You may be aware that CNN’s ratings are in dramatic free fall. It’s big prime-time hosts have lost almost half their audiences over the past year. Meanwhile, the competitors who have chosen to be consciously conservative (Fox) or consciously liberal (MSNBC) are outperforming CNN, which tries to be neutral. Ross Douthat suggests that with nothing left to lose, CNN should try something nobody else is doing. Excerpt:

What cable news needs, instead, is something more like what Stewart himself has been doing on “The Daily Show.” Instead of bringing in the strategists, consultants and professional outrage artists who predominate on other networks, he ushers conservative commentators into his studio for conversations that are lengthy, respectful and often riveting. Stewart’s series of debates on torture and interrogation policy, in particular — featuring John Yoo and Marc Thiessen, among others — have been more substantive than anything on Fox or MSNBC.Even the thrust-and-parry sessions of “The Daily Show,” though, are limited by the left-right binary that divides and dulls our politics. They’re better than the competition, but they don’t give free rein to eccentricity and unpredictability, or generate arguments that finish somewhere wildly different than where you’d expect them to end up. This is what you find in the riveting television debates of the past: William F. Buckley versus Gore Vidal, Vidal versus Norman Mailer, anything involving Ross Perot. And it’s what you get from the mad, compulsively watchable Glenn Beck, who’s an extremist without being a knee-jerk partisan: You know he’s way out there on the right somewhere, but you don’t know what he’s going to say next.

I don’t watch cable news anymore. Cable news was the last good reason I had for having cable service, and I finally got bored to death with it. You know exactly what you’re going to get on Fox, MSNBC, CNN and the rest. If bias is what you like in news and chat, there’s a cabler for you. CNN is just dead boring. What there isn’t, as Ross indicates, is a cable news and talk channel where you’re going to hear from people who have interesting and unpredictable things to say that don’t fall inside the narrow bounds of partisanship. You know what I’d like? A cable news channel with a bias toward the thoughtful and interesting. A place where you might hear a discussion that raises issues and angles on issues that you haven’t heard a thousand other places. UPDATE: Jay Rosen has some interesting ideas for creating a CNN worth watching — and none of them involve Larry King.Part of the problem is the cable news format, in which they package coverage and chat of all issues inside relatively short segments. That being the case, they feel compelled to bring on guests who take a strong position, and articulate it in sound bites. There is little or no exploration of the point of view offered, no serious questioning, no meaningful discussion, no nothing. It’s not just a CNN problem, though in this slightly dated segment from the Daily Show, Jon Stewart did a marvelous job eviscerating CNN for allowing this kind of mindlessness to corrupt its journalism:

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