CNN public editor: What to expect when you’re expecting 2020 on CNN

We still, somehow, have almost a year to go before the 2020 election, and almost a year of CNN to watch. I have been wondering what we will see on our screens next year. 

To get my negative projections out of the way, I expect that we will continue to see experts who are actually not experts at all but rather friends or associates of candidates, some of whom will lie on national television. I expect that we will still see panels on which people will opine at one another, and that this will continue to distract from CNN’s largely excellent reporting. And I expect, because I personally have not seen evidence to the contrary, that CNN will continue to portray a rising political left as a quirky anomaly.

I also think that we will see CNN hype up horse-race politicking, rises and falls in polls, personal spats (some created by media outlets, some not), and petty politics. This is what comes every election year, and I don’t see why this, a momentous election year (although they all are, really), would be significantly different. I think that it is fair to expect CNN to throw everything it has at the election, for journalistic but also  for financial reasons. Division and culture wars are good business. 

ICYMI: What if Rachel Maddow is right? 

But I also hope that we’ll see CNN do some things differently and for the better. While it has had some disastrous unforced errors on issues like race and identity this year, putting Richard Spencer on air or dismissing new congresswomen of color, it’s also given space to people who have challenged some unspoken rules of the traditional media. 

Don Lemon called Trump a racist twice at the CNN-moderated debate this past summer. That shouldn’t be a big deal. But it is. Because so many of us are afraid of calling things as they are out of fear of being seen as unobjective. And we thus obscure the truth. 

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A new CNN writer, Brandon Tensley—who, in the interest of full disclosure, is a friend of mine—was brought on this year and has been writing at the intersection of politics and pop culture, tackling issues such as Elizabeth Warren owning her anger, criticism from LGBTQ people of Pete Buttigieg, and the ways in which Black Americans’ political participation is still limited. Writing like this fleshes out the political conversation. It makes the discourse about more than who’s ahead and who flubbed what and elevates it into what that says about us.

And then, of course, there’s impeachment. I said this on the podcast with my fellow public editors, but if you did not listen to it (I understand; we all have things to do), my main point was this: where CNN has sometimes failed to cover Trump the politician with the necessary perspective and seriousness of purpose, it clearly understood the stakes of Trump the threat to national security and the constitution. I will be watching to see whether CNN is able to carry that understanding into its coverage of Trump’s 2020 run. I know I won’t be the only one.

ICYMI: The Des Moines Register fired me. Here’s what really happened. 

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Emily Tamkin serves as CJR’s public editor for CNN. See this primer for more information on our public editor project.

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