Dylan Byers today channels the pain of everyone trying to watch cable news reports on the Wisconsin recall last night, in a post titled "The worst night on cable news." How acute was this pain felt? The first instant message I received this morning read as follows: "Should I watch cable news right now? This is a real question I am asking myself."
Byers quickly notes the rather aggressively partisan tone taken by Fox, who stopped just short of wheeling out champagne and strippers to celebrate the Walker win, and MSNBC, who had Ed Schultz -- essentially a Tom Barrett surrogate -- anchor the evening. I had some misgivings about the lead role Schultz was taking going into the night. Sure, he's well-sourced within the activist community that inspired the lion's share of the anti-Walker sentiment, but as it was pretty clear going into the night that Walker would prevail, having Schultz anchor the coverage was like watching a small child receive a lump of coal from Santa in slow motion.
But Byers showers the most contempt on CNN -- naturally! -- for spending the evening rerunning its coverage of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. Byers doesn't dally with any delicate knife twisting: He just shows what the three networks were doing when the call for Walker came in and notes that Wolf Blitzer was eight minutes late to the story. (Call me crazy, but I sort of think being merely eight minutes behind is a Wolf Blitzer personal best.)
But you know what? Screw it. I am actually feeling pretty good about CNN's decision. I know that some time ago, my colleague Elyse Siegel and I went all upside CNN's head, pointing out all the floats in its parade of horribles and suggesting that CNN should do something to fix itself. But what we didn't consider was that it always had another option. It could always do what it does best, and just give up.
As Byers notes, "CNN has no obligation to cover the Wisconsin recall, and one could argue that CNN doesn't need to break that political news, or spend the 10 o'clock hour speculating on the potential political ramifications of the various outcomes."
When I read that, it forced me to imagine what it might have been like if CNN had not chosen to stick with the Queen's Jubilee. And in all likelihood, it would have been a repeat of its previous attempts to "cover politics," which always seems to be the same -- it puts a bunch of people in a room together, gives them a bunch of toys, and asks them to run around doing stuff.
That appears to be CNN's entire strategy where covering political outcomes is concerned: everyone run around the room like a bunch of pissed-off chimps on salvia, doing stuff, doing it harder, doing it faster, doing it until everyone drops dead of exhaustion or secures a note from a therapist, excusing them from the activity. I'm pretty sure it will be revealed that CNN's political coverage will be the reason that the big bad guys in the movie "Prometheus" are coming to wipe out humanity.
If the end result of an evening spent watching CNN "do" politics is just the depressing feeling you get watching all that human wreckage frenetically destroying its own dignity, then I say, give me the Queen! Give me Piers Morgan, randomly exulting at the sight of barges on the Thames. Let these poor CNN people numb themselves forever, in slack-jawed appreciation of the royal family's collection of fascinators and epaulets. Let CNN play to its strengths. Let's save the human race from the "Prometheus" monsters.
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