Irony: Fake News Anchor Dan Rather Bemoans ‘Sensationalism’ of TV News in 1990s

Sifting through Sunday night’s premiere of CNN’s The Nineties, the television episode included a segment on the news business and, aside from nothing about the media’s far-left bias that exploded in the 1990s, one ironic observation was that the film makers turned to Marvin Kalb and fake news master Dan Rather to lament the negatives of media expansion.

The segment started by mentioning how, during the decade, the “big three” networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC were bought by corporations Capital Cities, Loews-Tisch Brothers, and General Electric, respectively. 

Former NBC News chairman Julian Goodman was then quoted at the time as fretting that the “news will be mixed up with the rest of television and considered just another profit center.”

Riding in on his high horse to deliver the bad news, Rather discarded his own role in obliterating the notion of journalism being a public service with his bias, fake news escapades, and $8 million salary:

Late 1920, early 1930s to the 1980s, the sense was we’ll give some ,of the broadcasting time took public service. But in the 1990s, journalism in the country changed a great deal. You couldn't talk about public service. It was: what are the ratings going to be? What are the demographics going to be? What is the profit going to be? Well, sensationalism sells. 

“You make money off sex. You make money off death. You make money off crime,” author and frequent CNN decades guest Gil Troy stated.

Troy added that, somehow in a mere flash, “broadcast journalism loses its purity and it becomes much more shoddy, sensationalistic, and then it all comes together with O.J. Simpson.” 

After a large chunk on the fascination and obsession (among both the media and public) with the O.J. Simpson trial, the documentary spun CNN’s ratings boom as a result of the Simpson trial as the impetus behind the launch of the Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

Former CNN and NBC correspondent and current PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff added:

Unfortunately, with cable news and the ability — or the need to be on the air 24/7, where you’re trying to get as many eyeballs as possible at one time, to gravitate toward those stories that are sensational, you know, it brought us the ability to go too far. 

Rather resurfaced, except it was the 1990's version of himself defending the very comments about journalism to Larry King that the 2017 one ripped:

Yes, it’s tabloid, but on the other hand, it’s a tabloid, and here's where the fear comes into it, I think, Larry. It's the fear that says, gosh, if we don't cover it big time, our competition is and when they cover it big time, they'll get a big jump in the ratings. And the first thing is last, if we’re going to last, if we’re to survive, we've got to do it. 

The final quotes were particularly delicious when considering the current state of CNN, with it’s false and fake news stories, massive panels, snarky chyrons, and voluminous sensationalism.

Troy observed that, starting in that decade, people began to see “a whole army of commentators...who make their business talking about the news.”

“The networks were doing good journalism but they became much more preoccupied by profits. It's cheaper to have someone in your studio pontificating than to have reporters out in the field reporting,” lefty media author Ken Auletta complained.

Most haunting was the final comment of the segment (albeit from the time period), provided by Marvin Kalb, who was a comrade of Rather’s at CBS:

Every single sentence on CNN, perhaps, on CNBC, on Fox, on MSNBC, begins with the words “I think,” but after a while people get confused by what is speculation, by what is innuendo, by what is fact. And as far as the viewer is concerned, be very, very careful of unsubstantiated information presented with great hype.

Hmm, that’s funny. It sounds like most of CNN’s business model in the Trump era, consisting of anonymous sources, fallacies everywhere (either or, strawman, etc.), former Democratic officials becoming journalists, mammoth panels, and viral meltdowns whenever they don’t get what they want.

Here’s the relevant transcript from the premiere of CNN’s The Nineties from July 9

CNN’s The Nineties
July 9, 2017
9:47 p.m. Eastern

TOM BROKAW: A new era of technology is forcing network news operations to re-examine the way they do business. 

JOHN HART: New owners spent billions buying the networks recently. GE buying NBC. Capital Cities, ABC, and Loews-Tisch Brothers buying CBS and all of them want their money's worth. 

JACK WELCH: We'll now have the strongest network, we'll have the stronger defense piece. This is going to be one dynamite company. 

JULIAN GOODMAN: There's a danger that news will be mixed up with the rest of television and considered just another profit center. 

DAN RATHER: Late 1920, early 1930s to the 1980s, the sense was we’ll give some ,of the broadcasting time took public service. But in the 1990s, journalism in the country changed a great deal. You couldn't talk about public service. It was: what are the ratings going to be? What are the demographics going to be? What is the profit going to be? Well, sensationalism sells. [on CBS Evening News] In a plea bargain, Amy Fisher got up to 15 years in prison for shooting the wife of her alleged lover. 

JEFF GREENFIELD: So intense is the interest in it this case there are three — three made for TV movies now this the works about it. 

GIL TROY: You make money off sex. You make money off death. You make money off crime. 

LARRY KING: The press calls the case the Beverly Hills mansion murders and the stories reads like one of the unsold scripts that circulates here in Hollywood. 

TROY: We enter into world of the television news soap opera. 

(....)

TROY: And so, broadcast journalism loses its purity and it becomes much more shoddy, sensationalistic, and then it all comes together with O.J. Simpson. 

(....)

TROY: The O.J. Simpson story starts with the chase and then goes on to his arrest and then culminates with the trial, which goes on ands on and on and is televised day after day after day. 

(....) 

JEFFREY TOOBIN: The O.J. Simpson case was such a national phenomenon, that those of us who were covering it just lived this case 24 hours a day because there was so much demand for people talking about it.

(....)

MERRILL MARKOE: No question that the best TV show of the '90s was the O.J. Simpson trial and everyone on it was riveting. 

(....)

DAVID BIANCULLI: The verdict viewed by 150 million people. It's more than watched presidential election returns. That's crazy. 

WALTER PODRAZIK: Because there was trial footage every day, CNN saw its audience increase like five times, the success of CNN was not lost on other people. And so, there were competing forces coming into play. 

RUPERT MURDOCH: How delighted I am that we’ve now reached this moment when we can firmly announce the starting of a Fox News Channel. 

JUDY WOODRUFF: Unfortunately, with cable news and the ability — or the need to be on the air 24/7, where you’re trying to get as many eyeballs as possible at one time, to gravitate toward those stories that are sensational, you know, it brought us the ability to go too far. 

KING: Is the Jon-Benet Ramsey murder investigation turning into a media circus? 

RATHER [TO KING]: Yes, it’s tabloid, but on the other hand, it’s a tabloid, and here's where the fear comes into it, I think, Larry. It's the fear that says, gosh, if we don't cover it big time, our competition is and when they cover it big time, they'll get a big jump in the ratings. And the first thing is last, if we’re going to last, if we’re to survive, we've got to do it. 

TROY: What you also see is a whole army of commentators, people who make their business talking about the news. 

(....)

KEN AULETTA: The networks were doing good journalism but they became much more preoccupied by profits. It's cheaper to have someone in your studio pontificating than to have reporters out in the field reporting. 

LESILE ABRAMSON: I don't think any of this is true. But what I heard is that the father went down, opened his basement room, which the FBI had bypassed. 

MARVIN KALB: Every single sentence on CNN, perhaps, on CNBC, on Fox, on MSNBC, begins with the words “I think,” but after a while people get confused by what is speculation, by what is innuendo, by what is fact. And as far as the viewer is concerned, be very, very careful of unsubstantiated information presented with great hype. 

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