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Cable TV news the biggest loser in Wisconsin recall

UPDATES WITH LINK TO RESPONSE POST BY GRETA VAN SUSTEREN: After watching coverage of the Wisconsin recall, I am convinced more than ever that it's time for a major press gut check. We have been in real trouble for a long time with cable TV news, but we truly have reached a new low of partisanship at MSNBC and Fox News -- and confusion at CNN. It's the confusion part at CNN that has me truly worried these days.

Monday night after watching cable TV, I wrote about being "dismayed" by the polarized place that MSNBC and Fox News had come to. Scott Walker, the Republican governor, wouldn't talk to MSNBC, and Tom Barrett, the Democratic challenger, wouldn't come on Fox.

Who could blame them? And these were the two news outfits making the biggest commitment to coverage with live prime-time shows in Wisconsin for two nights.

But Tuesday night was something else. MSNBC and Fox were absolutely out of control with their cheerleading and bias, and CNN was alternating reports on Wisconsin with reruns of its coverage of the Queen's Jubilee with Piers Morgan in the UK.

Dylan Byers, at Politico, nailed this sorry cable TV performance in an excellent Tuesday night piece. You can read that here.

I would like to second what Byers said and go him one better. Maybe if a bunch of critics joined in condemnation of the kind of coverage seen by cable TV news in Wisconsin, a consensus of shame might build, which could lead to reform. I know, get real, Zurawik. Still...

I expect almost nothing resembling journalism anymore from Fox or MSNBC.

With MSNBC allowing Al Sharpton to lead highly-politicized rallies, and Fox putting together and airing an attack ad like it did on President Obama the night after Mitt Romney clinched, they both seem beyond redemption -- and well pleased with their journalistic debasement.

(When Ed Schultz actually performed the journalistic function of informing viewers of crooked robocalls Monday night, I couldn't believe my eyes and ears. But then, he had an ideological reason for doing it, didn't he? The journalism was just a byproduct.)

But here's what hurts about Wisconsin.

CNN, as I have often said at this blog, was our last best hope for fact-based, journalism that serves citizens by providing them with reliable, trustworthy information and analysis about the world in which we live. Without someone performing that function, democracy is impossible. I don't know why more people don't get this. One of the reasons we are at each others' throats and having such angry incoherent debates about monumental matters like the economy is that we are so misinformed about so many important matters by a failed and biased press.

Figure it out, CNN, please. Figure out who and what you are. Are you the worldwide leader in news and information, as you could once honestly claim? Or is CNN the throw-stuff-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks outfit that has hired Eliot Spitzer, Erin Burnett and Piers Morgan in recent years?

Really, senior management needs to go in a room with corporate management and figure out what the hell they want CNN to be, and act accordingly. If the people who are running the company are no better than Roger Ailes or Rupert Murdoch, admit it -- at least to yourselves. And then, get down in the muck with them and the gang at MSNBC and start competing on that level. Quit pretending.

UPDATE: Greta Van Susteren posted what she labeled as a "clarification" in connection with my characterization of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett not appearing on her show Monday. You can read it here. I encourage you to do so. But I have to say that I don't believe it contradicts anything I wrote. Van Susteren and I are both cheeseheads from the same era who walked some of the same University of Wisconsin paths many years ago. Not that it particularly matters in connection with this discussion, but  I believe she feels every bit as deeply as I do about what's happening to the people and politics of Wisconsin today.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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