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Rick Sanchez, symptom

Monday, October 4th, 2010

What a world we inhabit. It spins with such quicksilver speed. When I last wrote, on Friday morning, Rick Sanchez had a big job. Now here I am at the keys again, and Rick Sanchez has no job.

Perhaps you haven’t tracked the precipitous demise of CNN’s premier stuntmeister; perhaps you never saw him in action. That doesn’t really matter, because you’re already familiar with the flashy archetype that is ubiquitous on every local news broadcast. Sanchez, who was plucked by the network from a Florida loudmouth show, always seemed a tad light on the intellect scale – and that was no errant impression, as I can personally attest, having once endured a guest gig on one of his shows. He seemed to TALK LIKE THIS as compensation for all he didn’t know.

But I come here not to bury Rick Sanchez, but to contextualize him, to suggest that he was merely a symptom of a cheap-thrill infotainment culture that increasingly favors bombast over brains. He died for our sins.

Granted, during his six years many of his dimmest remarks became legend. He was a big “personality” whose excesses became grist for media watchdogs such as Jon Stewart, and apparently Stewart ticked him off one too many times. Because last Thursday, on a Sirius radio show, Sanchez assailed Stewart as an anti-Hispanic bigot (Sanchez is Cuban-American), and when the host pointed out that Stewart is Jewish and therefore disinclined to bash minorities, Sanchez unloaded with the money quote that put him out of the money: “Please, what are you kidding? I’m telling you that everybody who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority? Yeah.” With that last word lathered in sarcasm.

CNN, naturally concerned that many Americans might see Sanchez’s remarks as a reiteration of the old saw about conspiratorial Jews in high places, cut him loose late Friday with barely 20 farewell words. That decision was probably necessary, but I do feel a bit bad for the guy. I seriously doubt he intended to sound like an anti-Semite, as a latter-day adherent of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; heck, I bet he has never heard of the Protocols. No, he was merely being true to his authentic inarticulate self. He lost his cool and expressed himself poorly, just when he most needed to be politic.

The thing is, Sanchez on that radio show was just a more meat-headed version of the  Sanchez that CNN willingly ushered to the national stage. My favorite Sanchez moment was when he arranged to have some cops taser him on camera, and after he finished howling in pain, he shared his big scoop with the viewer: “It hurts!” My second favorite was when he derided Barack Obama as “the cotton-pickin’ president of the United States.” My third favorite was when he offered this incisive analysis of a breaking-news story about a volcano eruption in Iceland: “When you think of a volcano, you think of Hawaii and long words like that. You don’t think of Iceland. You think it’s too cold to have a volcano there.” My fourth favorite moment occurred when a tsunami expert used the term “nine meters” and Sanchez interrupted to ask, “And nine meters in English is…?”

CNN wanted an edgy, controversial personality, somebody who would create buzz. After all, that’s what the game is all about. But CNN didn’t want Sanchez to, as we say, “cross the line.” (Whatever that line is. Nobody ever quite defines it, given that the line keeps moving all the time, further into tawdry territory.) CNN wanted Rick to be Rick – without being too Rick. Yet it seemed inevitable that he would finally go beyond the pale, given the traits he brought to the table – traits that CNN sought out six years ago, in its desperation to boost viewership.

That’s the real crux of the Sanchez story. I feel some sympathy for CNN, too. Nearly 20 years ago, when I spent several days in CNN’s Atlanta newsroom doing research for a magazine piece, the network was the proud exemplar of hard-news coverage, delivered hot off the griddle. Back then, if you tuned in at the top of virtually any hour, you typically got the straight skinny. As I wrote in my 1991 magazine piece (and how quaint this now reads today), “famous faces have never been important at CNN, where celebrity and ideology take a back seat to technology.” One top CNN executive told me, “We’re not going to whore up the network with glitz and gee-whizzery.”

