Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

CNN Hasn’t ‘Jumped the Shark,’ It is ‘the Shark’


Cable news networks thrive on tragedy.

That’s nothing new.

What is new is the incredible, monomaniacal programming mantra that has taken over CNN—the ever-more inane and dementia-addled granddaddy of the 24-hour news business.

Their unwillingness to let go, cut away or—perish the thought—actually cover a wide array of “news” stories, first manifested itself during the infamous coverage of the Carnival Cruise “Poop Ship.”

Roundly criticized as the ignominious beginning of the ill-fated Jeff Zucker Era, CNN’s wall-to-wall coverage of a stinky ship being towed to port looked a lot like it had finally “jumped the shark.” In other words, it had totally run out of ideas and was simply bereft enough to willingly engage in a sort of stunt-based stupidity that actually signals the coming of the end. That’s what happened when “Happy Days” decided to have The Fonz literally jump a shark in a bizarre storyline that, as the lore goes, signaled the effective end of the Happy Days premise.

But that’s not what happened with CNN.

Jeff Zucker and Co. are not jumping sharks. They are sharks.

It has been over two weeks since the Boston Marathon was bombed. It has been just under two weeks since the manhunt, shoot-out and capture. And well-over a week has passed since David Ortiz dropped an F-bomb at Fenway Park and the memorial services were held. But CNN still has “anchors” hosting “news shows” live from the scene of the crime.

The crime happened on Tax Day. Now May Day has passed. And there is Brooke Baldwin—still standing in front of the flowers and signs and accoutrements of mourning—hosting the “news” from the site of a story that literally ended weeks ago.

There is Brooke Baldwin finally segueing from hours of incessant blathering about the “latest in the Boston Bombings” to give viewers the latest developments in the arrest of—wait for it—Reese Witherspoon.

And there is CNN, like a hungry shark patrolling the feeding-rich waters of a blood-soaked tragedy, its teeth locked down on the sparse remains of a decomposing body…squeezing it and cajoling it for every last drop of coverage.

It is neither helpful nor informative. It has been so bad that CNN’s error-filled coverage of the events as they happened actually became a running joke…one that ran all the way up to the President and his hilarious riffs on its mistakes at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

Now that the events have passed, staying at the scene of its own crimes against the practice of journalism is crass, manipulative and shameful.

Sounds harsh?

FOX News doesn’t have its hosts there. They moved back into the studio quickly after the memorials and even spend some airtime on other stories. In a bizarre twist, they’ve exercised the most restraint in light of the temptation to go 24-7 and continually scroll pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers against an ominous red and black “Boston Bombing” graphic.

MSNBC doesn’t have its hosts there. In a reasonable compromise, they did leave reporter Michael Isikoff in Boston to log periodic reports. But, by and large, they are back to their usual array of opinionistas, counter-FOX shock troops and hosts who seem to always be yelling at us. Do you ever get the feeling that Al Sharpton thinks viewers are partially deaf and mentally slow?

Unlike CNN, Tweedledum and Tweedledee don’t have their big personalities standing in front of a memorial, waiting for minor developments and incremental bits of information to chum the water. Only CNN remains there, hopelessly failing to justify itself and its bizarre transformation into infotainment.

It is time to face facts—CNN is not a news channel. It isn’t even reality television. It has finally devolved into “reality-themed” programming. And it’s bad “reality-themed” programming, to boot. They’ve even re-hashed Anthony Bourdain’s tired, self-satisfied “watch me eat food” show.

Anthony Bourdain? On CNN? Then again, Piers Morgan.

Still, Zucker was brought in to pump up the ratings, and he can claim that he is just giving the people what they want. When he hitched his anchors to the Poop Ship, the media “elite” responded with predictable despondency about the sad state of the American public.

Here’s a news-flash: A “blame the viewer” orthodoxy reigns supreme in newsrooms around the country.

The decision-makers and number crunchers blame the public for the low quality of news programming. To them, the ratings are the Alpha and the Omega. Long gone are the days of news as a public service that secures an FCC license. No, now it’s about pulling numbers in key demographics. And profits.

So, when the numbers came in on twelve hours of non-stop Poop Ship coverage and showed a 50% increase in viewership, you could almost hear the collective “I told you so” come from plush executive suites in New York and D.C.

But the numbers are not as good as it sounds. Here they are, from Brian Stelter’s industry-read Media Decoder column in the New York Times:

At noon on Thursday, CNN started covering the ship to the exclusion of most other stories. For the whole day CNN had an average of 632,000 viewers watching at any given time, up about 50 percent versus typical Thursdays this year. MSNBC had 535,000, down slightly. Fox News remained on top with 1.38 million, up slightly.

CNN’s “huge,” 50% Poop Ship spike increased their viewership to 632,000 viewers. That’s it? In a nation of 312 million people? You could run a show on The History Channel titled “Hitler’s Lower Intestine” and you’d pull more viewers than CNN did with their bizarre coverage of the cruise ship. And that “spike” also means CNN normally pulls 316,000 viewers on a Thursday.


Really, look at all of those cable numbers and match those against the total population of the United States. It is not troubling how many people are watching FOX or MSNBC or wasting valuable nap time on CNN—it is staggering to see how few people are watching cable news.

But still we get the same tripe, warmed over and served again and again by executives who say they are “just giving the people what they want.”

It’s a claim that ignores the amazing, long-term success of 60 Minutes. It ignores the public’s historically low opinion and trust numbers. And it totally discounts the responsibility of so-called journalists and news directors and news organizations to exert news judgment and journalistic ethics as they engage in the endeavor of reporting news.

And it shows an inability to see the biggest news of all—that people are fleeing the cable and broadcast media and its carnival barking personalities to find news and information in a series of tubes and wires called “the internet.”

Perhaps that’s best news of all—that people are turning away from CNN in droves.

But, like the shark, it will keep on swimming and swimming in the chum-filled waters of tragedy, playing up the drama…until there’s nothing left to eat and it finally stops. And we all know what happens to a shark that stops swimming.

JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, published historian, radio co-host and documentary filmmaker (The Warning, 2008). His credits include a stint on the Newshour news desk, C-SPAN, and as newsmagazine producer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington. His weekly show, Inside the Headlines w/ The Newsvandal, co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa. He blogs under the pseudonym “the Newsvandal“.

JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, published historian, radio co-host and documentary filmmaker (The Warning, 2008). His credits include a stint on the Newshour news desk, C-SPAN, and as newsmagazine producer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington. His weekly show, Inside the Headlines w/ The Newsvandal, co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa. He blogs under the pseudonym “the Newsvandal“.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future