The Ebola of Journalism: Liberalism is Killing Time and CNN

Call it the Ebola of Journalism. And its spreading -- to Time and CNN.

The cover of the September 1, 2014 issue of Time could not be more explicit.  Showing a dramatic image of a black man on his knees, hands raised with the cover bearing the title "The Tragedy of Ferguson," it was written by David Von Drehle and Alex Altman in the tones of the standard liberal “I-told-you-so” thinking on race . It included the line: “We’ve been here before—and failed to learn the lessons.”

When it came to the mess that is ObamaCare? There was this Time cover admitting the launch of HealthCare.gov was a disaster but presenting “the team that figured out how to fix it.” (You do know ObamaCare is fixed, right?) 

And don’t forget all those gushing Obama covers like this one in 2007. As reported by NBC  in December of 2008 that in all of that year “Time has featured Obama on its cover 14 times since Jan. 1. Newsweek was close behind, featuring the now-president-elect on 12 of its issues. Time has had 52 issues in 2008, so Obama has been featured on more than one-in-four of its covers, or about 27% of the time.”



Suffice to say, the covers were overflowing with praise for Senator, presidential candidate and president-elect Obama. This one lavished praise on the post-election Obama by Photoshopping him as Franklin D. Roosevelt, with writer Peter Beinart gushing about “The New New Deal.”

Praise was, mysteriously, missing for that 2009 Time cover on conservative Glenn Beck titled "Mad Man: Is Glenn Beck Bad for America?". It came replete with a liberal assessment in the subtitle that fretted: “Conservative media phenomenon Glenn Beck channels the fears and anger of Americans who feel left out — but does he also stir that anger and heighten those fears?”

In short? Obama good, Beck bad -- not to mention mad. As in crazy.

After years of this kind of approach to the news, by June of this year, hundreds of staff jobs at the magazine had to be cut, with the New York Times reporting:

Sometime late next year Time Inc., the company that all but created the modern magazine business, will leave its home of more than five decades, the Time & Life Building in Rockefeller Center, and head to new quarters in downtown Manhattan.

It is a pragmatic move aimed at reducing costs, but one filled with symbolism for a company that is starting over in fundamental ways.

….What was once a jewel in terms of profit and stature is now a drag on the share price of Time Warner, its parent company, and is being spun off with little ceremony and a load of debt.”


Meanwhile, over at the TimeWarner-owned CNN the anchorman Don Lemon was recently redefining the definition of an automatic weapon, the network was running a written lynch-mob style piece demanding Where's Officer Darren Wilson? and at CNN.com  it posted a contributor who asked, in the aftermath of the beheading of journalist James Foley, Should we call ISIS ‘evil'? 

And not to be out done is Jeff Zucker, the head of CNN himself. No, he sniffed a while back.“We’re not going to be shamed” into covering the Benghazi hearings. To underline his point Zucker disdained rival Fox News by saying: “I think we all know what’s going on there. The Republican Party is being run out of News Corp. headquarters [and] masquerading as a channel.”

Now comes the results of years of doing this kind of thing at CNN . Here’s the headline from the New York Daily News:

CNN chief Jeff Zucker and parent company Time Warner say layoffs could be ahead
News network, trailing Fox News in ratings, faces cutbacks but seeks to protect new programs that are part of a turnaround plan

The Daily News reported:

We are going to do less and have to do it with less,” CNN president Jeff Zucker told employees at a call-in to a news meeting last Tuesday.
He did not specify that layoffs were planned, but acknowledged it was “difficult” news for CNN, which has been struggling to regain its former preeminence among cable news networks.”

In March of this year Forbes reported on the giant media company’s decision to spin off it’s magazine publishing empire, saying “Time Warner’s publishing unit revenues have steadily declined for the past few years. From about $4.6 billion in 2008, these revenues came down to close to $3.3 billion in 2013.”

This follows the effective death of Time’s one-time competitor Newsweek, which was sold for a dollar to Sidney Harman. Is the media business a tough deal? Particularly for print in the day and age of cyberspace? Sure. But CNN is a cable news network - in fact, the nation’s first. How could Time and CNN ever have gotten to the point where spin-offs and layoffs are the order of the day? (And not that long ago the liberal Washington Post, unable to make a profit, was sold to Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.)

In a phrase? Why is this happening to Time and CNN? To borrow from ex-Bill Clinton strategist James Carville’s telling description of the central issue of the 1992 election? It’s the liberalism, stupid.

Let me go back in time (so to speak) to a personal experience with CNN. Several years ago I wrote a series of columns at The American Spectator about a cabal between a member of the FCC and a number of mainline churches to silence various personalities on talk radio and television. There was a petition to the FCC naming Rush Limbaugh as a progenitor of so-called “hate speech”. They didn’t like Michael Savage or Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. But there was particular wrath for Glenn Beck, then hosting his Fox show, and CNN’s Lou Dobbs.

