William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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A DAY IN TELEVISION – OVERNIGHT:  Such news from the world of television.  Could anything else be this important?

JEFF ZUCKER has resigned as head of CNN.  This is big.  It's like the captain of the Titanic resigning just before the ship hit the iceberg.  The stated reason for Zucker's act is an inappropriate relationship with another executive at CNN. 

Are we serious here?

CNN people interviewed by reporters said that this "relationship" had been well known for some time.  So why is Zucker being forced out now because of it?  My suspicion is that the "inappropriate relationship" is being used as an excuse, but that the real reason is CNN's decline under Zucker's leadership.  Its ratings have collapsed.  By some measures they're down 80%.  Its reputation is a shambles.  Once a fairly respectable network, and the first outlet many turned to for breaking news, CNN is now seen as an untrustworthy peddler of left-wing talking points, and an echo chamber for all things Democratic.  There's no bloom on this rose.  Zucker decided to make it the anti-Trump network, with little space for anything else, and he succeeded.  But once Trump was defeated for re-election, CNN's loyal, Trump-hating audience had little reason to watch.

So now CNN's owner, AT&T, will look for a new king.  A smart owner would see immediately what CNN's problems are, and proceed accordingly.  He or she would realize that what audiences want from CNN is news, information, the output of great reporting, and, equally, great research.  These audiences also want maturity, not "panels" on the level of a junior high.  When I turn on a news station at 8 a.m. I want a newscast that will tell me what I want to know, and what I need to know.   And, to use a familiar phrase in journalism, I want a news service that operates without fear or favor.  No more "anti-Trump network."

It's a very tall order.  I'm not so sure any one new leader can execute it.  And I'm also not sure that AT&T will have the wisdom to find that right person. 

All we can do, as members of the audience, is observe and make our own judgment, and enforce that judgment with our remote control.  But we can also, recalling the recent years of CNN, send, in one voice, a single message:  Don't pull that on us again.

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HER NAME IS WHOOPI GOLDBERG, and she's in the news, the second big TV story of the day.  As a panel member of the ABC daytime show "The View," Ms. Goldberg, who's been a prominent comedienne, actress, and sometime commentator for almost 40 years, discusses any subject that comes up, sometimes from an African-American perspective.  This week she made a serious mistake.

For some reason Goldberg, whose real name is Caryn Elaine Johnson, brought up Hitler's Holocaust and insisted that it wasn't about race, but simply man's inhumanity to man.  It was a statement of profound ignorance, for the Holocaust was indeed about race, all about race.  Hitler was obsessed with races he considered inferior, starting with the Jews, but including many of the ethnic groups of Europe. 

There was an immediate uproar, and calls for Goldberg to be fired.  She tried to give a half-hearted apology, but bungled it.  She appeared on CBS with Stephen Colbert, and bungled that, too.  She didn't seem to quite understand the seriousness of what she had said.  And today ABC put her on a two-week suspension so she could repent and think it over.  It has become a very big story.

The suspension is controversial.  Ironically, it is conservatives who are most critical of it, saying it's too close to "cancel culture."  Others say it is only a slap on the wrist, and that more should be done.They argue that in a time of rising anti-Semitism she deepened the wound.

I come down closer to the conservative position.  Goldberg's statement was ignorant, as noted, but it was not made maliciously.  She has no history of bigotry.  Indeed, she chose as her stage name the very Jewish name of Goldberg.  She should be required to have a meeting with a Holocaust expert and make a formal apology on "The View."  She should then accept the invitation of Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the Holocaust, to visit and learn, and report on her visit.  And then the matter should be put to rest. 

If someone is truly evil, that's one thing.  But if someone makes a mistake, even a serious one, the answer is education and counseling.  We've had enough cancel culture.  Where has it gotten us?

February 2, 2022