Cross-marketing and synergy are standard practices in MediaLand – like when Alec Baldwin wakes up on NBC's "30 Rock" and just so happens to watch MSNBC morning programming, for example – but CNN has started taking some heat for what is being perceived as prizing promotion over news gathering.
Just in this space alone, this writer has noted the network's promotional zeal, hyping up its July 23rd YouTube debate to the tune of 117 mentions of that night's "groundbreaking" event.
Along with observing a few weeks ago that CNN was alone among the cable news networks in finding nooses to be a growing problem across America – in the same week that they were airing an investigative special called "The Noose: An American Nightmare."
And the Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten with his eagle eye noticed a troubling prioritization in last week's CNN Republican YouTube debate:
CNN chose to devote the first 35 minutes of this critical debate to a single issue -- immigration. Now, if that leaves you scratching your head, it's probably because you're included in the 96% of Americans who do not think immigration is the most important issue confronting this country…If this is actual mischief engineered to further the agenda of one of CNN's stars, what is Rutten's solution? "It's time for the leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties to take the network out of our electoral affairs."
So, why did CNN make immigration the keystone of this debate? What standard dictated the decision to give that much time to an issue so remote from the majority of voters' concerns? The answer is that CNN's most popular news-oriented personality, Lou Dobbs, has made opposition to illegal immigration and free trade the centerpiece of his neonativist/neopopulist platform…
In other words, CNN intentionally directed the Republicans' debate to advance its own interests. Make immigration a bigger issue and you've made a bigger audience for Dobbs.
That's corruption, and it's why the Republican candidates had to spend more than half an hour "debating" an issue on which their differences are essentially marginal.
I think he's correct in spirit. If these debates have truly become barely-concealed promotional devices, then it's time for a change. But whether these conflicts of interest are real or merely imagine, the solution is not to end the network's presence in the electoral affairs and end up informing viewers less.
Rather, one solution would be to add a new level of transparency to that process. Or maybe rethink the structure of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates and involve them before the primaries are concluded. (Which is not their current charter.)
The silver lining in this is that we are wising up here, and realizing that the overriding media bias may not be as simple as left or right, but the bias towards Keeping Us Tuned To That Particular Network. And that's the one most difficult to notice.
But we're starting to pick up on it.