But as our political culture became increasingly polarized in the ensuing years, and as the choice of cable channels multiplied, and as the mass cable audience increasingly favored infotainment over information, the network checked its ratings and decided that it had to embrace glitz and gee-whizzery. (Sanchez, in a recent moment of gee-whizzery: “Guess what! John Boehner sent me a Tweet! Personally!”)

Exit traditional dispassion, hello passion. That’s why Campbell Brown’s journalistically responsible prime-time show (which, naturally, tanked in the ratings) will be officially supplanted tonight with a ‘tude and opinion show that pairs a (talented) conservative columnist with a fallen governor who digs hookers.

The glitz factor is why Rick Sanchez got tapped for stardom in the first place, so that’s why I’ll cut him a break. He didn’t dumb down the news discourse. In the final analysis, we did.


  • Jozanny says:

    Very nice piece Dick, even though cable is not one of my sources for news anymore, I do try to be educated by a variety of sources, off line or on, but I’m not sure how we solve for saturation level and corporate conglomeration of *media* when it conflicts with an informed public.

  • yobill626 says:

    After reading Dick’s list of “Sanchezes”, I’m now sorry I didn’t watch. What a nutjob!

  • Still Independent says:

    tom: hey, I think you caught them. Yes, the state department issued a travel advisory (not a “terror alert”, as you call it) about travelling to Europe to highlight an issue that is traditionally a weakness for Democrats. Furthermore, they conspired with the Brits, Canadians, Swedes, and Japanese to do so, as they all issued similar advisories. They probably even killed those German nationals training in Pakistan today to lend credence to the charade. Can’t believe you managed to tie it all together. Should we call you Mulder or Scully?

    • swedesboromike says:

      Perhaps you’re missing the point. What does one have to do with the other? Last election cycle or the one before that the raised terror threat was used by the left to make the false accusation that is was used for political purposes. It was not true then and it isn’t true now. But when one side uses BS tactics don’t be so surprised when they are used on you.

  • Jim Russell says:

    Your comments on Rick Sanchez are very insightful, and your conclusion that he didn’t dumb down the news discourse, we did — are, regretably, right on too.

    I will plead guilty to putting the following on Facebook and Romenesko: “Emperor’s New Clothes: Does nobody have the courage to state the real reason Rick Sanchez was fired? As per his book’s title, he IS an idiot and has been an embarrassment to CNN for the entire time he has been there. When someone like this calls himself a journalist, the entire profession suffers. Sorry for being stern…, but somebody
    had to say it.”

  • F. Inahoy says:

    Polman can look to himself as to who is responsible for the sorry state of broadcast journalism and not try to pin it on us. I don’t know any reasonably intelligent person who gets their news from any of the broadcast/cable networks. They drove away all the smart people years ago, and only the dullards who don’t know how to read are still tuning in.

    • johngilb says:

      If you think Polman is so bad, why are you wasting your time posting your wingnuttery every day of the week?

      • F. Inahoy says:

        If you want to accept responsibility for the dumbing down of the news discourse then go right ahead. All you’re telling me is that you’re not that smart.

    • sxmueller says:

      Well then we now know that no liberals would ever get their news from cable or broadcast networks since they are intelligent. You know, lovers of intellectualism and all that. Must be only followers of Ms Palin or the Tea Party that get their news from Mr Sanchez et al, since they are not reasonably intelligent or in this case – dullards. Only saying this since it seems the far right prides itself on not respecting individuals who have an honest intellect and who are proud of having a education from a top notch college or university. As long as we keep dumbing down the coversation, we’re going to keep getting the same drivel thrown our way. When did it become a bad thing to be smart or educated? Just because I don’t agree with what you are saying, doesn’t mean I think you are stupid. Just wish that courtesy would go both ways.

    • Rich says:

      What does Polman have to do with broadcast journalism? He’s a print journalist, and always has been. Print journalism has always been superior to broadcast journalism, going back to the early days of radio before TV even existed. No sane person, then or now, would get more than 5% of their news from broadcast sources.

