Wednesday, January 30, 2008

CNN: The Beauty Network?

This morning, my first day back in the U.S. after spending five nights in Mexico, I turned on CNN's "American Morning" and saw a disturbing image. Violence in Kenya? John McCain winning in Florida? Nope. It was anchor John Roberts's hair.

It seems that between the time I left for my vacation and the time I got back, Roberts decided to dye his steel grey hair. Either that, or he was attacked by an angry shoemaker armed with a bottle of low-grade shoe polish. I'm betting on a trip to a trendy salon. If you want to see a before and after for yourself, here is a photo of Roberts pre-beauty binge (and here is another), and here is a video of him interviewing Mitt Romney this morning. Did Roberts think we wouldn't notice?

Now, right about now you may be saying, "Who cares what a CNN morning anchor does with his hair?" And, normally, you would be right. But Roberts is a blowhard, empty-shirted, looks-over-substance, brainless television personality, and his not-so-extreme makeover is symbolic of everything that's wrong with television news nowadays, especially at CNN. Sure, I know anchors from Murrow to Jennings probably used performance-enhancing hair products, whether it was dye or a toupee (I think the Hair Club for Men preceded Murrow's generation, but maybe not the Jennings-Brokaw-Rather era), but with on-air personalities like Roberts, his appearance is all he has. There is no substance below the perfectly-coiffed veneer.

And, as I've said often, CNN is supposed to be the premier, 24-hour news network. With the station's "American Morning" show finally addressing an actual news issue (the presidential election) instead of concentrating on the latest abducted attractive white woman or celebrity scandal, Roberts is playing the role of an actual newsman, interviewing presidential candidates and pundits on a regular basis. And to prepare for this meaty role, instead of hitting a library or the Internet, he went to a beauty salon.

CNN no longer believes that Americans are up for serious reporting, and, believe it or not, the network agrees with me. How do I know? Because while in Mexico, my English-language television choices were quite limited, so I found myself watching a lot of CNN International, which, not coincidentally, takes very little of its content from the American CNN. We got Wolf Blitzer and his election coverage, but Roberts and his "American Morning" sidekick, the beautiful-but-slight Kiran Chetry, were nowhere to be found. Instead, the CNN International morning featured a straight-up, old-fashioned, content-driven news presentation, anchored by a woman who looked like a drag queen. I'm serious. My wife, who always thinks I'm too harsh, looked at her and said, "Oh, she does look like a drag queen." In fact, she looked remarkably like Carmelita on "Dirty Sexy Money."

Okay, I know I've veered a bit off course, but my point is that when broadcasting to the world, CNN offers a content-heavy news show featuring anchors chosen for their intellect. But for American audiences, the network opts for a beauty queen and Ted Baxter.

With so much riding on the 2008 presidential election after two damaging terms of George W. Bush, it is maddening to me that the few Americans that actually try and inform themselves by watching CNN in the morning are given very little substance to work with.

With John Edwards dropping out of the race, and John McCain taking a frontrunner role on the GOP side, something that seemed impossible six months ago, you can be sure that if you turn on CNN tomorrow morning, you won't have to look at all that grey hair on John Roberts's head. We will be in excellent hands ... if Vidal Sassoon decides to run for president.