CNN Embarrasses Itself with Documentary Series Slamming the Founder of the Network that has Humiliated It

Launched in 1980, CNN, the country’s oldest cable news network, has been on ratings life support for years. Tonight, Oct. 30, 2022, at 10 PM ET/PT, promises to witness another of the Cable News Network’s major low points – and possibly a potentially terminal blow – for this formerly influential and once passingly credible TV news outlet.

Tonight’s prime time offering is the final installment of a seven-part, seven-hour-long “documentary” series about the Murdochs – Rupert Murdoch and his family – who founded and control CNN’s major competition and nemesis, the Fox News Channel. Fox News first appeared on the scene in October 1996. In 2001, Fox News first beat CNN and MSNBC (which also launched in 1996) in the ratings. If you can’t beat ‘em, then attack them has been the MO of CNN since then. For most of the next two decades, Fox News has been far and away the ratings leader in the highly competitive, and highly remunerative, cable television news landscape.

CNN’s series on the Murdochs premiered last month. It’s a sweeping, technically state-of-the-art examination into the lives of Rupert Murdoch, born in Australia and now a U.S. citizen, and three of his children, unsubtly subtitled “Empire of Influence.” Long-gone Yellow Journalism mogul William Randolph Hearst step aside: It’s the Murdochs, according to CNN, who are the most influential – and the most problematic – media barons in world history.

And why is this so? Because, according to CNN, Rupert Murdoch and his family built, largely from the ground up, an impressive and successful international media business – including leading newspapers on three continents, the 4th U.S. broadcast television network, the #1 cable news channel, and later a major movie studio (20th Century Fox), and book publishing – based on serving its audience and making a profit. And, the ultimate coup de grace, reflecting a conservative point of view. OMG, perish the thought.

Promotional show card for CNN’s series on the Murdochs, showing a rendering of Rupert Murdoch who is now 91.

As Fox News’s influence has grown, CNN has struggled without success to restore credibility and reassert its prominence. In the past five years, since President Donald Trump outed the mainstream media as fake news, CNN has gone bonkers. Not only its opinionated prime time hosts (Chris Cuomo, ignominiously fired last year; Don Lemon, demoted to co-hosting CNN’s low rated morning show; and aging former new kid on the block Anderson Cooper) but its total news day has reflected a chronic anti-Trump, anti-MAGA bias. The “Russia Collusion” hoax and its purveyors (remember Michael Avenatti?) found a permanent home at CNN, even after the Mueller Report confirmed over four years ago that there was no there there. For the past two years, CNN has been unwilling to get beyond its hyped-up wall-to-wall coverage of the MAGA January 6, 2021 “Insurrection” and what it hopes is a troubled future for President Trump.

Earlier this year, CNN’s top dog, Jeff Zucker, the one-time broadcast network TV wunderkind who ran CNN into the woke ground, was forced out (a.k.a. “resigned”) after admitting that he was engaging in a relationship with a female CNN executive that he failed to disclose. Meanwhile, ownership of CNN was shifting again to another large corporate entity, Warner Bros. Discovery. The latter installed Chris Licht as CNN’s CEO. A veteran mainstream TV executive, Licht was fresh from executive producing leftist Trump-hating comedian Stephen Colbert’s late night CBS show.

When Licht took control last spring, media analysts claimed CNN would be returning to its roots of less ideological, and more fair and balanced, reporting – something it had never actually done. In the months since then, despite two opinionated on-air figures (John Harwood and Brian Stelter) being shown the door, there has been little if any evidence of anything approaching fair and balanced on the channel.

CNN had high hopes for its Sunday night prime time programs on the Murdochs. The series was based on “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire Remade the World,” three articles totaling 20,000 words published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in 2019. The on-camera “experts” in the CNN series included the authors of the Times pieces.

The Murdoch documentary series premiered on CNN last month to rave reviews in the MSM. It was originally scheduled to play on CNN’s streaming platform, CNN+. But that effort went belly up before the Murdoch docs could complete their run there. And so, the series was given new life on CNN itself.

A summary of tonight’s seventh and final episode of The Murdochs: Empire of Influence promises to report “As the Trump presidency creates fault lines between James and Lachlan Murdoch, Rupert worries about the future media landscape.” Last Sunday’s episode, titled “Planet Fox,” focused on CNN’s major competition, Fox News – including the 2017 departure of its #1 prime time host Bill O’Reilly and its co-founder Roger Ailes. CNN did not report that later in 2017 the Fox News Channel quickly righted itself, installing an impressive prime time lineup including veteran conservatives Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, and quickly regained its ratings leadership which persists to this day.

