OFF THE GRID

Why CNN Needs Erick Erickson

Mar 17, 10 | 1:32 PM   byCaroline Miller
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CNN has thrown in the towel and hired a screamer, a right-wing flame-thrower, a guy who traffics in flamboyant political trash-talk. Why are they doing that? Not to add a “conservative voice,” as they say, but to beef up on the outrage and insult-flinging that has become the porn of the news business.

The fact is that more and more of what passes as news is actually people saying offensive, shocking, ridiculous things just so that news outlets and bloggers and sharers and tweeters everywhere will propagate them. And we are more than happy to oblige. At Newser we spend many hours poring over pieces of journalism, high and low, and we have to confess that these instant soundbites, and the buzz they generate, are pretty hot.

I know we’re not alone. On a slow news day I picture news junkies everywhere sitting at their computers salivating in the hopes that Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck will shoot off a real stinker, a bald lie, a wacky broadside that will offend a whole religious or ethnic or political tribe. Something that will boost page views and set off a tidal wave of hand-wringing and shocked, shocked protests that we then get to write about, too.

CNN has obviously been outclassed by Fox in this arena, and hiring Erick Erickson has got to be playing catch-up. Best known for calling Justice David Souter a "goat-fucking child molester" and Michelle Obama a "Marxist harpy," the Red State blogger joins the news network’s new show, John King, USA, which, oddly, is not supposed to be a political slugfest, King claims, but more of an “insight and context” show.

What kind of insight does Erickson bring? “As a person who still lives in small-town America, Erick is in touch with the very people John hopes to reach," intoned CNN’s political director in announcing the hire.

Ah, I see. “The people John hopes to reach” would be the people tuned into Fox, and the assumption would be that they’ve tuned out CNN because it bores them to death by being too tepid, as much as by being (or being perceived as) too left-wing.

It may be because a riveting election year was followed by a dull, frustrating year of failing to pass health care reform, but we can't help getting excited by the outrageous rewriting of Bush history from Karl Rove and the two Cheneys. A day in which Beck or Limbaugh or O’Reilly doesn’t call someone a Negro, or a Nazi, or a Socialist, or all of the above has become a disappointment.

And then it’s a disappointment all over again if Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert don’t have something over-the-top, stupid, or embarrassing to make fun of at night. Think about it: When Stewart skewers Fox, which is pretty much every show, it’s for saying something manipulative or lunatic. When he skewers CNN, it’s for being … boring.

Caroline Miller is the editor in chief of Newser. She can be reached at cmiller@newser.com.

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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.