COLUMN:Fox News, CNN all the war we need

Tim Paluch

The war is on. First, Paula Zahn bolted Fox News for CNN. Then, Geraldo Rivera left CNBC to cover the war in Afghanistan for Fox News. After that, Greta Van Susteren defected from CNN for Fox News for less money. And while the 12th hour deal sending Larry King to Fox News for two bottles of cognac fell through at the last minute, the networks are keeping busy.

This anchor-swapping makes it clear that the two major cable news networks have openly declared war on each other. CNN, which critics call “left-leaning,” and its conservative doppelganger, Fox News, which critics call “catnip for Republicans,” are smack dab in the middle of a ratings battle.

Both networks are responding by doing whatever it takes to make the news more entertaining and appealing. Rumor has it CNN’s “Lou Dobbs’ Moneyline” will be replaced midseason with “Carmen Electra’s Pantyline,” a stock market analysis/D.J. Skribble dance-party hybrid.

The battle raged on. Objective journalism took a back seat to “I-I-me-me” tactics, where the journalists themselves were the news. Geraldo abandoned his dapper suits for a flak jacket and scarf, packed a handgun and headed off to war, vowing to hunt down Osama himself.

In December he taped a report claiming to be standing “on hallowed ground . [where] friendly fire took so many of our men and the mujahedeen yesterday.” The only problem – the friendly fire incident occurred in Kandahar, hundreds of miles away from Tora Bora, where Rivera was reporting from.

He blamed the mistake on the “fog of war,” which, according to meteorologists, is a gaseous cloud that causes talk show hosts to witness hallucinations of their own grandeur.

The only other reported “fog of war” incident occurred in 1998, when Maury Povich awoke to find himself on the front lines at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Many in the media likened Rivera to nothing more than a publicity whore, a hack who knowingly invented the story. Rivera responded, specifically to CNN anchor Aaron Brown, an outspoken critic of Rivera’s journalistic integrity – “This is a guy who would poop in his pants if he was anywhere near where I was,” adding, “and then the fog of poop created by his poop would mask the air over the tattered and hallowed ground where I once stood.”

CNN responded by changing their network slogan to “No Rivera, none of the time.” Ratings have subsequently taken off.

Fox News, however, has decided to stick with their old slogan – “We report, you decide, we then decide what you decided wasn’t good enough and have Bill O’Reilly kick your ass until you vote Republican.”

So, when will the madness end? When will bizarre schemes to attract new viewers take a back seat to reporting the news fairly and accurately? Apparently not any time soon. A recent advertising controversy has forced CNN to apologize for an advertisement they ran for Paula Zahn’s morning show.

The ad made the preposterous claim that Zahn was, , “sexy.” Zahn reportedly was upset that her ravishing good looks – and not her journalistic prowess – was being advertised. Viewers reportedly found the ad compelling, and Geraldo reportedly got breast implants in an attempt to keep up with CNN.

CNN altered the advertisement, changing the words “a little sexy” to “hideously ugly,” and released a statement claiming, “Paula Zahn is not `a little sexy.’ She’s not even a tad bit sexy. We encourage all our viewers to watch Paula Zahn’s show, but do their best to avoid looking at her painfully disfigured face.”

So where can the 24-hour news aficionado turn? Let’s face it, CNN and Fox News both have their problems – CNN has been known to tip to the left on a number of issues, and Fox News makes the NRA look like NOW, a veritable orgasm of self-indulgent conservatism.

The answer is simple: Just sit back with a bowl of popcorn and enjoy the show.

After all, Geraldo isn’t actually a journalist. He just plays one on TV.

Tim Paluch is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Orland Park, Ill. He is opinion editor of the Daily.