Alex Pareene's Super Hack List: The Sunday Shows, The Drudge Report, CNN

Part II of the list of the worst of political media highlights.

This year, my annual list of the worst of political media highlights not just individuals, but the institutions that enable those individuals. The 2012 Hack List will be counting down the 10 media outlets that are hurting America over the next two days — stay tuned!

Click here for a link to Part I.

7. The Sunday Shows

Every Sunday morning, the big four broadcast networks all air their FCC-mandated “public affairs” programming, which consists of a host (a white guy) interviewing the same dozen lawmakers, journalists and pundits in a rotating order. The lawmakers are usually not the most powerful members of Congress — often they’re somewhat marginal figures in terms of influence, in fact — and the pundits and journalists all generally share the same, or very similar, worldviews. The only people I actually know who watch these things do so out of professional obligation.

But people watch these shows. Millions of people. More people watch “Meet the Press” than “The Daily Show.” Most of those people are quite old, but it’s still the case that a significant portion of the American people are learning the contours of the great public debates of our time from David Gregory interviewing Lindsey Graham.

FAIR is the organization that has most recently sorted and tallied the Sunday show guests, and yet again, the shows skew white and conservative. FAIR looked at the guest lists for ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’ “Face the Nation, and “Fox News Sunday” from June 2011 through February 2012. They found:

Of one-on-one interviews, 70 percent of partisan-affiliated guests were Republican. Those guests were overwhelmingly male (86 percent) and white (92 percent).

The broader roundtable segments weren’t much more diverse: 62 percent of partisan-affiliated guests were Republican. More broadly, guests classified as either Republican or conservative far outnumbered Democrats or progressives, 282 to 164. The roundtables were 71 percent male and 85 percent white.

U.S. government sources — current officials, former lawmakers, political candidates, party-affiliated political operatives and campaign advisers — dominated the Sunday shows overall (47 percent of appearances). Following closely behind were journalists (43 percent), most of whom were middle-of-the-road Beltway political reporters.

Media Matters tallied the guest lists in 2005 and 2006 and came up with very similar results. There are never labor leaders, scientists, academics, activists or public policy experts on these shows, ever. There are scarcely any women or people of color. The Sunday shows are broadcast live from the cocoon.

To merely note that they’re right-leaning, though, doesn’t quite do them justice. They embrace an ideological spectrum that goes from Mary Matalin to James Carville, but the panels are dominated by David Brookses and Tom Friedmans and Bob Woodwards, all spouting the same faux-”moderate” Beltway consensus bullshit. They lean right because the elite Washington consensus is that America leans right. But they worship moderation, baby-splitting, and shallow displays of bipartisanship above all else. Imagine David Gergen and Peggy Noonan agreeing with each other about Simpson-Bowles, forever.

In election years, they fill the panels with partisan hacks. Not just liberals and conservatives, but people who are being paid to go on TV and use prepared talking points to make the case that their candidate will win. It is extremely difficult to see how that serves “the public” in any fashion. Sunday Shows from late in the campaign season reach heights of useless hackdom few other television programs can match. It’s nothing but surrogates spinning and pundits making vague or wildly inaccurate predictions based on their “guts” or “intangible” qualities like “momentum.” There’s a reason ABC’s “This Week” was the venue for the legendary Mark Halperin line, “This is excellent news for John McCain.”

Post-election, the Sunday Shows have been devoted to discussions of (and panic about) “the fiscal cliff.” Anyone who watches these shows likely comes away with a wholly inaccurate impression of what the “cliff” is and does, though they will learn that all of our wonderful elected lawmakers are doing their best to avert the “cliff” and seek bipartisan compromise to lower the deficit, even though “the fiscal cliff” was already a bipartisan compromise to lower the deficit.

If you want to learn precisely how insular and self-satisfied and totally deaf to public opinion and outside expertise and experiences Washington is, the Sunday Shows are enlightening. Just don’t expect to learn anything useful about politics or policy, ever.

