier post ( Like you, I never understood how Sanchez rose to be a CNN anchor/host, mainly due to the points you make in your post. His fast departure could account for CNN having to rush "Parker Spitzer" into prime time, when they certainly weren't ready for prime time. Adding to the intrigue was the long-rumored firing of Jonathan Klein, who has overseen the news organization during its fall from grace. CNN’s timing of Klein’s firing makes you wonder if the… Read more »