Take a look at the viewer perception trend line for CNN versus the other two cable news outlets over the last 14 months.
CNN is really in the basement, and has been since the election. This gives legs to a number of theories, none of which claims exclusivity over the others.
- MSNBC is irrelevant except to hard core liberals and Bernie Sanders supporters. (The Venn diagram of these groups is virtually two overlapping circles.)
- Fox News is favored by conservatives, but also has a wide stripe of T4E (Trump 4 Ever) painted through it, namely Sean Hannity. This is balanced by some rather serious doubters and political heavyweights.
- CNN has few of the assets, and all of the liabilities of the other two networks.
- Trump’s constant “fake news” drumbeat and attacks on CNN have hurt the network’s perceived brand.
Allahpundit explored all of these in depth, but I want to focus on the “Trump effect” and how it has tarnished CNN.
But yeah, I think there’s a “Trump effect” too. When the president’s out there calling them the “Clinton News Network” and their otherwise nonpartisan anchors are delivering quasi-special comments about how “un-American” the White House is behaving towards the press, Trumpers will inevitably circle the wagons and conclude that CNN is a special menace that MSNBC isn’t. My sense is that CNN has also landed more damaging scoops about the new administration, most famously the one involving Trump and Obama being briefed in December on the private “dossier” alleging contacts between Team Trump and Russia, than NBC or MSNBC has. As the Times put it, “The old CNN may have shrunk from conflict; the new CNN is leaning into it … vociferously pledging to hold a truth-averse White House to account.
In other words, CNN is guilty of two things: (1) Good journalism*, and (2) self-defense initiated partiality. But before they were guilty of those, they were guilty of over-Trumping Trump.
*NB: By “good journalism” I mean field reporting and news gathering. That doesn’t cover talking heads, panels, punditry, or Don Lemon.
First they mocked him while giving him a massive platform during the primaries. You can see how that helped CNN’s brand. Then they turned on him in the general election, and you can see that’s where the drop started.
Trump, for his part, has been consistently negative on CNN, in particular. From literally Day One, he mercilessly trolled them. At his rallies, he turned the crowds against them. He challenged the cameras to pan the crowds. He called them names. Even through that, CNN’s “buzz” didn’t tank until they took up the flag for Hillary Clinton in earnest. So you can’t completely blame Trump for the network’s fall.
From a business perspective, Jeff Zucker seems satisfied with the bromide “all publicity is good publicity.” Until it really damages ratings in a pocketbook-affecting way, being on the losing end of a war with President Trump is not so bad.
Allahpundit references a recent interview Zucker had with POLITICO, where the network chief called Trump’s “fake news” a “badge of honor” and maintained that the war footing with the president has improved morale at CNN.
“They wear those insults as a badge of honor, because it means they are doing their jobs,” Zucker said, referring to the network’s reporters and employees. “I would say that morale is incredibly high … They are not being intimidated, they are not backing down, they know they have my full support and it is a very exciting time, frankly, to be a journalist at CNN.”
Zucker is almost certainly right. All the main stream media has found a spine they didn’t know they had since Richard Nixon was in the White House. They all fashion themselves Woodward and Bernstein. And CNN has some very impressive journalistic chops when they want to employ their skills impartially.
Trump has made that almost impossible due to his constant pressure on the network–he’s almost forcing them to be anti-Trump (which isn’t hard for the liberals who work there). I think that’s the main driver of CNN’s negative image. Viewers know they’re watching biased coverage. They also know CNN is capable of better.
MSNBC isn’t capable of better–even if they temporarily are attracting more primetime viewers outside the 25-54 key demographic. When CNN begins to lose traction in that demo, rest assured their coverage (and probably some of their on-air mix) will change. But for now, pass the popcorn and boo loudly.