Briefly, a few review points about parts 1-6 of CNN’s Murdoch series:

  • The “journalists” who were interviewed had absolutely no access to Rupert Murdoch or his three adult children who have been or continue to be involved with the company. No one from the family, or currently employed with the company, agreed to cooperate. The talking heads about the Murdochs’ media businesses in the UK were mostly drawn from The Guardian – one of the most left-wing media outlets on the planet.
  • The series is a case history in unfair and unbalanced reportage. Perhaps that’s one reason why its episodes have had relatively few viewers, only around 350,00 total or about one-half to one-third the number that Fox News is getting at that time of the day.
  • One of the series’ key talking heads is current CNN prime time host Alisyn Camerota. She was a prominent host at Fox News for over 16 years. Camerota left Fox in 2014 and almost immediately transitioned to CNN, adopting the woke persona that was increasingly required of the on-air talent there. Whenever I saw her disparaging comments about Fox News in the Murdoch doc series, I had to wonder why she spent 16+ years at Fox without a single complaint.

If broadcast journalism schools had any credibility left (they don’t), CNN’s Murdoch series would be required viewing to teach students how not to write and produce a documentary.

As noted, the mainstream media largely approved of the series, quite enthusiastically in some cases, with more than one review claiming it was “fair and balanced.” Vanity Fair’s review of what it called CNN’s “long-awaited saga” revealed its true colors when it described CNN’s years of anti-Trump propaganda “that had come to define it during the Trump years” as “righteous diatribes.”

For all the hype, CNN’s ratings challenges and other problems are finally starting to be reported by some of the mainstream media. For example, on October 26, a lengthy, largely positive CNBC article about CNN CEO Jeff Licht noted that he would soon be laying off a significant number of CNN employees. This looming cut in workers, according to the article, has resulted in uncertainty, low morale, and “nervousness among an employee base that’s been through several traumatic events in the past 18 months.”

Despite the challenges and its chronically low ratings, according to CNBC’s analysis CNN continues to make money. This year, however, its profits are expected to be considerably less than $1 billion for the first time in six years.

The major changes in CNN’s programming so far under Licht have entailed moving über left host Don Lemon from his prime-time program to co-hosting CNN’s chronically failing, 3-hour morning show New Day. Instead of getting off work each night after his prime-time show ended at 12 midnight ET and hitting the city’s hot spots, Lemon will now need to rise by 2 AM in order to get ready for the 6 AM start time of his new co-hosting assignment. He has insisted that his new co-hosting duties are not a demotion.

The recent replacement for fired host Chris Cuomo, who had the highest prime time ratings on CNN, is Jake Tapper. In his first weeks at 9 PM ET this month, however, Tapper’s ratings are flatlining: On Friday Oct. 21, Tapper’s show averaged its lowest-rated telecast among all viewers since its launch on October 11, down 40% from its first airing. That night the show also delivered its second lowest-rated telecast among the preferred demographic, viewers aged 25-54, since it started, down 46%. These numbers do not bode well for the program’s future, which is uncertain in any case: Tapper’s new program as well as Camerota’s from 10 PM-12 AM ET have commitments to run only until after the November 8 elections.

As more and more viewers “cut the cord” by dumping cable and satellite TV, streaming programming is where the future is at. On the streaming side of things, one of Licht’s first actions after he took over CNN last spring was to shut down CNN’s much ballyhooed new online streaming service, CNN+, after only 32 days online and an investment of $300 million. Eighteen months ago, the channel also shuttered CNN Airport, its service at major U.S. airports that had a captive audience of travelers – likely exceeding the number of viewers who subscribed to CNN on cable or satellite.

In contrast to CNN’s disastrous CNN+ experiment, Fox News in 2018 launched its streaming video channel Fox Nation. Four years later, the service is thriving with a wide variety of original programming, documentaries, and replays on demand of Fox News Channel shows. Of particular note are the documentaries and long form interviews on Fox Nation hosted by Tucker Carlson, whose M-F 8 PM program on the Fox News Channel has become appointment viewing for conservatives and people interested in the unvarnished reality that surrounds us.

Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who has covered national politics, the politics and economics of health care, popular culture, and media for over five decades. His Web page with links to his work is Peter’s extensive American Thinker archive: Follow Peter on Twitter @pchowka

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