CNN, though, abandons all empirical measures when it comes to the height of stakes. All that matters is that the network has an event to promote, as it does on Tuesday and Wednesday night: It is holding a sanctioned debate with 20 Democratic presidential candidates. The first round of those debates, held in June by NBC News, broke viewership records for Democratic primary debate viewership; the second night hauled in 18 million viewers, an indication that the party’s base is quite engaged in the 2020 race.
“Stakes” abuse is a CNN mainstay — one that the Erik Wemple Blog is obliged to track and denounce at each juncture. When CNN earlier this month orchestrated a game show-style drawing for the debate lineups, host Anderson Cooper announced, ”Just to give a sense for our viewers of how high the stakes are, not to use that cliche yet again, how many of these 20 will likely go on to the next debate?”
And in the 2016 presidential cycle, when the stakes for CNN events were, well, you know: “This is the final Republican debate of 2015. The stakes could not be higher,” said host John Berman that December before a Las Vegas debate televised by CNN.
The hyperbolic madness has a logic to it: CNN feels compelled to overplay its events because it must prove to its partners — in this case, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) — that it can secure a large audience for the candidates. That’s what the party wants. So the network touts the stakes, even though they’re really not that high.
Even casual news consumers, however, can sniff out the fraud in the “high stakes” chatter; they know that the primaries are a half-year or so away — and that CNN is always hyping something.