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Fox News, MSNBC, HLN, CNN: Where do you get your news? Should ratings for news shows matter?

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Should cable TV news just say the hell with it, give up on squaresville concepts such as “objectivity” and “hard news,” and frame every big story as a dramatic debate, with anchors acting as partisan referees hosting bellicose ideologues as guest experts?

It certainly seems that way, if you look at the ratings. The report that CNN (a Time Warner company, as is EW) is regularly finishing fourth behind Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN’s sister-channel HLN (what we used to call Headline News) is pretty striking. Notice I didn’t say “dismaying.” Or “depressing.” For me, TV news — whether we’re talking network news (which still clings to some fuddy-duddy notion of upholding the standards of Edward R. Murrow while stuffing broadcasts with crap like “Person Of The Week”) or cable news (where the hard news reported by Anderson Cooper is preceded by Larry King, the latter being what the great film director Preston Sturges termed “a gossip-schmearer”) — has long been pretty useless.

When was the last time a TV news organization broke an important story? Or launched an original investigation that turned up evidence of wrong-doing, or brought down lawbreakers in high places?

Instead, we get Brian Williams polishing his stand-up act on Jon Stewart or David Letterman. And every once in a while, CBS lets Lara Logan remind us that things are going really poorly in Afghanistan and its neighboring regions, and you get the feeling the network does that because Lara Logan, beyond her unassailable skills as a boots-on-the-ground reporter, can even make a burka look sexy.

What’s the solution for CNN, if it wants to maintain its history for reporting the news as straight-down-the-middle objectively as TV news manages to get? Well, the obvious answer is, they have to forget the ratings and slog on. (That’s what corporations used to occasionally do: concede that one property wasn’t going to make a lot of money, but was necessary for status and the good of the nation.)

Or CNN can go the Fox/MSNBC route and start restocking its shelves with new brands, replacing its current shows with partisan-debate programming that’ll attract viewers who want to know what their noise is about.

Do you get your news from cable TV? If so, what channels? What do you think CNN should do about its poor ratings?

(You can follow me on Twitter.)

Photo Credit: Beck: Fox News; Cooper: CNN; Maddow: Ali Goldstein/NBC

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