For several years, the liberal media watchdog organization known as FAIR, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, has been presenting awards called the P.U.-litzers. As the name indicates, they commemorate journalism’s worst, not its best.
This year, FAIR associate Norman Solomon has taken it upon himself to make the selections single-handedly, and one of his awards, the 2002 P.U.-litzer for "Self-Satisfaction," goes to CNN anchor Jack Cafferty. Around the time that those nine coal miners were trapped underground in Quecreek, Pa., Cafferty said the following on the air:
"This [CNN] is a commercial enterprise. This is not PBS. We’re not here as a public service. We’re here to make money. We sell advertising, and we do it on the premise that people are going to watch. If you don’t cover the miners because you want to do a story about a debt crisis in Brazil at the time everybody else is covering the miners, then Citibank calls up and says, ‘You know what? We’re not renewing the commercial contract.’ I mean, it’s a business."
According to Solomon, Cafferty’s statement "mixed candor with exemplary media arrogance."
According to the author of this column, who doubles as the host of Fox News Watch, the arrogance, not to mention a total lack of comprehension, is all Solomon’s.
How can a media critic possibly criticize a media personality for saying that a media outlet is a commercial enterprise? How can he possibly dispute the notion that viewers will stop viewing if that media outlet presents information that fails to interest them?
Let me comment on each of these questions in turn:
1. Because CNN and all other commercial TV networks are, in fact, commercial TV networks, they operate democratically. Which is to say, they do not make decisions themselves and force them on the audience; they allow the audience to share in the decision-making process by their viewing choices, just as democracy in government allows people to share in policy-making process by their voting choices.
Yet Solomon seems to think that the networks should make the programming decisions themselves, unilaterally, without input from their customers; he seems to think that TV news, in particular, should operate dictatorially in a nation that is otherwise a republic.
2. Why do so many media critics assume that viewers who make decisions to watch certain kinds of stories and to ignore others are being forced into their decisions by a conspiracy of media barons to dumb them down? Why do they not assign responsibility for the content of TV programs to the viewers who either support that content by watching or reject it by watching something else?
These critics would not accuse McDonald’s of forcing hamburgers upon people instead of tofu sandwiches; they would assume that individual diners simply made their own culinary decisions, as they are entitled to do. These critics would not accuse Sam Goody’s of forcing Justin Timberlake upon people instead of the Boston Symphony; they would assume that individual listeners simply made their own musical decisions, as they are entitled to do. These critics would not accuse Barnes & Noble of forcing James Patterson upon people instead of reprints of Tolstoy; they would assume that individual readers simply made their own literary decisions, as they are entitled to do.
Yet they do accuse CNN---and Fox News and MSNBC and their local stations and the broadcast network newscasts---of forcing certain kinds of information upon people.
By criticizing Jack Cafferty as he did, Norman Solomon implies that CNN should not care about profits, that its coverage decisions should be totally independent of financial considerations, which is another way of saying that CNN should cover the kinds of stories that Solomon thinks it should cover even if it loses money in the process, and is thereby forced to lay off employees and remove money from the investment portfolios of its stockholders.
Sounds to me like the kind of thinking that is worthy of an award for arrogance.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.. ET/8 p.m. PT .