Dateline: ATLANTA—CNN has dramatically altered its strategy in covering the Donald Trump White House, having first milked Mr. Trump’s scandals for ratings in the 2016 campaign and then attempted to provide serious, fact-based analysis of the first two years of his presidency.
“We realized that we were the true traitors,” said Toby Cynic, the CEO of CNN. “It’s a little embarrassing to admit that as a news organization we haven’t had the moral high ground for decades, since we’re very critical of Trump and he calls us ‘fake news.’”
Mr. Cynic now admits that CNN helped to elect Donald Trump, by shutting Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton out of most of its news cycle. “Trump took up all the oxygen and we couldn’t help but give him most of our airtime because we’re a business and we have to make money. We supplied what people demanded.”
Realizing that the American free press has a constitutional duty not to defer to market logic, but to educate the citizenry to prevent the American democracy from falling to pieces, Mr. Cynic made sure to hold Donald Trump accountable, once he was elected.
“Ever since he was elected, we left no stone unturned when it came to raising fair criticisms of this presidency. We offered fair, fact-based coverage of the reality of what Mr. Trump has done in office.”
But critics pointed out that CNN’s dedication to providing sober, reality-based commentary has had the unintended consequence of normalizing Mr. Trump’s bizarre, chaotic regime.
Granted, Don Lemon routinely stressed on his nightly CNN news program that it would be wrong consider Donald Trump a normal president. Mr. Lemon castigated his guests for pretending that Mr. Trump has been functioning well in high office, as though Mr. Trump’s scandals were in the same league even as George W. Bush’s.
“The problem,” said Mr. Cynic, “is that calling Trump abnormal—or even psychotic and authoritarian—doesn’t matter if you’re pointing that out in a professional CNN broadcast. By sitting around with a dozen pundits, soberly picking this president apart, you can’t help but leave the impression that despite all those criticisms, Mr. Trump must be the new normal, because you’re still generally treating him the way you treated all the other presidents. You’re still just sitting around a table and talking seriously about the daily news. After all, the medium is the message.”
Two years into Mr. Trump’s presidency, Mr. Cynic took CNN in a radically different direction by barring his employees from engaging in serious analysis of the news from the White House. CNN’s reports are now issued only by the news ticker at the bottom of the screen, the essential facts of which are read aloud by a synthesized voice. The sole job of CNN’s human anchors, reporters, and analysts is to laugh a lot in response to those reports.
“We switched from comparing our savvy zingers, to comparing each other’s fits of laughter,” said Mr. Cynic. “For example, after Trump ranted for thirty minutes on Fox and Friends, the robotic voice we programmed at CNN read the bare-bone facts of that news report at the top of the hour, which took a minute or so. Then the news anchor and his or her guests laughed hysterically for fifteen minutes straight until it was time for the next segment, and the process was repeated to cover the next bit of Trump news.”
“We take turns laughing,” said CNN news anchor John King. “I’ll laugh for a while, then one of our analysts will bust a gut laughing, and we’ll go round and round in that fashion. Sometimes we interrupt each other with a little cross-laughter, but we try to let each other’s laughter speak for itself.”
Mr. King reportedly balked at the new policy at CNN, because “he likes to hear himself speak,” according to one of his colleagues at CNN. But Mr. King saw the wisdom of the transition when he learned that CNN had been doing more harm than good by attempting to offer serious-minded commentary on the Trump White House. Much as CNN bolstered George W. Bush’s fraudulent case for the Iraq War, from 2001 to 2003, “the most trusted name in news” had been unwittingly giving credit to President Trump just by relaying the disturbing facts of what Mr. Trump is and what he’s been doing.
“It’s like reporting on a stark, raving mad person, someone who’s lost all touch with reality,” said Mr. King. “Do you just keep announcing one shocking instance of lunacy after another, saying that this person is flinging his feces out the window and now he’s drawing on everyone’s shirt with a red magic marker and now he’s shouting and dancing in the streets or acting as though he were Napoleon Bonaparte? At some point, it’s no longer news and you’re just wallowing in something tragic or ghoulishly preying on the viewers’ weaknesses. At some point, you’ve got to stop pretending the naked boy emperor is wearing any clothes.”