PhotoIt wasn't long ago that everyday Americans routinely complained about the "liberal news media" while those of the left-leaning persuasion griped that major journalism outlets were too conservative.

Well, everybody should be happy now, as the amount of actual news -- you know, factual and impartial coverage of major events of public importance -- now takes a back seat to mindless pandering and caterwauling by apologists for the most simple-minded versions of liberalism and conservatism.

As we know from reading the papers, newspapers are withering quickly away but less notice is given to the shrinking presence of actual news on TV and cable. The latest evidence: today's announcement by CNN President Jim Walton that he is stepping down amid slumping ratings.

Saying that CNN needs "new thinking," Walton said he will exit the premises at the end of the year. Maybe he meant to say CNN needs "news thinking" or maybe he was misquoted but he went on to say that CNN needs "a new leader who brings a different perspective, different experiences and a new plan."

No news, good news?

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Reese Schonfeld

Could be but maybe CNN is just an idea whose time has come and gone. Maybe Americans are no longer sufficiently open-minded to care about getting impartial news coverage and would prefer to watch bewigged midgets yell at each other and set fire to their hair.

CNN, now a Time Warner property, was founded by Ted Turner's money and the know-how and moxie of one Maurice "Reese" Schonfeld back in 1980. 

Turner had become annoyed when The Associated Press gave him a hard time about getting AP news service for his Atlanta-based superstation, WTBS. In best Turner fashion, he got mad and said he would start his own damned news service.

"I'm fixin' to put you all out of business," Turner told me when we chanced to meet in Washington one fine spring day in 1979. (I was then an AP executive). "There ought to be more than one news service in this country."

Turner recruited Schonfeld, then heading up Independent Network News, a New York-based news service for independent TV stations. Schonfeld -- a hard-nosed hard news guy -- had a long history of nipping at AP's heels and relished the opportunity to build something on a global scale.

Schonfeld built CNN into a respected worldwide news operation that to this day is held in high esteem outside the U.S., where its global feed is much more straight-laced than its increasingly tepid domestic product.

Dancing dogs

But that was then and this is now. News, because it seems to be so plentiful, is no longer very highly regarded by a population that has drunk the Kool-Aid brought to these shores by Rupert Murdoch, who introduced British-style tabloid journalism to American television.

Surprise. People like to read about and see pictures of dancing dogs, topless actresses and ridiculous buffoons masquerading as political commentators. CNN's efforts to dress itself up have been half-hearted and thus not terribly successful. It's the old fish-foul thing. You can't have it both ways.

It's perhaps fitting that both CNN and Fox News disgraced themselves by getting it wrong when the Supreme Court upheld most of the Affordable Care Act. Ted Turner may not be watching anymore but he might want to note that his old nemesis, the AP, got it right.

Not to be trite, but the not-for-profit AP's informal motto for much of its long and somewhat shaky life has been, "Get it first, but first get it right."

Yes, it's hard for straight news to compete with show biz just as it's hard for real doctors to compete with charlatans or real financial advisors to compete with pyramid scamsters, but it can be done, though perhaps not as profitably as one's corporate masters might like.

So perhaps Walton is right that CNN needs new thinking. But we'd still like to think it needs news thinking.


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