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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Firing of Rick Sanchez at CNN

It's the second time in a few months that a prominent CNN personality has been shown the door.

On July 8, 2010, Octavia Nasr was also summarily removed after tweeting that the late leader of Hizbollah was also a champion of women's rights in the Middle East. Nasr tried to add that the Grand Ayatollah Fadllalah was also profoundly anti-America and anti-Israel. Too late. The damage was done and CNN, already under pressure for its alleged pro-Palestinian reporting, fired her.

Now it's Rick Sanchez' turn.

Unlike Nasr's sin of omission, Sanchez' was a sin of commission: his shtick on CNN was specifically designed to be provocative and loud. He was the frequent target of John Stewart who effectively needled him to the point where Sanchez lost it on a talk radio show.

Sanchez accused Stewart of being a bigot (Sanchez is Cuban-American) and when pressed to explain, Sanchez hauled up the old canard - Jewish control of the media. Strike two.

There is no excuse for either Nasr or Sanchez to have committed these inexcusable breaches (although I tend to cut Nasr a bit of slack...she may not have fully appreciated just how deadly an unguided tweet could be). Sanchez just confirmed his blowhard status and now is paying the price. I note that when times get complicated, the conspiracy theorists tend to be heard more often. This is one of those times.

I do blame CNN: it allowed Sanchez (and others like him) on the air and seems unable to find its role, squeezed by the bloviators on Fox and the more thoughtful journalism to be found elsewhere on TV and radio.

CNN has long been an enabler for a number of right wing wannabees who once they see the profits to be made elsewhere, end up roosting on Fox or talk radio. CNN has no one to blame but itself for Sanchez' outbursts.

There is also a long tradition in American broadcasting of extreme opinions going back to Father Coughlin in Detroit in the 30s and 40s. Walter Winchell became equally paranoid in his later career and was one of the more effective red-baiters in the Cold War. Sanchez, Beck, O'Reilly and Limbaugh are entirely within that tradition.

If there is a glimmer anywhere in this, it's that the ranters appear to be losing their impact, in broadcast audience terms.

According to a terrific profile of Glenn Beck in last Sunday's New York Times magazine, by Mark Leibovich, Beck's numbers are dropping. His TV show now has a quarter hour cume of a little more than 2 million. Advertisers are fleeing as well. Fox's president, Roger Ailes doubts that Beck is still the same valuable media property these days.

Compare that to the CBS Evening News (still in 3rd place) with more than 8 million. Or NPR's All Things Considered with more than 13 million listeners.

The Tea Party may still be pouring, but the beverage appears to be losing its steam at least on TV.

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