CNN goes off the deep end

Lately, CNN has felt like the Democrats of the major news outlets, and that's not because they're supposedly the "liberal" alternative to Fox News. (They're not.) Like the dems, the first 24-hour news channel is struggling with its identity: Who are we? What does "news" mean in the new millennium? How can we compete with the internet and citizen journalists? The answer: Pander to the lowest common denominator and rely on the human element, the "tragedy," if you will, to exploit, err, tell, the real story.

Never has this been more apparent than in the last three days, as the currently self-titled "Hurricane Headquarters" posts videos on with slugs like, "Watch the video account of unanswered screams," "See knee-deep and rising water in the French Quarter," and perhaps the most egregious, "Watch the video report of a husband whose wife slipped from his grip." With titles like that, they might as well have exclamation points and be packaged as the first in a series of the World's Most Extreme Videos. That is, after all, what CNN is selling.

In a report by Jeanne Meserve (which has been edited down to a "video account of unanswered screams,") she details horrific stories of victims left alone on rooftops, finding a woman with a severed leg, and spotting dogs, near death, that have been tangled in electrical wire. She tells her account through tears (we can watch this story only after first sitting through a 30-second Ditech commercial), as anchorman Aaron Brown goads her with probing questions like, "Are these middle-class neighborhoods?" and "Are police able to communicate in any way with these people who are stranded, scared, hungry, cold, and desperate?"

He only left out one adjective here, and that's "news." At the end of Meserve's story, Brown prods her further about what she sees: "The crew was extraordinary," she says, crying again. "It was a heroic piece of work by CNN employees." And then the story ends. A perfect kicker to emphasize CNN's commitment to getting the story first. Yes, that's the word to describe the efforts of reporters scrambling to get the most harrowing tale to video as soon as possible while workers try to rescue victims from rooftops: heroic.

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