INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Despite low ratings and impact in the US, CNN is still the king of all media placements overseas

CNN used two hours last week to pat itself on the back for 20 years of news coverage and to suggest it’s now one of the big boys in TV news.

CNN used two hours last week to pat itself on the back for 20 years of news coverage and to suggest it’s now one of the big boys in TV news.

CNN used two hours last week to pat itself on the back for 20 years

of news coverage and to suggest it’s now one of the big boys in TV

news.



And comment and analysis hasn’t been far behind, even from the

competition.



Whether it’s the recycled Gulf War or the saving of a little girl from a

well, just about everyone seems to feel good about having had CNN around

to tell the news ’as it happens’ (well, soon after, anyway).



Not everyone seemed happy, however. Within days of all the puffery came

news that Ted Turner was unhappy because his role in the joint AOL/Time

Warner giant had been marginalized. Shareholders were complaining

largely because CNN’s ratings, never more than one-tenth that of its

over-the-air competitors, were sinking even as the AOL merger/acquirers

were on the horizon - if not at the door.



A few press releases seemed to mollify Turner, but the ratings were

another matter. Jimmy Carter, who was present at the creation, was

interviewed on the anniversary program, and went right to the point. He

brushed off questions about CNN’s impact domestically - the low ratings

really didn’t matter, he seemed to be saying - because of CNN’s

remarkable cachet overseas.



President Carter, whose Center’s concern with free elections keeps him

traveling and busier than any other ex-president, observed that wherever

he’d been, in world capitals or out in the country, CNN was there.

Wherever you are in the world, it seems, if you want news in American,

whether about America or not, CNN is your host.



That’s why, as we have learned here at Hill & Knowlton (and we assume

this secret to be widely shared in the business), foreign clients, when

in the states, want to be on CNN. We tempt them with Russert, we offer

Sawyer, we speak knowingly of Jennings, Sherr and Koppel - and they wait

patiently, rejecting all these unknowns and then ask for Judy Woodruff

and David Ensor. Bernard Shaw, of course, is the giant of giants.



We explain, patiently, that Dan Rather has 10 times the audience, on a

bad day; that the Today show has more viewers every day than CNN does in

Israel, Paraguay, Denmark or Croatia, and it is all dismissed. In hotels

in the Middle East, in the chanceries of Asia and the development banks

of Africa, everyone is watching history and diplomacy, war and peace,

drought and plenty; they are all, that is, watching CNN and assuming its

dominance on American television, too.



So here’s to Ted Turner, who thought it up, and to the guys at CNN,

who’ve kept it on the air. Maybe we’re ignoring you here at home - but

overseas, where people care a lot about us, you’re delivering the

message.



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