CNN contributor Roland Martin, ascot wearer and unfortunate Twitter joker, announced today that he's leaving the network after nearly six years. He explained the reason for his departure to one Twitter follower, saying "new boss wants his own peeps." Meaning he left because of Jeff Zucker, who took control of the network in January and has been cleaning house like mad since. To which I say: Well done, Zucker!
That's not to say that Roland Martin wasn't a good contributor necessarily, but Zucker's seeming impulse to air the place out a bit seems, to me anyway, like the right way to proceed. CNN has been lagging in ratings for years now, long ago losing ground to the bellowing at Fox News (now with less Palin) and now third behind even the nerds at MSNBC (now with more nerds). So something fundamental was not working; a change was in order. Thus comes Zucker, swinging his axe and chopping down any old tree he pleases. Gone are boring old-timers like Mary Matalin and her bayou daemon James Carville. Bill Bennett and Erick Erickson will no longer fill meaningless hours with punditry. The likable Soledad O'Brien was also a casualty, but you gotta break a few eggs, etc. Zucker is swiftly and satisfyingly making big changes, and I'd urge him to press on even further.
Zucker is making positive alterations in non-personnel matters, too. Some of the more engaging cable news coverage in the past few months was CNN's breathless and exhaustive reporting on the disabled Carnival cruise ship — y'know, Poop Cruise. It was a horrifying and shamefully funny story that CNN seized with zeal. I mean, they really, really covered the hell out of that thing, and while that might sound like a sad inverse of the network's once-respected serious journalism, there's no denying it makes for great television. CNN is, after all, in the television business, so what's wrong with telling a strange and compelling and, yes, fluffy story? So, OK, CNN suffered in the ratings last month, even during the Poop Cruiseathon, but these turnarounds can take some time. I think there really is something to the way they've been building single large narratives and telling the stories thoroughly. While maybe a bit unseemly, the rabid Chris Dorner coverage was hard to turn away from, largely because CNN didn't give you much opportunity to. The night of the State of the Union address, they dispensed with the usual pre-speech analysis bullsh-t and focused on the standoff story instead. Again we are not talking about a highpoint in television journalism, but in terms of compelling TV, they sold it.
Maybe CNN needs to think more like series television, telling interesting stories in big chunks rather than darting all over the place. And like any good scripted show, these stories need the right performers. Tired pundits are a thing of the past. And Zucker shouldn't stop with them. He should get rid of old-guard guys like Wolf Blitzer, too. He's been on The Situation Room for almost a decade — and chopping off an hour of that for Jake Tapper isn't nearly enough. Zucker should also try to find someone a bit less, y'know, awful to replace Piers Morgan. His ratings are bad and he's insufferable as a host. Get someone younger or cooler or smarter or something. Zucker seems to have a vague notion of what could make the network, uh, work, so let's hope he follows through all the way. Tapper, whose new show The Lead started yesterday, is fine, but there's further to go in the exciting/interesting department. Again, this is TV. Follow the mandates of TV first, then worry about silly minutia like "the news."
Oh, and get rid of the Steubenville apologists — yes, even Candy Crowley. Get rid of all of 'em! Maybe Jeff Zucker should fire literally everyone and start from the ground up, firmly reinventing the network as the go-to place for Poop Cruise coverage and other newstainment. Why not? What have they got to lose?