Will New CNN Regime Make The Same Mistakes?
Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP
With former NBC chief Jeff Zucker now in charge at CNN, the network reportedly has big changes planned.
The overhaul presents an opportunity for CNN to reverse a decline in environmental coverage that one former top environmental producer at the network blames on an obsession with beating Fox News.
Peter Dykstra, who oversaw the CNN environmental beat from 1995 to 2008, recalled top CNN executives describing environmental stories as "elite issues or liberal issues" that would not draw a Fox News crowd.
"For the last 10 years, CNN has been battered by competition, primarily by Fox. They have incurred huge losses in ratings to Fox and like just about anyone in cable television, they have altered their programming far more in the direction of entertainment and amusement as opposed to information with redeeming value. That of course does not bode well for covering science," Dykstra said in a recent interview. "CNN has looked obsessively at how many viewers they've lost to Fox."
Dykstra spent 1991 to 2008 on the environmental beat at CNN, except for a short stint on the military desk in 2002, serving as executive producer for environmental and science coverage from 1995 to 2008. He was laid off in 2008 when the environmental unit was shut down, he said.
A former board member for the Society of Environmental Journalists, Dykstra has been publisher of Environmental Health News for the past two years, previously working at the Pew Charitable Trust after leaving CNN.
"The biggest issue is that what we covered were perceived to be either elite issues or liberal issues that were of little value if your goal in life is to compete head to head with Fox News," Dykstra recalled about his CNN days. "You do not need science and technology to compete with Fox."
Ironically, a recent report at the Project for Improved Environmental Coverage ranked Fox News 9th out of 30 national news outlets in the amount of environmental stories, with CNN ranked near the bottom at 25th. The report noted, however, that "Fox's environmental coverage has often been documented and criticized for being biased and misleading."
Dykstra said that former CNN President Jonathan Klein, who served in that role from 2004 to 2010, was one of several executives who called for a reduction in environmental coverage in order to compete with Fox, even though he believed climate change existed.
"I will give him credit for looking me in the eye and telling me to my face, and he was not the only CNN boss who did this, that he did not consider science and environment coverage to be a high priority," Dykstra said of Klein, later adding, "It never was hostility, it was more an attitude of 'that doesn't work for us, that doesn't help us beat Fox.' There was very little if any political push back. In fact, Jon Klein, I recall him saying in editorial meetings on more than one occasion 'it's obvious that this is for real, it just didn't necessarily have a place in CNN's coverage.'"