The most essential, important show on cable launched last week, but with so little fanfare you probably don’t even know about it.
It’s called “Democracy in Peril,” on CNN at 9 p.m.
And – possibly alone in the corporate media universe – it is exactly the right way for a news organization to acknowledge and cover the biggest, most dangerous political story in America.
For me, it’s literally a wish come true. After Chris Cuomo was banished from that time slot in early December, some of us were tweeting about what or who should replace him.
Exactly. It should be "Nightline" but for the democracy crisis. https://t.co/q5YBxdOxY1
— Dan Froomkin/PressWatchers.org (@froomkin) December 8, 2021
Last week – its first – “Democracy in Peril” was anchored by Brianna Keilar, whose tough, plain-spoken style has made her a champion of fighting disinformation and calling out Fox’s propaganda network.
This week, the anchor will be Jim Acosta, who has also become increasingly blunt in calling out lies about the 2020 election results and the vaccine. He recently dubbed Trump the “Lord of the Lies.”
CNN is mum about how much longer the show will go on, and under what circumstances, but one can hope it will stick around at least until democracy is safe again.
Last week’s shows were excellent, featuring Keilar’s solid introductions, one reported story per night, and a strong, distinct theme running through each episode.
Evidently the show is getting pretty weak ratings, even by CNN standards. But who even knows it exists? I get the feeling that CNN is treating it like a place-holder until something better comes up.
Nothing will. This show deserves massive viewership. Watch it. Tell your friends.
Keilar started the first show off with a bang.
From the transcript:
This series isn’t alarmist. It is a frank examination of an illness in our country that we can’t afford to ignore. What will 2022 bring, and 2024? What if Trump runs again, or other Republicans run using his playbook? Will our institutions hold? And will social media algorithms undermine them, continuing to amplify conspiracy theories, peddling them to the masses eager to consume them?
There was no both-sidesing, no false equivalence:
The Big Lie is a cancer. So how do you cut it out without killing the patient? Is it even possible? As it metastasizes in one Republican-led state legislature after another. Thirty-four new laws in at least 19 states according to the Brennan Center that restrict voting access that could disproportionately affect voters of color. In particular, legislatures in competitive states are making it harder to cast a ballot. And key Republicans are gaslighting America.
CNN correspondent Donie O’Sullivan contributed a report from Arizona, describing the battle lines “for the future of American democracy” by speaking to members of the Martin Luther King Jr. family and people attending a Trump rally. O’Sullivan explained:
We started off, Saturday morning, at that march with the King family, and speaking to an elderly African American woman, a voter, in Arizona. And for her, the fear is real. What she is seeing, it is based in history. It’s echoes of Jim Crow, what they’re seeing with these restrictions that are being brought in now.
On the other side of things, there are people, at the Trump rally, who are fearful. I think, some of them know better – some of them know that this is a lie, and it’s BS, and it’s a talking point. But a lot of them really have been bought so far into this world of conspiracy, that they genuinely do believe that American democracy is a joke. And it’s a very, very sad place, for an American, to be, in that mindset, particularly because of lies.
Keilar also spoke with retired Major General Paul D. Eaton and retired Brigadier General Steven M. Anderson – two of the three retired generals who wrote in the Washington Post last month expressing concern about the role of the military in a future insurrection.
On “Democracy in Peril,” Anderson’s shared his advice to active-duty troops: “Stop listening to the pillow guy and start paying attention to what our democracy really is.”
And CNN analyst John Avlon contributed a very useful modern civics lesson. He described the “incentive structures in our politics” as screwed up and leading to increased polarization. He made no bones about saying “this is asymmetric polarization”. And he talked about the rise of “tribal politics.”
This is exactly the kind of background that is so often left out of political journalism because it’s assumed people know it already.
Tuesday’s show was devoted to “disinformation, and the way that it is poisoning the well, of the American experiment.”
CNN correspondent Sara Murray filed a report on Douglas Frank, an Ohio math teacher who is now “traveling the country and spreading election lies to big crowds,” backed by MyPillow CEO, Mike Lindell.
Keilar eventually spent about 20 minutes relentlessly savaging Fox. “We can’t discuss, the tsunami of disinformation, jeopardizing American democracy, without talking about the mothership, Fox. I don’t call it news, even if they do, because it’s not news,” she said. She played clips from Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity, and refuted them.
That was great stuff, and more media figures need to follow her example.
Wednesday’s show focused on voter suppression, including a report from Georgia, and the risk of civil war.
The relentless Republican campaign to undermine, harass, and replace non-partisan election board members was the main topic of Friday’s show
Rick Hasen, an election law expert who teaches at the University of California, Irvine, offered a dose of common sense and alarm, pointing out that “a baseline idea of how you run a democracy is that you can fairly count the votes. And if that’s what we’re struggling with? We’ve got problems, even bigger than the problems of voter suppression that I’ve been talking about, for many years.”
CNN correspondent Kyung Lah contributed a powerful report based on talking to election workers about how scary their jobs have become.
There’s certainly room for improvement in “Democracy in Peril.”
My biggest complaint is that it feels too much like any other news show on CNN when I would prefer a more distinctive style and a more palpable sense of urgency – like Nightline had. As with everything else on CNN, the show depends way too much on talking heads and way too little on-the-ground reporting, presumably because the latter is so much more expensive.
I’d like to see ordinary citizens who are, for the first time in their lives, terrified about an authoritarian takeover should Republicans win in 2022 and 2024. And I’d like to see taped interviews with Stop-the-Steal advocates that go beyond their inane talking points and instead question them about where they get their news; try to figure out why they were so susceptible to lies; challenge their assumptions; confront them with facts; and tell them flat-out that most people think they’re nuts.
But the first order of business is getting enough people to watch it that CNN keeps it going.
“I hope CNN makes it a regular part of its line-up,” Democracy Docket founder Marc Elias tweeted over the weekend. “This is exactly what the media should be doing in this moment.”