A brief, non-movie aside about why CNN is the worst

I still check CNN.com for quick news fixes. It’s a habit. Even though CNN has a godawful opinion section, and has ditched its partnership with Sports Illustrated for sports coverage in favor of the stinking sludgepit that is Bleacher Report, it is still a solid, go-to place for a quick rundown of events that have transpired in the last day, right?

Well, not really, not anymore. The “Breaking on CNN” meme (ie, joking that CNN only breaks years-old stories) ran out of steam months ago, but it was rooted in something very true: CNN’s coverage of Dzokhar Tsarnaev manhunt was woefully behind that of local news sources, and woefully inaccurate:

Anyway, when I checked CNN.com it this morning, this was the headline.


This is a terrible, terrible story, and my first reaction was, like I imagine it was for almost everyone, shock.

And then I looked at the presentation of the story, and I began to feel sick. Look at how the headline is structured: the subject of the sentence is not the victim, but the perpetrators.

And the perpetrators are not given any sort of concrete identity: they are simply “teens”. Coming off the heels of a much covered murder involving teens, this seemed oddly deliberate. Why not focus on the victim? And why is the age of the murderers so crucial?

But in just the headline and description, the word “teens” appears twice before the victim’s name, Delbert Belton, is even mentioned. That is followed by the kicker: a sentence mentioning how this is the second random murder this week committed by teens. All told, in that chunk of less than fifty words, “teens” are mentioned four times

This made it clear to me: CNN didn’t give a damn about Delbert Belton. They were manufacturing a trend. They were prepping for an onslaught of murder coverage, with teen murderers as the main draw.

Sure enough, CNN has obliged with a full course of murder-related stories today, including an obligatory opinion piece on the parental skills of teenage murderers, once again continuing the sickening trend of talking heads trying to diagnose killers from afar without any qualifications (which has led to widespread reporting of falsehoods like autism being linked to violent behavior), and ignoring the cold and less headline-friendly possibility that, sometimes, people just do evil things. Many more do good things. It’s part of humanity, but it doesn’t make for sexy headlines.

Yes, to some degree it makes sense that crime dominates news coverage. Overly positive news coverage can come off as treacly unless it pertains to acts of heroism or great human achievement. On the other hand, take a look at CNN.com’s top stories of the day:

cnn2That’s ten stories, half of which are related to murder, as well as one about destructive wildfires, and voyeurism story (complete with the chance to see the video yourself) for good measure. This is also excluding the top two headlines of the day: the Delbert Belton murder, and the conviction of Nidal Hasan for his killing spree at Fort Hood.

Now, let’s look at that top story, the one with the headline “What the hell is going on?” (a quote from a CNN.com reader of Facebook). What do you think that story is going to be about? Because the story itself is actually about how crime is decreasing, and has been doing so for the last 20 years. The story also mentions, however, that 68 percent of Americans think crime is getting worse. And not once does the story even suggest the cause for the misconception.

I think that might have something to do with the fact that CNN is the kind of news network that takes its one story about the country’s decreasing crime rate and gives it the headline “What the hell is going on with crime”, and then plasters it alongside a never-ending buffet of stories about murder.

I called CNN the worst in the headline of this post. Well, isn’t Fox News worse, you might be wondering?

Yes, Fox News is vile, but it’s also already a punching bag. It doesn’t pretend to be anything but a shill for the far right, and they are called on this time and time again.

But CNN calls itself the most trusted name in news when its news has ceased to be anything but what CNN thinks can perpetuate a 24-hour cycle of mouse clicks and eyeballs. It’s what leads them to make minor but profound mistakes like dropping the ball on covering the Wendy Davis filibuster when it quietly took the internet by storm. It also leads to doing some things that are truly sickening in the name of dictating news coverage, like interviewing the kids of Sandy Hook elementary minutes after they escaped the gunman who murdered their classmates.

CNN is precisely the reason that Americans think our country is devolving into a bloodbath when in fact violent crime in this country is approaching historic lows.

Since CNN can’t say that crime is rising, which would be a blatant lie, they go a more surreptitious route, selectively reporting murders in a way that gives the false perception of a trend (again, it mattered less to them that an elderly man was murdered than that teens did it), and then reporting that trend as if it exists (when it doesn’t). They don’t simply report a murder: they dress it up as a trend piece, connecting it to another crime that has absolutely nothing to do with it.

And then CNN has the gall to mask a story that reports that violent crime is dropping in the context of its own readership being led to believe by their own coverage that it is on the rise- all this without once fessing up to their complicity in the whole ruse.

As I said before, the murders of Chris Lane and Delbert Belton are sickening. They are tragic by all measures. And they deserve better coverage than CNN is capable of giving them.

Edit: CNN.com has just now made the story about the crime rate drop its top story. Well, that’s nice, I suppose. Except the headline is still “What the hell is going on?” Couldn’t, you know, something that reflects the actual content of the story work?

About johnmichaelmaximilian

Freelance writer from New Bedford, Massachusetts. Movies are my favorite thing.

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