      • F. Inahoy says:

        Rich – Perhaps I wasn’t entirely clear. Your point is exactly what I’m saying. My beef with Polman is only that he’s blaming us (his readers) for the state of broadcast journalism. I’m telling him to look in the mirror since he’s obviously a consumer of broadcast journalism and I and, as you state, most sane people, are not.

  • Nalaka says:

    Celebrities are individuals who are paid big bucks to dance along the edge of permissable behavior, and then, when we have decided that they have gone too far, to be unceremoniously thrown over the cliff while we wait for the next willing participant to show up. Madonna, Lohan, Jolie, Stern, and now this appears to be extending to celebrity news media personalities as well. Ultimately, I think that Mr. Polman is right when he says that we are ultimately responsible since we are the media market that views and thereby condones this process. The long-lasting ones, like Limbaugh, have their memes (big government, affirmative action, welfare queens, etc.) and stay on script. Their creativity is their ability to reparcel these cliches. Sanchez, it seems, strayed off his traditional memes and engaged in what could be construed as anti-Semitic statements.

  • tom - wilmington, de says:

    By the way, do any liberals out there believe that the terror alert being raised and all the warnings about travel is just a ploy by Obama and the Democrats to raise their profiles and support on the eve of an important election? I mean it happened during Bush’s tenure, didn’t it? I bet you are all too busy reading the stories in the media about these false alert to raise fears just like were published during the Bush years, right?

    • Rich says:

      Well, in this case a bunch of arrests were made in Europe by several European government law enforcement agencies prior to the travel warning…so, given that specific independent information preceded the warning, no, I don’t think this was the same sort of weaselly smoke-blowing propaganda that Bush and his supine flunky Ridge used to regularly produce any time they needed to change the conversation.

    • JimR says:

      There doesn’t seem to be a lot of detail to this warning. A lot of continent, very little in the way of focus (mass transit – that’s massive!). Can’t figure out what the government wants everyone to be afraid of.

    • johngilb says:

      Sure, Tom. The Europeans love Obama so much they have no problem scaring the bejesus out of their citizens to help Obama out in the election. Why don’t you cite some of your famous statistics to support this bit of wingnuttery?

  • tom - wilmington, de says:

    Finally, someone who is held to account for his words/actions and not just allowed to slide by with cheap “I misspoke/was taken out of context” excuses. Before Friday I had barely heard of Sanchez, and may never hear about him again. As for Campbell Brown, I always like her at NBC, but she doesn’t fit in at CNN since she married Dan Senor.

  • jeffg166 says:

    He’ll be on FOX soon. He’ll fit right in.

  • Paul says:

    Weird Guy. Made me nervous. And Campbell Brown was more enjoyable to listen to and look at.

    • Rich says:

      I always thought Campbell was a little too ready to jump on the scandal du jour and help beat it to death, but when she wasn’t doing that she did have intelligent, articulate commentators and was clearly quite intelligent and articulate herself.

  • jmc says:

    Conservative columnists only get the “talented” label if they, like Kathleen Parker, spend their time ripping conservatives and ingratiating themselves with the liberal establishment.

    • jti says:

      jmc – Your level of ignorance becomes more and more apparent each time you write something. To say that Kathleen Parker ingratiates herself to the liberal establishment in any fashion is really a dumb remark. Ms. Parker is one half step to the left of folks like Krauthammer, Limbaugh Kristol, et. al. She is just not as loud.

      • tom - wilmington, de says:

        jti, the person who wrote in a column about the Ground Zero Mosque “To say that an Islamic center can’t be built near Ground Zero is to say that all Muslims are to blame.” for 9/11 is more than a half step to the left of Krauthammer, in both ideology and intelligence.

        • Rich says:

          I would have thought intelligence went up and down, not left to right…but OK with me if you want to equate “left” with “higher”.

  • Rich says:

    I never heard of this idiot before Friday, but I must say he seems over the top stupid even for a cable news yapper. A personal tweet from the Tan Man himself! Too funny…

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