6. The Drudge Report

Shortly after noon on Nov. 6, Time’s Mark Halperin posted this on Twitter: “When John Harris & I wrote ‘Drudge rules our world,’ we were describing what IS, not what ought to be. Doubters already proven wrong today.” A few hours later Barack Obama won reelection, which I assume came as a shock to people who do get most of their news from Matt Drudge.

Here’s a brief tour of 2012 as the Drudge Report covered it.

Here are a couple things you might have missed this campaign season, because Drudge — who “rules our world” — did not cover them, at all:

  • Mitt Romney was secretly videotaped insulting 47 percent of Americans for being dependent on handouts.
  • Basically every poll that showed Obama beating Romney.

Drudge wrapped up 2012 by posting a banner headline that consisted solely of the slightly censored epithet “N*GGER” seven times in a row and leaving that headline up all day.

Matt Drudge: Truly still the Walter Cronkite of our time.

5. CNN

Maybe we beat up on poor CNN too often. I have previously bemoaned CNN’s inability to get breaking news right, offered advice on how to save the network and offered constructive criticism of their decision to hire Jeff Zucker. CNN was also well represented in 2011′s Hack List, with Wolf Blitzer, Piers Morgan, Erick Erickson and Erin Burnett all making appearances.

But it deserves to be criticized because so many of the things it does wrong could be so easily corrected. (Say, by firing Piers Morgan and cutting back on Wolf Blitzer’s hours.) And not only that, but CNN the institution is clearly capable of doing better, as it shows every day on CNN International, the sober (and profitable) overseas arm. Instead, it chooses every time to go harder on “personalities” and gimmicks. It has hired, to run its whole operation, the man who took NBC’s “Today” show and turned it from a regular news broadcast to a celebrity chat show and concert showcase. (He then proceeded to destroy all of NBC.)

CNN has a bigger staff, larger reporting budget, and many more overseas bureaus and correspondents than any of the other cable news channels, but the only time it ever betrays any evidence of those resources is during an international crisis. The rest of the time it’s Wolf babbling at a giant TV screen or Piers Morgan obsequiously interviewing a famous person. Take it away, anonymous CNN staffer:

“It’s frustrating to hear our leadership talk about the exemplary journalism we do, then turn on the TV during the day and see CNN doing another story about ‘birthers’ or ‘tips for dining out alone,’” said one staffer.

CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield — who used to report from war zones — today covered the Newtown massacre by asking “where was God?” and interviewing self-promotion expert “celebrity rabbi” and former “spiritual adviser” to Michael Jackson Shmuley Boteach for the answer.

This is an actual quote from Wolf Blitzer about national laughing stock Donald Trump:

“I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time and interviewed him on many, many occasions,” said Blitzer. “He’s an intelligent guy, not a stupid guy or anything like that. I assume maybe it’s an obvious reason. He believes it. He believes that there are a lot of questions out there. He’s read a lot of the conspiratorial theories and believes what he’s saying.”

Do you know what kind of person thinks Donald Trump is “an intelligent guy”? A stupid guy. And Blitzer is not exaggerating when he says he interviewed Trump “on many, many occasions.” Throughout the 2012 campaign season, CNN did not waste a single opportunity to provide free publicity to the racist birther fraud.

Just in case anyone still harbored any doubt as to whether Wolf Blitzer is the dumbest man on television, publishes a Blitzer-penned blog that pretty definitively settles the question.

Also, CNN host Piers Morgan clearly engaged in phone-hacking and then dissembled to the British government about it, but CNN already knew he was guilty of insider trading and printed a hoax on the front page of his newspaper when it hired him so who knows where it would actually draw the line with him.

To make a moron and an unethical slimeball two of your network’s most prominent faces does not scream “the most trusted name in news,” to me. Though CNN changed its motto, last year, to “America’s Choice,” which does neatly sum up the network’s modern identity crisis. CNN: The generic store brand of cable news.


Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene
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