I was abroad last week (not in the US) where the only thing that I could watch for rolling news was CNN.
Well, it looks like I'm part of what has to be the legions of people asking: "What the hell has happened to CNN?"
What I saw can only be described as a kind of titillation whose essence was something resembling the news, but whose purpose was to make sure that the maximum number of eyeballs were glued to CNN.
There were reporters rushing about willy-nilly, thrusting microphones and cameras at witnesses of the Boston marathon atrocity, some of those poor folks still bug-eyed from shock. CNN would yell at them what lawyers call 'leading questions' like: "Isn't this the worst day of your life?" Newsporn.
Journalists interviewed each other, speculating the minutes and the hours away like you do down at the pub. There was a Homeland Security expert who kept saying the obvious over and over: "We don't know why this happened". They were all waiting for Something To Happen. Day turned to night and back into day again as CNN wove a narrative only to unpick it and start another. The announcement-told in a halting, sorrowful tone- that one of the marathon bombing suspects was 'dark-skinned' lit a fire in cyberspace. CNN who stated with authority that they were 'working their sources' on this one, weren't the only ones who broadcast this error, but by the time they cautioned viewers not to jump to any conclusions, it was way, way, way too late.
Later, the Czech Ambassador had to go on air to explain to the American people that 'Czech' and 'Chechen' were not the same thing. The two words had become intertwined in the mouths and the minds of news readers.. their most important job, it seemed, was to make sure that viewers don't switch that dial.
The American tv news landscape has become a desperate battle for ratings.
At the top of the cable news totem poll is Fox News. FNC is a brilliant concept, which when you boil it down, is not much more than the televised opinions and world view of conservative talk radio . When Fox News superstar Bill O'Reilly stated to one veteran journalist that FNC was the number one news station, the old guy replied that the broadcaster's ratings were largely generated in the evening when FOX truly comes into its own. This is the time when the 'traditional' O'Reilly reigns; when Greta Van Susteren, who occasionally shows right wing talk king Rush Limbaugh pontificating at his microphone, is on. It is at night when pundit Sean Hannity, a man for whom hatred is too inadequate a term to describe his feeling toward President Obama, arrives with his latest rant about handbaskets and hell. Fox's aim is to fill those places that the 'liberal' main stream media do not. And just as every thesis creates its antithesis, along came a revamped MSNBC to take Fox News on.
Steering between this Scylla and Charybdis is the government of the United States of America. With Fox hammering Barack Obama from the right and MSNBC kicking the Republicans to the kerb from the left, America - from Washington - is becoming almost ungovernable. The Republicans -now all but in name only the political wing of Fox - do not make a serious move without the network's tacit blessing. Speaker of the house John Boehner, the third most powerful person in the US because of his office, and his deputy Eric Cantor, are forensically scrutinized for any vestige of co-operation with the President or Democrats. Boehner doesn't seem to have the guts of New Jersey governor Chris Christie who when asked on FNC's toxic breakfast show why he hadn't invited Candidate Romney to New Jersey to make a tour with him after Superstorm Sandy retorted: "You don't know me!" This less than party political response arguably cost Christie an invite to a major Republican conference.
Trying to survive, trying not to be a "spare wheel" as its new boss, Jeff Zucker has declared, is CNN's goal. They gotta keep us watching, making it the latest gladiator in the Circus Maximus that is the American news broadcast machine. This Machine has quite simply helped to create an atmosphere in which the White House and Capitol Hill are unable to compromise. Which is what politics is supposed to be the art of, after all.
Those who say that the inability of both sides to sit down and hammer it out was always the reality, simply do not know how some of the great pieces of US legislation came into being.
That's over there. Some may say that newsporn is already over here. I don't agree. But it may already be fifteen minutes to midnight.
Bonnie Greer will be taking part in our HuffPost Conversation Starters panel on feminism, which is being held at Wilderness Festival.
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