When Ted Turner launched CNN in 1980, giving birth to the 24-hour news cycle that would eventually re-orient the media industry, bestowing us MSNBC and Fox News in the process, he did so with the lofty, quixotic ambition of bringing people closer together. “We hope,” he said at the network’s launch in Atlanta, “that the Cable News Network, with its international coverage and greater-depth coverage, will bring, both in the country and in the world, a better understanding of how people from different nations live and work together, and within the nation work together, so that we can perhaps, hopefully, bring together in brotherhood and kindness and friendship and in peace the people of this nation and this world.” Sure, the commentary manifested Turner’s slightly dippy, Brown alumni side, but it wasn’t some genetically modified corporate pablum. To drive the point home, Turner had the flag of the United Nations raised alongside those of the United States and the state of Georgia.
In the four decades since, CNN has certainly succeeded in becoming the leading global news network, with a far larger footprint than any of its rivals. In that regard, at least, CNN has provided people around the world with a shared record of the day’s news, and a common perspective on historical events for anyone who cares to watch.
But here in the United States, CNN’s quest to foster brotherhood and friendship among citizens has proved elusive. For one thing, Turner’s proclamation was granted in simpler, pre-omni-channel times. These days, not enough people watch the network for it to have such a significant influence on the culture. But, more to the point, the political polarization of recent years, and CNN’s response, have placed the network firmly at odds with broad swaths of the country, and most dramatically with anti-establishment Republicans.