In the case of Lou Dobbs, who had been with CNN for some thirty years, liberal interest groups were furious over his stance on illegal immigration. He opposed it, and in perfectly reasonable tones, logical, fact-based arguments at hand, made his case on his eponymous CNN show. This made him the target of a liberal campaign calling on CNN to “Drop Dobbs.”  Dobbs saw the column, and shortly thereafter I was waiting in the green room in the CNN studios in New York’s architecturally stunning TimeWarner building on New York’s Columbus Circle, about to go on the air with Lou Dobbs himself to discuss what both of us saw as a threat to both his show and the larger First Amendment.

I watched the monitor as Mr. Dobbs began his show -- by resigning. Everyone in the room was incredulous. Lou Dobbs was a CNN fixture. He had helped build the network that was Ted Turner’s brainchild and was a key part of it’s early success. That night, after being relentlessly badgered by liberal special interest groups who had in turn been badgering the executives of CNN who in turn had been pressuring Dobbs - Lou Dobbs had had enough. He announced that this show was his last. Shortly afterward, almost speechless, I was ushered into the studio for our live chat, saying to him off camera that I had no idea what to say I was so stunned. With immense good cheer he replied “oh, we’ll think of something.” The little red light came on and off we went into a discussion of the First Amendment and the attempt to drive him off the air. An attempt that had suddenly succeeded that very night, mere moments ago.

But it didn’t succeed for long. Today? Lou Dobbs is at the Fox Business network. And as that New York Daily News story above illustrates, and Jeff Zucker’s bitter scorn confirms, CNN is in trouble. Big trouble. With Fox - now the home of Lou Dobbs - repeatedly beating the pants off CNN.

What I was seeing that night, live, up close and personal, was the sledgehammer effect liberalism was having on CNN. An effect that was evident in the larger media as well. One doesn’t have to be Agatha Christie to understand that liberalism killed Newsweek, it’s killing Time - and it is close to killing CNN.

There is a reason Rush Limbaugh sails along on talk radio, his audience dwarfing CNN. There is a reason for the success of talk radio in general, not to mention Fox. After I returned from that last Lou Dobbs CNN show I wrote a bit about what I had seen that night as I looked at the glittering TimeWarner building that housed the CNN studios in New York. It’s worth saying again in brief.

TimeWarner and CNN in fact are nothing more or less than the physical manifestation of three one-time distinctly separate dreams. Time was the brain child of prep school friends Henry Luce and Briton Hadden. The two co-founded the magazine in 1923, with Hadden dying a mere six years later in 1929. Luce went on to make the magazine a centerpiece of American life, politically making it a staunch voice of anti-Communism. The Warner half of the combination was founded by the Warner brothers - sons of Polish immigrants who fled the cossacks of then Russian-held Poland. Their dream of getting into the movies had them pooling their decidedly meager resources and eventually creating one of Hollywood’s legendary movie studios. CNN, of course, was the brainchild of advertising mogul Ted Turner.


The trouble has arisen with the inevitable. The founders died. Eventually, with the innovative late Steve Ross, Time and Warner merged empires. In the case of Ted Turner, he sold his business deliberately, taking the opportunity to become a billionaire with a seat on the Time Warner company board. Soon, Turner was pushed aside, with the dreams of Henry Luce, the Warner brothers and Turner now in the hands not of the dreamer/entrepreneurs who made the dreams real - but managers. Good people, but not creative people. And in this day and age, inevitably liberals one and all.

Time and CNN became all about the liberalism, not journalism. Liberals didn’t like Lou Dobbs? Then make his life at CNN difficult until he leaves. Liberals on the march in Ferguson? Put it on the cover of Time with a liberal slant.  Obama? Put him on over a full one-quarter of Time’s 52 covers for 2008. Now, as with Newsweek, the results of decades of this liberal tilt are in. Time has been spun off with its staff laid off by the hundreds, and CNN is about to face massive layoffs, its ratings in the basement. But no matter -- the liberalism will still reign supreme.

What is remarkable here is the obsession with liberalism even if it comes down to a question of survival. Given a choice of going the straight fair-and-balanced route that has made Fox News the place-to-go for news and opinion, the response is journalistic suicide.

So now here come the layoffs at CNN. Will CNN change direction? Of course not. Neither will Time. Their financial, circulation and ratings life blood draining away, CNN is still as scornful of Fox as Time editors are doubtless proud of all those fawning Obama covers. Newsweek died even as its editors still glowed with pride about putting Sarah Palin on the cover in running shorts and snickering "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sarah? She’s Bad News For The GOP - And For Everybody Else Too."

Time and CNN are dying. And unless they change, they will die. Why? Because in effect, liberalism is proving to be the Ebola of Journalism, its deathly effect spreading from Newsweek to Time to CNN -- and doubtless beyond.

Jeffrey Lord
Jeffrey Lord
Jeffrey Lord is a contributing writer for NewsBusters